The development of the World Wide Web has unified the shared information on the Internet and brought the Internet to a boom stage. And because of the persistence, searchability, replicability, and scalability of affordances in networked publics (Boyd, 2011), the Internet is perceived as a vehicle of diversity. However, as the age continues to evolve, underlying this appearance is a lack of diversity in innovation, culture, and communication that keeps hindering the progress of the Internet and is detrimental to society and individuals.
The impact of lack of diversity on Internet innovation
In the early 21st century, innovation on the Internet occurs on a large scale, driven by both market and non-market forces (Quiggin & Potts, 2008). But as the power gap widens and the Internet becomes less and less controlled, the monopoly of some tech giants over the Internet industry has led to a continued decline in the structural diversity of the Internet economy. According to a global statistics of Search Engine Market Share, Google Search accounts for 92% of all web searches worldwide and it is used by nearly two-thirds of the world’s Internet users (Statcounter, 2022). This shows that most Internet users prefer to choose the websites of globally known companies, which has put many small and medium-sized Internet companies at risk of going out of business.
Even if small and medium-sized enterprises obtain innovations, the majority of them end up in forced acquisitions or mergers by large corporations. Researchers have suggested that every time Apple, Facebook, or Google acquires a startup, especially an app company, it may have stifled innovation (Clark, 2020). Because the early adopters of an application or platform can play a huge role in motivating technical staff to innovate. If a technician’s purpose is to attract users, they are more likely to spend time and effort to innovate. However, if a technician expects a new application to be acquired by some Big Tech, they may not invest much time in innovation, which reduces the value of the startup. What’s more, more than 90% of websites which launched in 2018 failed within two years (McCarthy, 2022), causing fewer and fewer companies to be willing to innovate. These tech giants are hindering fair competition for businesses and thus the diversity of technological innovation on the Internet. It is essentially a reduction in the innovation output of human society, which impedes the economy and technological progress of the society.
The impact of lack of diversity on culture
According to the “four Internet cultures” proposed by Castells, the Internet culture consisting of the early techno-meritocratic culture was embedded in virtual networks, resulting in the Internet being dominated by a predominantly white, male, and middle-class cultures (Castells, 2002). The political ideology of “white supremacy” is widely spread on the Internet. For example, when searching for white people on Google, the algorithm usually associates positive terms, while negative terms are mostly related to black people. In particular, if users use Google search engine to search for “black girls” in 2012, the Internet algorithm will provide results related to pornography (Noble, 2018). This strengthens the negative image of black people and women and transmits this stereotype to real life and society.
According to a recent Fortune survey of the top 9 technology firms in Silicon Valley, women make up approximately one-third of the workforce on average (Marcus, 2015). Gender discrimination against women in technology industry is more than other industries. There are twice the number of men working in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields as compared to women with the same qualifications. In addition, the number of blacks in leadership or high-paying technical positions still remains low. For instance, at Google, only 2.6% of leaders and 2.4% of technical staff are black (Dean & Bhuiyan, 2020). A large number of women from ethnic minorities have reported that they have been treated unequally or even been discriminated against in their workplace, such as being strongly opposed when expressing anger or assertiveness in the workplace. As technologies progress, this white male gaze has demonstrated an injustice against black people as well as women in more areas. For example, when performing face recognition for artificial intelligence, white male faces tend to be more accurate than colored or female, which takes more time for people of color and female groups to identify themselves (Castelvecchi, 2020). In such a white male-dominated culture, sexism as well as racism spreads rapidly through the internet, making such distorted values gradually normalized. The Internet, as the foundation and structure of digital culture, embeds this culture into society and reshapes the structure of social inequality (Lusoli & Turner, 2020). The lack of diversity leads to an increasingly homogeneous culture that people are exposed to on the Internet and hinders the progress of the Internet. It perpetuates and even exacerbates social inequality, resulting in an increasing number of people being treated unequally.
