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The understanding of the world through digital representation (digiplace) and volunteered geographic information (VGI) is frequently carried out with the assumption that these are valid, comprehensive and useful representations of the world. A common practice throughout the literature on these issues is to notice the digital divide, and while accepting it as a social and not natural phenomenon, either ignoring it for the rest of the analysis or expecting that it will solve itself over time through technological diffusion. The almost deterministic belief in technological diffusion absolves the analyst from fully confronting the political implication of the divide.
However, what VGI and social media analysis is revealing is that the digital divide is part of deep and growing social inequalities in Western societies. Worse still, digiplace amplifies and strengthen them.
In digiplace the wealthy, powerful, educated and mostly male elite is amplified through multiple digital representations. Moreover, the frequent decision of algorithm designers to privilege those who submit more media, and the level of ‘digital cacophony’ that more active contributors are creating mean that a very small minority – arguably outliers in every analysis of normal distribution of human activities – are super empowered. Therefore, digiplace power relationships are arguably more polarised than outside cyberspace due to the lack of social check and balances. This makes the acceptance of the disproportional amount of information that these outliers produce as reality highly questionable.
The paper highlights the mass silencing of voices in society and call for a more critical engagement with digiplace and VGI.