Diversity in the Internet can refer to the variety of Internet technologies and functions, the wide range of applications, and the vast differences in content due to the differences in gender, race, ideas, values, beliefs, and even interests of Internet users. At the beginning of the Internet’s development, it was given a vision of diversity. However nowadays, the Internet is highly developed and a huge number of people around the world rely upon it, but the internet does not seem to be evolving in precisely the direction people would like.
Racial discrimination left over by history
Many reasons have contributed to the current lack of diversity on the Internet, such as differences in social and cultural backgrounds and government regulatory policies. But mainly, the lack of diversity not only defeats the original purpose of Internet development but also brings a series of problems to individuals and society.
First, one possible reason for the current lack of diversity on the Internet comes from history. At the beginning of the Internet’s development, white males dominated the online world. This single perspective brought a pre-existing bias to the early Internet and the bias did not disappear as the real world and the Internet developed. Pre-existing biases can originate in society, in subcultures, or in private or public organizations and institutions. They can also reflect the personal biases of individuals who have significant input into the design of the system (Friedman& Nissenbaum, 1996)
“Black Girl & White Girl”
Those pre-existing biases can be found in many corners of the Internet, an obvious example of this is Noble’s research on search engines. Typing ‘black girls’ into Google, the world’s largest search engine, will immediately show a lot of content related to pornography, however when you type in ‘white girls’ you will get different results.
Noble argues that the combination of search engines promoting the private interests of certain websites, combined with the monopoly position of a relatively small number of Internet search engines, has led to a set of biased search algorithms that favor white people and discriminate against people of color, especially women of color. Zimmer (2007) mentions a similar case: a search for the phrase “she invented” will return the query, “Did you mean ‘he invented’?”. Google’s response to this is that there are many more “he” than “she” in front of the word “invent” in the entire web corpus, the neutral algorithm honestly reflects pre-existing biases in the internet.
Excluding China, which has particular policies, the Internet is still most used by white people from the West (Banerjee & Hodge, 2007). In many online surveys, you will find that white people are often the first option on race questions. There is no denying that today, white people, or white men and their associated ideas, still dominate the Internet and the major technology companies (Lusoli & Turner, 2021)..
Since the voices of protest are often raised by those on the receiving end of inequality, it is difficult for those on the equality side to perceive the underlying disparity, and this early pre-existing bias from the lack of racial diversity on the Internet continues to be present and influential today.
Although Noble claims at the end of the book that the phenomenon that search engines display biased results has improved, it is undeniable that this phenomenon still exists now. Try to search for lawyers, and judges, the results still appear in the majority of white people, while in the search for waiters, and cashiers, the proportion of white people and black people are mostly equal, and sometimes even black people appear more frequently. While we are aware of the existence of pre-existing biases and are working to eliminate them, positive stereotypes of whiteness remain and dominate.
Another study shows that Black adults are underrepresented in online prostate cancer content identified by the most popular search engines and video-sharing platforms. Lack of diverse representation or information about racial/ethnic differences, combined with poor readability and actionability, limits the potential value of health communication (Lobe et al., 2022).
Ideally, with the further development of technology, the popularity of the Internet will allowing more people to express their views on the web, early pre-existing stereotypes will be changed with the increase in diversity.
From another point of view, the lack of Internet diversity also impacts the economy, which can be reflected in the monopoly of Internet platforms. Trust in these platforms can harm the legitimate rights of suppliers and consumers.
In 2021, Google, Meta (formerly Facebook), and Amazon single-handedly raised nearly three-quarters of the World’s digital advertising dollars. Predictably, Internet platforms are monopolized by these companies, and people prefer to choose and trust these brands from well-known companies. Even in China, which has specific regulatory policies, the primary digital economy market is dominated by Tencent and Alibaba.
《Mole Manor》 is a children’s web game developed by Taomi Technology in 2008, which gained massive success in China. At the same time, Tencent chose to launch the 《Roco Kingdom》, which had similar gameplay to Mole Manor but was utterly free, intending to wrest back a large number of users from Taomi.
