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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Inequality doesn't end after everyone is connected to the internet, as the online world reflects offline disparities and introduces new factors.

Why it matters: A raft of new evidence shows the rise of the internet itself may have boosted inequality, and that how people use internet access may be just as — or more — important than the access itself.

The research:

  • Educated users with high incomes derive the most benefit from internet use, a 2016 study in Europe showed.
  • The World Bank issued a 2014 report warning that providing internet access on its own would only deepen inequality within and among countries unless governments ensured competitive markets and provided better education.

What's next: Whether closing the digital divide further widens the wealth gap depends on a host of complex factors, according to researchers.

  • Country-by-country comparisons show the pattern unfolds differently depending on the regulatory framework, labor market policies, education policies and more, says Johannes Bauer, a professor of media and information at Michigan State University.
"Some countries and locations have managed to orchestrate such measures well and not seen the dramatic increases in inequality experienced in other places."
— Johannes Bauer

Be smart: Researchers distinguish between measures of "equality of opportunity," which assesses options open to individuals to improve their standing, and measures of "equality of outcomes," which describes the aggregate results of actions and policies. (Go deeper in this piece by the New Yorker's Jill Lepore.)

  • Some observers fear that activists focused on increasing equality of opportunity — i.e. measures to improve access to digital tools — have dropped the ball when it comes to assuring more equitable outcomes.

Yes, but: The role of the internet in promoting inequality changes depending on where you look, as explored in a 2018 paper by Bauer:

  • On a global basis, the impact of tech appears to help level the field.
  • Within wealthier countries, however, more tech often correlates with deepening inequality.

The big picture: The lesson may be to view the fight for access not as an end in itself but rather as one element in a broader campaign to level playing fields.

  • Mark Warschauer, professor of education at UC-Irvine, argues that information technology amplifies the power of "haves" and weakens the under-educated, and the latter can only compete if they're able to use digital tools to develop skills that will help them get better jobs.
  • "Access is not a sufficient condition, but it is a necessary one" for reducing inequality, Warschauer says.

Go deeper

Biden administration unveils 3-pronged plan to combat domestic extremism

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced at a briefing on Friday that the Biden administration will roll out a three-pronged, interagency plan to assess and combat the threat posed by domestic violence extremism.

Why it matters: The federal government's approach to domestic extremism has come under scrutiny in the wake of the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. In his inaugural address, Biden repudiated political extremism, white supremacy and domestic terrorism, vowing to defeat them.

Senate confirms retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as defense secretary

Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

The Senate voted 93-2 on Friday to confirm retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were the sole "no" votes.

Why it matters: Austin is the first Black American to lead the Pentagon and President Biden's second Cabinet nominee to be confirmed.

House will transmit article of impeachment to Senate on Monday, Schumer says

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that the House will deliver the article of impeachment against former President Trump for "incitement of insurrection" on Monday.

Why it matters: The Senate is required to begin the impeachment trial at 1pm the day after the article is transmitted.