The impact of lack of diversity on communication
Lack of diversity also affects the communication function of the Internet and limits individuals’ free speech. As the times have progressed, differences in national Internet regulatory systems have led to the “Splinternet“, which means the Internet is governed by different regulations in different countries and regions. Nowadays, everyone on the Internet is a producer and disseminator of information (Gillespie, 2018). In order to control and maintain community stability, different countries have adopted different censoring strategies in response. For example, China has created a completely distinct and independent network infrastructure with internet access routes that are owned by the People’s Republic of China’s government, serving as a representation of the authoritarian Internet. The Chinese government has absolute control over the Internet, and because of the government regulation, Chinese Internet users cannot access most global websites such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc. As a substitute for the banned Google search engine, Chinese has created its own search engine called “Baidu” as a default browser on all major platforms.
Moreover, the Chinese government has set the information which against the Chinese government as “sensitive words” and requires China’s media platforms to censor these words. When users search for or post content containing these words, they will not be able to access the information, or their posts will be automatically blocked by the platform. For example, when posting the name of the Chinese President on social media platforms, the content will automatically disappear regardless of whether the content is negative or not. Such censorship and moderation gives the Chinese government a good control over the speech and thoughts of the Chinese people, however it greatly diminishes the diversity of information communication. People can only see what they are allowed to see and post what they are allowed to post, loosing the right of free speech. This lack of diversity severely undermines the information communication function of the Internet and violates individuals’ freedom of expression, which in the long run can also increase inequality of power in society.
Overall, lack of diversity is hindering the evolution of the Internet and is detrimental to society and individuals. The lack of diversity caused by the domination of the Internet by tech giants weakens innovation on the Internet and discourages innovation by individuals and societies. Moreover, the lack of diversity resulting from white male supremacy dominating the Internet perpetuates racial and gender discrimination and exacerbates social inequality. Finally, the lack of diversity resulting from censorship and moderation undermines the Internet’s communication function, controls individuals’ right of free speech and widens the power gap in society.
Boyd, D. (2011). Social Network Sites as Networked Publics Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications. In A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (pp. 39–58). Routledge.
Castelvecchi, D. (2020). Is facial recognition too biased to be let loose? Nature, 587(7834), 347–349. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-03186-4
Castells, M. (2002). The Culture of the Internet. In The internet galaxy: Reflections on the internet, business, and society (pp. 36–63). Oxford University Press on Demand.
Clark, A. (2020). Why big-tech mergers stifle innovation. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. https://www.chicagobooth.edu/review/why-big-tech-mergers-stifle-innovation
Dean, S., & Bhuiyan, J. (2020, June 24). Why do diversity issues still plague Black tech workers? Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/business/technology/story/2020-06-24/tech-started-publicly-taking-lack-of-diversity-seriously-in-2014-why-has-so-little-changed-for-black-workers
Gillespie, T. (2018). All Platforms Moderate. In Custodians of the internet: Platforms, content moderation, and the hidden decisions that shape social media. Yale University Press.
Lusoli, A., & Turner, F. (2020). “It’s an ongoing bromance”: Counterculture and cyberculture in silicon valley—an interview with fred turner. Journal of Management Inquiry, 30(2), 235–242. https://doi.org/10.1177/1056492620941075
Marcus, B. (2015, August 12). The lack of diversity in tech is A cultural issue. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bonniemarcus/2015/08/12/the-lack-of-diversity-in-tech-is-a-cultural-issue/?sh=7e8a806c79a2
McCarthy, B. P. X. (2022, May 20). The online economy’s lack of diversity. Cosmos Magazine. https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/internet/online-lack-diversity/
Noble, S. U. (2018). Algorithms of oppression: How search engines reinforce racism. NYU Press.
Quiggin, J., & Potts, J. (2008). Economics of non-market innovation and digital literacy. Media International Australia, 128(1), 144–150. https://doi.org/10.1177/1329878×0812800118
Statcounter. (2022). Search engine market share worldwide. StatCounter Global Stats. https://gs.statcounter.com/search-engine-market-share