Digital Redlining

Recently, I began researching digital redlining for a class paper.  The more I find out about this phenominon the more I am intriqued and horrified by the concept.  As educators, I feel, that we need to become better informed on the informational technology policies and practices of our institutions.

Digital redlining and privacy

Chris Gilliard talks about digital redlining and privacy on episode 130 of Teaching in Higher Ed.

What is digital redlining?                                                                            Digital redlining is a way that Internet companies are purposefully excluding communities, that have high concentrations of minorities and low-income from having equal access to high speed internet as communities that are more affluent.  Chris Gilliard and Hugh Culik define “Digital redlining as not a renaming of the digital divide. It is a different thing, a set of education policies, investment decisions, and IT practices that actively create and maintain class boundaries through strictures that discriminate against specific groups. The digital divide is a noun; it is the consequence of many forces. In contrast, digital redlining is a verb, the “doing” of difference, a “doing” whose consequences reinforce existing class structures” (

Redlining History:                                                                                          Redlining was a term invented in the 1960’s when banks would deny or charge higher prices for services offered in particular neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods typically had a high concentration of black residents and were located in the inner-city.  Bank executives would look at a map and draw a red line around areas that they decided they would not serve.  This type of practice created blight and devastated communities.  In the 1970’s activists fought for legislative action and redlining was outlawed forcing private companies to invest in communities that they had previously denied services.

“The term originated since banks-then the most infamous perpetrators-would draw a red line on a map to delineate the areas they would not serve”.

Below is an image of A Home Owners’ Loan Corp. 1936 security map of Philadelphia showing redlining of lower income neighborhoods. Households and businesses in the red zones could not get mortgages or business loans. (Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain).


Educational Digital Redlining:                                                                  All of us have a responsibility to be asking our districts to what extent they are participating in digital redlining?  Do we do everything possible to ensure that our students have the internet access that they need to become proficient users in this digital age?  Are the filters that are implemented, per district policy, leaving some students unable to participate in their schooling at the same level of their peers?

A popular form of educational digital redlining is the use of internet filters.  While I believe it is appropriate for filters to be implemented at the K-12 sites due to the age and maturity level of the students, at what level of filtering does it become a hindrance to the student’s ability to learn? Not only is over filtering an issue on school campuses but there are some school sites that don’t have Wi-Fi access available.  I have worked at a school site where the students were denied Wi-Fi access on campus. Unfortunately, is assumed by some educators that all students have internet access at home.  But that assumption should never be made.  Many students in today’s classrooms do not have Wi-Fi access at home and sometimes they don’t even have computers that they can use, creating a homework gap.  Without the full use of the internet in schools, students are being left behind in this digital age, “creating marginalized individuals who lack the skills and tools to navigate successfully in an increasingly globalized, knowledge based society” (Afro).  When looking at students that don’t have access to the internet at home, they are typically students that are from low-socioeconomic status and/or brown.  These students typically live in inner-city school districts, where it is not only a matter of the high price for broadband service but if broadband service is even available to families in the community.  Google has a proposed plan to build a fiber based broadband internet network that is being built around a Kansas City, lower income, majority minority neighborhood.  This redlining plan effects students access to home access and homework opportunities.

Although, redlining is important issue to be aware of at the K-12 level it is a far bigger issue at the college level.  Many students and families are unaware of the internet limitations that are imposed upon students at their academic sites.  These invisible boundaries become apparent when students attempt to access information on the internet at their schools and are denied access to the requested information.  This lack of access is due to the filtering systems and expense of full access to digital resources through the library.  Filtering systems limit a student’s ability to access information on school broadband networks or through the use of school-issued devices.  These types of internet policies have called student advocates to ask for all school types to revisit their school internet policies.  Although there has been progress, these policies “continue to deprive children from becoming knowledgeable digital consumers – with the hardest hit apparently being the most disadvantaged students.” (The Atlantic Daily)   Implementing digital restrictions are an example of educational digital redlining.  Although, filtering students digital access is an acceptable practice, higher education students access to digital resources can be scarce or non-existent in schools that serve a more working class community (community colleges) when compared to schools that are considered more traditional universities.

Case in Point:                                                                                                   Today, in the present, Nina is a contemporary community college student enrolled in a composition class that explores issues of surveillance, privacy, and online identity. She participates in a class discussion of revenge porn, and she decides that it offers a topic for exploring the connection between the digital world and issues of gender, power, and free speech. She goes to one of the computer labs and does a quick search. Her effort proves unproductive. It produces information about ABC’s hit show Revenge but nothing about what everyone reading this column understands “revenge porn” to mean. For Nina, the concept doesn’t exist — not because the Internet contains no information on revenge porn but because Nina’s version of the Internet is filtered. Because the filters between her and the Internet block access to information, she reasonably believes that the issue is marginal and that other topics might prove more fruitful. She moves on to something else, unaware of the invisible walls erected that prevent her from accessing information that might allow her to do her I am work. The student has been digitally redlined, walled off from information based on the IT policies of her institution. (Chris Gilliard and Hugh Culik)



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