May 10, 2010 | Commentary on Internet And Technology, Regulation

How the Internet is Strengthening Democracy

Two myths about Hispanics will soon be exposed.

The first myth is that Hispanics are mostly concentrated in our country’s major cities. The second is that Hispanics are largely being left behind by the growing online revolution that’s changing the way we socialize, learn and shop.

The results of the 2010 Census are expected to reveal a more accurate portrait of Hispanics in the U.S., and that should change business models.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that Hispanics’ growing online presence has not materialized into a louder voice in today’s often contentious public policy debates. This, of course, isn’t merely a Hispanic problem, but a national one due to our rapid population growth.

According to a recent study by eMarketer, more and more Hispanics are online; close to 70 percent will go online by 2014. This is an astounding figure, considering the lack of Internet accessibility that existed for the general population only a decade ago. The study also found that close to 80 percent of Hispanics engage in some type of social media when online. That number’s backed by reports that Quepasa.com, a popular online social media website for Hispanics, gained 1.5 million new users in March alone.

Facebook, Twitter and Youtube (among many other sites) have changed the way we keep up with friends and share content with the world. Additionally, the advent of more handheld devices with online capabilities means that we are able to stay in constant communication wherever we go.

Not surprisingly, businesses have taken note of this changing landscape and are relying on creative advertisers to promote a business or a product while we’re innocently browsing the Web either at home or on the road — a small price to pay in this fast-paced online revolution providing us with more options and choices.

Of course, we don’t rely on the Internet solely for entertainment. We’re logging online to get the latest news and information from around our country and the world. This instantaneous knowledge was simply not possible for our parents and grandparents.

Naturally, with increased knowledge comes increased opportunity and increased responsibility.

If we are to harness our strength in numbers, our community must do a better job maximizing the opportunities that the Internet presents to become more active participants in public policy debates. Among the many challenges our community faces is an educational crisis of epic proportions. In fact, according to a recent Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation study, only about half of all Hispanic students are receiving a high-school diploma in some of our country’s biggest cities.

By better informing ourselves of our challenges, we will be better able to hold elected officials accountable.

This thesis is being tested as Congress looks to phase out a popular education program that serves some of the District of Columbia’s least privileged families. Despite the program’s popularity, politics is superseding common-sense policy.

In response, The Heritage Foundation (and other education reform organizations) have been using the Internet (among other mediums) to publicize this injustice. You can see a short documentary that we produced here.

Technology helps to strengthen our democracy by allowing us to understand where we have been and where we would like to see our country in the future.

Of course, members of Congress and politicians will continue enacting public policies, whether they hear from us or not. Consequently, it is up to us to seize the endless possibilities of the Internet and technology to influence public policy.

If we are to ensure that future generations can reap the benefits of prosperity and technology, we cannot afford to stand on the sidelines as history is being made.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation, heritage.org.

About the Author

Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry
Accounting

First appeared in the Americano