In a world populated by social media posts, with seemingly unlimited diversity on the Internet it is somewhat difficult to remember and perceive a world that lacked diversity, and the existence of such socio-cultural phenomenon which drove the advancements in web development. Developed out of a need for sharing information to many users in a short amount of time in a ‘read-only’ format, the concept of Internet has developed to a point that encourages user participation and interaction. Such advancements provided minority and outlying social groups to also have a voice, but further facilitated information exchange and diversification of opinions and information sources between individuals. In this article, the main goal is to discuss how the lack of diversity in a one-way communications model drove the development of the Internet into its current environment and drives future conceptualisation trends, and to examine how a lack of diversity can have harmful socio-cultural implications.
““The illusion of diversity” ” by See-ming Lee (SML) is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Prior to the Internet and subsequent Web 2.0, communication was largely one-dimensional, and carried the risk of misinformation that can skew individual views and beliefs. Traditional mass media communication followed largely a one-way communications model, in that the public acted as consumers of information, without meaningful ways of engaging in interactive sharing of their own opinions (Donohue, Tichenor & Olien, 1973; Schattenberg, 1981). Mediums such as newspapers, television and radio were often controlled by a limited few powerful families, organisations and formal institutions, and the creation and sharing of information can often become biased for various political, economic and social purposes (Donohue, Tichenor & Olien, 1973). For example, the Murdoch family has been accused of disseminating biased and misleading information through their influence and control of newspaper and television medias in support of the interest of his business and political allies (Kellner, 2012). Similarly, black people were often stereotyped in television and films as angry, aggressive criminals with low levels of intelligence and education (Schattenberg, 1981). With the initial development of the Internet and prior to Web 2.0, the dominant majority of users were also white, male and middle-class. In a ‘read-only’ environment where information consumers can only forcefully take in what the content creators disseminate, this cultural homogeneity can impose incorrect values and perceptions upon the public.
Sourced from: BBC Reel. (2020, October 29). How the media shapes the way we view the world. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVAztNx0rHQ
The lack of cultural heterogeneity has perceivable issues, in that such forms of one-way communication media can be leveraged as tools for maintenance of social control by political actors. From a psychological perspective, Chudnovskaya & Lipatova (2018) argues that a person’s reality is shaped by their perception, in specific values, culture, past experiences, present circumstances and preconceived notions. Choi, Gray & Ambady (2005) also suggests that a person’s perception and development of values is often shaped by their immediate environment, including social norms, artefacts, practices and information. As such, dissemination of biased information through media channels controlled by a culturally homogeneous group can impact the information consumer’s perception, and ultimately skew their construction of reality. Extreme cases include the perception of ‘white supremacy’ within the United States, and antisemitism displayed towards the Jewish based on the belief that they were responsible for the plague epidemic in Europe (Gillis, 2017; Nilsen & Turner, 2021). The result was a display of hatred directed by information consumers toward the targeted cultural group without evidence, leading to significant social issues such as slavery and persecution that was justified. The existence of such biases and lack of diversity in representation subsequently provided a driving force for a platform where minorities can also voice their opinions in creating an environment with greater equality.
“Web 1.0 vs Web 2.0” by POPOEVER is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
The development of Web 2.0 represented an environment that facilitated a higher level of diversity and multiculturalism to break down social barriers on a global scale. Web 2.0 builds upon the conceptualisation of the Internet as an infrastructure for sharing information, allowing participants to use the Internet as a platform for user generated content which promoted collaboration and social exchange of ideas and opinions (Hossain & Aydin, 2011). Greater participation by previously outlying, isolated or minor social groups provided the internet with a higher level of cultural heterogeneity, allowing information consumers to receive information from a wider range of sources in building their perception and worldview. Although this is not to say that the Internet is now free from biases and misconceptions, with the development of sub-cultures often also embodying toxic and hateful aspects (McLeod & Vasinda, 2008). However, the wider availability of information and ability for social interaction facilitates a higher level of cultural diversity, allowing people to form balanced perspectives, rather than being influenced by singular, culturally homogenous sources.
There is a growing social and academic recognition that diversity represents a significant benefit factor for both society and in the workplace. Different people in a team can bring in unique subsets of skills, knowledge and competencies developed from their past experiences and environments, translating into unique perspectives and problem-solving abilities (Hughes, 2012). A high level of diversity in the workplace can subsequently offer organisations with stronger pool of abilities to generate competitive advantages, as well as increasing creativity and innovativeness. Research conducted by Tadmor, Satterstrom & Polzer (2012) identified that multicultural teams exhibited higher levels of creativity in problems solving in terms of fluency, flexibility and novelty, as compared to homogeneous groups. Indeed, the fundamental issue of cultural homogeneity comes from the similarity in experiences, values and perceptions, which translates to resemblances in thought patterns and decision-making behaviour, thus limiting the scope of their creative abilities to think from different perspectives (Emmott & Worman, 2008). From an individual perspective, the opportunity to interact with others, especially from another culture can help the individual develop a more comprehensive understanding of the world (Phillips, Slepian & Hughes, 2018). Interacting with others can stimulate new ideas and motivate learning to gain new skills and competencies, shape new values and practices that can offer individuals a more holistic approach to life which cannot be attained if there is a lack of diversity. For societies, similar benefits can be recognised, in that the diversity brought about with Web 2.0 allow interaction and engagement of differing values and perspectives, facilitating greater cross-cultural understanding through experience. This can translate to a higher level of mutual awareness, trust and respect to reduce social issues such as racism and stereotype in driving stronger social equality.
“Injustice on a Stick protest against white supremacy at the Minnesota State Fair” by Fibonacci Blue is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
The development of Web 2.0 bridges the prior separation of cultural groups, providing a setting that allow user generated content that facilitates cultural interactions and exchange of ideas in a diverse environment. Prior to such development, mass media can be used by a culturally homogeneous group or institutions for political, economic and social purposes such as social control. This leads to information consumers developing skewed world views resulting in social issues such as stereotype and perjury. The drive to greater diversity was achieved through Web 2.0, allowing the world to interact and exchange ideas and opinions and providing a voice to minority and outlying social groups that bring inherent benefits. Individuals can broaden their worldview and develop balanced perspectives through interaction and mitigate against social control of institutions, whilst fostering greater individual development and group performance in organisations. From a social perspective, greater diversity can lead to reduction to social issues such as racism and stereotypes in the move toward greater social equality.
Choi, S. Y., Gray, H. M. & Ambady, N. (2005). The Glipsed World: Unintended Communication and Unintended Perception. Viewed 7 September 2022, http://web.stanford.edu/group/ipc/pubs/2005Choi.pdf
Chudnovskaya, I. N. & Lipatova, M. E. (2018). Impact of media on shaping ethno-cultural stereotypes in British and Russian young people. Media Watch, 9(3), 426-436. https://doi.org/10.15655/mw/2018/v9i3/49487
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Nilsen, S. D. & Turner, S. E. (2021). White supremacy and the American media. (1st edn). Routledge.
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