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A chance encounter between a CEO and a woman experiencing homelessness this week demonstrated the effects of the poverty gap and the digital divide.
Twitter user Lisa Kaplan was at her local library on June 24 when a woman approached her asking for assistance using a computer. The woman wanted to apply to a custodial position but was told to apply online, Kaplan tweeted.
THREAD: Today I went to the public library for the first time in a long time. A woman came up to me and asked me to help her with the computer so she could apply for a custodial job. She had gone to the organization she wanted to work at, and was told to apply online.— Lisa Kaplan (@lisackaplan) June 24, 2019
Since she seemed uncomfortable with using the keyboard, Kaplan helped the woman fill out the application, which called for an email address and a phone number. The woman had neither.
So, this woman who is seeking employment is precluded from even applying because she doesn’t have a cell phone, so can’t access email, and thus cannot apply?— Lisa Kaplan (@lisackaplan) June 24, 2019
Kaplan, who works in the industry of countering misinformation, said that two-factor authentication is a common method of preventing people from creating fake accounts. But it also widens the digital accessibility gap, preventing people without the resources of a phone or computer from applying for jobs.
Governments and tech platforms need to find a way to be able to both stop fake accounts from being created by verifying identifies, and allow those who need to be able to access the digital post office that is email to apply for jobs.— Lisa Kaplan (@lisackaplan) June 24, 2019
In a private message to the Daily Dot, Kaplan said the woman was unable to apply for the job that day. Kaplan said she connected the woman to with an organization that helps people who are homeless work through these types of obstacles.
In response to the Twitter thread, Twitter users commended Kaplan for helping the woman as much as she could and demonstrating the vicious cycle of poverty.
The catch-22s of poverty are overwhelming. No cell phone, no job. No job, no cell phone. Repeat in a thousand different ways.— Junior Meow (@youzdoyouz) June 24, 2019
A basic smart phone, an email address and a no-monthly-fee bank account are critical services for helping people out of homelessness. There are many organizations doing good research & creating some solutions, but from what I can tell, services are still very region-specific.— Lisa Anderson (@lwa57) June 24, 2019
Other users were not as sympathetic.
Aren’t prepaid phones as little as $15-20 at Walmart? Some prepaid carriers give away free phones with the first month paid. I feel for her but I think that coming up with that kind of money is possible for a homeless person within a week.— Jason McFarlane (@JasonBMcFarlane) June 26, 2019
Some pointed out that the digital divide extends beyond job applications into food stamp applications, as well. Twitter user @KiddoCarson said they applied for food stamps and had to download an app. When they asked the attendant what would happen if they didn’t have a cell phone, the attendant said, “A lot of time-consuming work you would need money for.”
I applied for food stamps today. The woman told me to download an app and submit verification that way. I asked her what would’ve happened if I didn’t have a smart phone. A: A lot of time consuming work you would need money for.— Elizabeth (@KiddoCarson) June 25, 2019
Kaplan said there must be a better way to verify internet users but still make it accessible.
“There has to be a better way,” Kaplan tweeted. “It could be a trusted portal at public libraries or a verification from the librarian, but we need to keep the internet inclusive and accessible—while detecting the manipulation of the internet by nefarious actors.”
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Katie Balevic is an editorial intern at the Daily Dot where she enjoys covering social justice issues and politics. Her previous work has appeared in the Daily Texan, the Victoria Advocate, and the Houston Defender.