Tencent as a giant in China’s gaming and digital technology company, had strong financial capital, so the Roco Kingdom could compete with Mole Manor by providing a long period of free play, but Taomi was a brand new technology company before that, and did not have enough accumulated capital to compete with Tencent in this war of attrition. In 2021, Tencent officially acquired Taomi Technology. We cannot attribute all the reasons for Taomi’s failure to Tencent’s malicious competition. Still, it is inevitable that since the Internet has become the leading platform for economic consumption, large companies usually use such predatory pricing to gain an advantage to stabilize their monopoly position.
Large companies will suppress small companies by making cheaper imitations. This kind of malicious competition forced many small companies to get involved in this low-price war in the early days of entrepreneurship (Liu& Wei, 2012). Most often, they choose to sell their ideas and technologies to large companies or even be directly absorbed due to insufficient funding. As large companies mastered the monopoly of most technologies on the Internet, this has restrained the innovation of the Internet industry to a certain extent. Those famous big companies always hold essential development resources, such as data, technology, and channels, to compete with other companies to gain greater profits. However, real innovation is becoming less and less due to suppression.
Freedom of choice?
Within today’s Internet development, the cost for Internet companies to attract users has become lower (Mansell& Steinmueller, 2020), and plagiarism is difficult to identify and resolve. Traditional monopolistic behavior takes on new forms and characteristics in the Internet platform, which causes a lack of diversity on the Internet, making the Internet industry also monopolized by capital like the traditional commercial market. Large companies compete for users on the Internet platform through various forms. Even the search engines, which are supposed to be neutral, arrange the display order of websites according to the companies’ bids (Introna & Nissenbaum, 2000).
Consumers have lost the right to choose, and they will form such a mindset – ‘more people’s choice means better product quality. I should follow most people to choose big brands and companies. Even most of the time, they can only choose from big brands and companies because small companies that propose innovative technologies even cannot appear in the competitive market.
Overall, lack of diversity has significantly impacted the development of the Internet today; part of these influences comes from the historical context of the early days of the Internet. Although pre-existing bias is less pronounced than before, it is still present on the Internet. It creates a negative experience for some users when they use the Internet. The monopoly from the large technology companies has further reduced the Internet’s diversity and led to a vicious cycle, causing damage to the platform economy and individual consumers’ benefits.
Loeb, S., Borno, H. T., Gomez, S., Ravenell, J., Myrie, A., Sanchez Nolasco, T., Byrne, N., Cole, R., Black, K., Stair, S., Macaluso, J. N., Walter, D., Siu, K., Samuels, C., Kazemi, A., Crocker, R., Sherman, R., Wilson, G., Griffith, D. M., & Langford, A. T. (2022). Representation in Online Prostate Cancer Content Lacks Racial and Ethnic Diversity: Implications for Black and Latinx Men. The Journal of Urology, 207(3), 559–564. https://doi.org/10.1097/JU.0000000000002257
Friedman, B., & Nissenbaum, H. (1996). Bias in computer systems. ACM Transactions on Information Systems, 14(3), 330–347. https://doi.org/10.1145/230538.230561
INTRONA, L. D., & NISSENBAUM, H. (2000). Shaping the Web: Why the Politics of Search Engines Matters. The Information Society, 16(3), 169–185. https://doi.org/10.1080/01972240050133634
Noble, S. U. (2018). Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. NYU Press.
Banerjee, S., & Hodge, A. (2007). Internet Usage: A Within Race Analysis. Race, Gender & Class (Towson, Md.), 14(3/4), 228–246.
Liu, Y., Feng, J., & Wei, K. K. (2012). Negative price premium effect in online market—The impact of competition and buyer informativeness on the pricing strategies of sellers with different reputation levels. Decision Support Systems, 54(1), 681–690.
Mansell, R., & Steinmueller, W. E. (2020). Advanced Introduction to Platform Economics. Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.
Lusoli, A., & Turner, F. (2021). “It’s an Ongoing Bromance”: Counterculture and Cyberculture in Silicon Valley—An Interview with Fred Turner. Journal of Management nquiry, 30(2), 235–242.
Zimmer, Michael. May 9, 2007. “Google: ‘Did you mean: “He invented”?’” http:// www.michaelzimmer.org/2007/05/09/google-did-you-mean-he-invented/, accessed October 6, 2022.