The integration of developing technologies has provided significant evolvement within society. Ultimately, the internet has become an integral part of the world, enabling mass globalization, disseminating information from all aspects of humanity. However, it has distributed various challenges and concerns allusive within society today. Stated by Noble (2018), the lack of diversity displayed throughout the internet normalizes misinformation about vulnerable groups as factual, essentially rejecting minorities’ accessibility to involvement. This consequentially emphasizes concerns about online discrimination and prejudice against minorities, which are pervasive in society (Cinnamon, 2017). Yet, there are challenges to these claims, insisting the internet has provided diverse unification (Voiskounsky, 1999). Through critically analysing the lack of diversity evident on the internet and its growth, the issues that impact societal behaviour can be understood. It will be argued that the internet recycles and promotes dominant ideologies, perpetrated by commercial interest. This will be explored through the internet’s earlier developments and culture displayed both online and offline.
The emergence of the internet revolutionized communication, providing a metaphysical space for collaboration and distribution of information (Leiner et al, 2009). Naughton (2016, p7) claims the initial purpose for the internet eventually transpired as it progressed, eliciting the “commercialization of networks”. However, these early formations are still integrated into contemporary architectures (Noble, 2018). The necessity for the internet’s development was heavily influenced by World War II within America, in which funding was largely attained for military intent (Naughton, 2016). The concept drew attention to computing power allowing efficient distribution and communication of resources, bearing mass economic benefits for America (Leiner et al, 2009). It can be understood that the internet’s initial concept was a direct response to past economic and political realities as an attempt to gain advancements over America’s perceived threats.
As the internet arose in America, the country was given early recognition of the value of the internet, exploiting the internet’s global popularity. Currently, the biggest technological companies are hyper-present in America. Monopolizing economic benefits attained from expanding technologies, permitting political advantage due to mass control over the internet. The initial limited opportunities for external countries to enter the technological industry exhibit a lack of diversity. The internet was seen to favour the dominant intricacies displaced in its initial development (Noble, 2017). Damaging the ability for opposing countries to gain economic stability, reducing opportunities to advance both economically and technologically. However, the UN (2021) exposed these dichotomies, emphasizing the risks of inequality brought by technological developments.
The UN’s report outlines the mitigations of these issues, suggesting underdeveloped countries must have the same opportunities for this “rapid technological change” (p120, UN, 2021). Advocating for developed countries to displace effective policies in recognition of this lack of diversity.
Discussions regarding the internet’s creation prioritise the praise of white males, dismissing minorities. Professor McIlwain (cited by Stuart, 2019) highlights the lack of acknowledgement for people of colour who additionally collaborated on developing the internet. Whilst it’s argued that diversity was apparent within earlier stages, the issue lies within the subsequent silencing of minorities who aided in the progression of the internet. This lack of acknowledgement reflects the consistent pursual of attempts to retain dominant ideologies persistent in society and subsequentially, the internet. Moreover, maintaining patriarchal power and internalized inequality subjects marginalized communities to be discouraged from pursuals of entering the industry due to a limited understanding of their historical accomplishments and opportunities. Despite this, McIlwain (2019) further states the internet, and the technological industry provides opportunities for minorities to determine their “own fates”. Implying, the internet still provides a space to escape notions displaced within society to succeed beyond societal barriers.
Due to limited diversity during the creation of the internet, there are arguments insisting that previous biases integrated by subjective creators are still prominent within internet interactions today. Existing biases and social systems are further perpetuated by big data and algorithms. Heightened by evolving machine learning algorithms, there is reinforcement regarding the display of dominant ideologies, encouraging increased negative behaviours (Cinnamon, 2015). Earlier developments and creations are still encoded literally and metaphorically into the basis of the internet. Highlighting dominant ideologies as it ensures interactions and economic attainment (Noble, 2018). As the internet has developed over time, there has been the commodification of all aspects of the internet to those with power. However, this power was limited to those who were acknowledged, white males within America. Overturning minorities who were present in its development within the early stages. Noble claims this results in society’s “errors which lead to profiling, misrepresentation and economic redlining” (2018, p28).
Online and Offline Culture
As the internet has experienced exponential growth, the increased presence of global users has shifted to online cultures. With the rise of platforms, users are enabled to interact, share and create their own content. The formulation of communities are dominated by certain groups, reinforcing specific behaviours and bias within the cultural space. Reddit is an online platform dominated by white males, implicitly “refining the desires of dominant groups”(Massanari, 2018, P330), consequentially marginalizing others. Massanari (2018) highlights significant events tainting the platform such as #gamergate and the ‘fappening’, in which users displayed harmful content against women and their participation in public life. Reddit’s algorithm is heavily influenced by both new and highly upvoted content (Massanari, 2018), exploiting negative stereotypes for economic gain (Noble, 2018). Considering how the platform is dominated by primarily white males, it provokes concerns about minimizing minorities’ voices. Essentially, this online culture relies on both the implicit and explicit harassment of others. By reinforcing derogatory perceptions of minorities, it encourages negative social behaviour to be displayed offline. Moreover, a significant amount of younger generations are present on the internet, in which exposure to these stereotypes would enforce negative behaviour, cycling through these issues. However, Reddit has implemented “policy regulations” (Massanari, 2018, p242), demonstrating that there are precautions undertaken to prevent and ensure these issues don’t occur in the future.
In contrast, it’s argued by Weinstein (2019) that the internet enables discussions regarding discrimination and offers a place of inclusivity for minorities. Stating “youth who suffer from negative interactions seek out alternate social niches and social support online” (2019, p404). Suggesting, marginalised groups that experience harm within the physical world, look to support through the internet encouraging diverse individuals to form a community of peers. In attempts to be more inclusive, technological companies have taken approaches to vow and be more diverse within their workplace. This is imperative as technological corporations are amongst the most successful in the world. Despite numerous companies implementing regulations to ensure diverse workplaces, there are still concerns regarding the permanence of these predisposed algorithms carrying previous ideologies on the internet.
Furthermore, there are rebuttals regarding attempts to diversify the workplace, stating it’s not progressive. Patrick Shyu (2020), an ex-employee of prominent tech giants such as Google and Facebook, argued that diversity has become overly emphasized within the Tech industry as seen in figure 1. The approach to hiring personnel subjects concerns of equality for all individuals. The industry, despite historically being dominated by white males now demonstrates issues of systemic bias in favour of underrepresented minorities (Ceci & Williams, 2015 as cited by Shyu, 2020). Since there was a lack of diversity within earlier developments, in attempts to compensate its argued tech companies displace an overemphasis on diversity. Consequentially regressing society to place hierarchical value once again on individuals’ race, sex and culture.
Figure 1. Why diversity is garbage. (Shyu, 2020)
As explored through the early developments and the cultures presented online and offline, it is evident there was limited diversity during the development of the internet which carried initial consequences. Overall, there is still a cyclic reoccurrence of dominant ideologies, yet the internet’s expansion has resulted in an evaluation of these concerns regarding discrimination, enabling active precautions to be taken to encourage more equal opportunities for all individuals. This further demonstrates how minorities influence majority culture (Noble, 2018). As our society evolves, it’s our responsibility to ensure the internet reflects this. The internet has still provided space for the formulation of communities and collaboration, exceeding our expectations integrating into WEB 3.0. Whilst its future is still undetermined, our actions today can prevent the harms of tomorrow Promoting a safe community in which we can connect and interact globally.
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