“Web 2.0 Digitage 2012” by ocean.flynn is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Since the beginning of information infrastructure, the Internet has developed into a worldwide digital platform where users progressively use proprietary social networking platforms and mobile programmes to access various types of internet content (Flew, T. Martin, F. & Suzor, N., 2019). As people increasingly utilise online technologies for e-commerce, information gathering, and community activities, the Internet’s influence on computer communication technology and society grows. Nevertheless, the lack of diversity on the Internet has received considerable critical attention as it will negatively impact the health of both the individual and society. This essay aims to investigate the lack of variety on the Internet in three areas: online economics, gender and racial concerns, and freedom of speech. It details the negative impacts of lacking diversity in these three areas, including blocking important information in societies where the Internet lacks multiple voices and occupying a portion of the dominant internet forms with global economic rights. The Internet’s development will be impacted by the lack of gender and racial diversity since it will be unable to receive more varied thoughts.
Freedom of Speech
“Freedom of Speech” by A.MASH is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
The lack of a comprehensive voice caused by internet censorship leads to the singularity of the Internet restricting people’s freedom of speech. Internet content filtering decreases freedom of speech (Oh & Aukerman, 2013), creating social issues. The over-blocking of information and internet censorship restraint by the government restricts individuals’ freedom of expression online. A case in point is the official cover-up of COVID-19 in China which the regime’s restrictions on internet freedom led to the global spread of COVID-19 in early 2020.
In Chinese social media platforms, the Chinese government moderates massive amounts of online content related to the coronavirus outbreak. Meanwhile, the social media accounts that have published or spread ‘sensitive information or illegal content’ (Feng & Cheng, 2020) about COVID-19 are also suspended by the government. The ‘sensitive information’ comes from hundreds of internet users who are everyday users seeking help during the lockdowns. For instance, the video montage Voices of April comprises residents appealing to hospitals to cure their dying relatives and babies crying after being taken from their parents. However, this audio recording of residents expressing their demands during lockdowns went viral and was reposted by many citizens but ended up being censored and deleted in massive numbers. At the beginning of COVID-19 in 2020, some Chinese internet users were arrested for their online speech, including the citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who reported her research and disagreements with the official number of COVID-19 cases published by the Chinese government.
In such a network environment, the Internet lacks the diversity of different sounds from the general public, as the freedom of speech in online platforms is censored to merely allow positive information. In contrast, the negative voice that might be true is not allowed to present by users on the Internet. With the proliferation of regulatory control, ‘the internet environment may get the same results as information monopoly regulatory control’ (Farrand, 2013, p408). Over time, the singularity of internet platforms which the censors set limits for the freedom of speech on social media platforms, will be the tools for the governments to control public opinions. This lack of voice on the Internet would block the flow of critical information for the public and harm a healthy society. People should not sock in the fantasy of one voice that the government control.
The lack of economic diversity
With the increasing scale and globalisation of some large Internet companies, the dominance of these small number of companies in the internet environment has resulted in the lack of economic diversity, which the monopolies influence the overall development of the internet industry. As mentioned by Flew, T. Martin, F. & Suzor, N. (2019), the era of open Internet appears to be over, and it has entered the age of monopolies. Today’s digital media and communication platforms companies in the United States, the FAANG (FaceBook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google), have increasing worldwide relevance. They have expanded their share of the value that is too huge so that the Internet’s collective economic future will be broken. For instance, Internet search is effectively monopolised by Google, and Google dominates its company in the market position with a proportion of 80 per cent. With more users, they receive more of this information and can tailor better the responses they provide.
“Yahoo Pipes: Search Engine Masturbation: Source / 2007.09.13 / SML” by See-ming Lee (SML) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Since “results will not be as accurate if there is less search volume” (McArdle, 2020), search optimisation that accumulates with user query volume supports Google’s search engine monopoly. Thus, competing with other search engines, such as Bing, is challenging. According to Dean (2021), the market share of Bing has decreased in the past decades, as Bing only has a 2.47% share of the worldwide search engine market currently. Besides, Chinese big tech firms such as Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent are extending their places in the internet economies. These Internet giants extend their tentacles to multiple industries, threatening to “plug adjacent industries into the same competitive bottlenecks they already control.” (lansiti & Lakhani, 2020, p5). Ant financial services, the combination of lending operations with the payments business that Alibaba creates, has already planned to expand well beyond China. Alibaba’s commercialisation of traditional financial services will upset the balance of a sizable portion of the Chinese financial sector on the Internet and the globalised financial sector. As the characterisation of large and dominant enterprises online will spread to other industries and lead to the centralising of power and data into the hands of a few organisations, the platforms that lack Internet entrepreneurs and consequently the economic variety is lacking.
Gender and race
“#MeToo” by Truthout.org is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
People have always chosen to ignore the issues of the lack of women and minorities in creating the Internet regarding success and technology (Shevinsky, 2015). In the internet industry, race and gender bias is so pervasive that it drives away outstanding female and minority employees. The diversity they add to the Internet could have led to more improvements. According to Joy (2015), an exceptionally talented black woman with extensive experience in the Internet system was ostracised due to her colleagues’ minority stereotypes. She quit her job as she had to co-opt their negative attitudes and laugh at their horribly racist and sexist jokes to appear like one of her coworkers. Joy, who resigned due to gender and racial bias, is just one of the thousands of women who have left the internet industry. Over time, the Internet, which has lost a lot of talented and skilled women, will lead to a stereotyped environment of male hegemony. There, 27 per cent of women worked at large technology companies for seven years and decided to leave because they felt uncomfortable due to over-discrimination. Racial issues are not the only reason for the stereotype of Internet companies demanding their employees. Gender discrimination also makes it difficult for women to work on Internet development, thus contributing to the phenomenon of male dominance in technology. As proposed by Seligson (2016), most women say they are treated differently from their male colleagues, which holds them back. Women are not inferior to males and possess more ideas than men. Meanwhile, the lack of gender and race diversity will impact how the Internet develops because it would prevent it from receiving more diversified ideas. Gender and race are not the issues themselves. The Internet needs a more inclusive and diversified atmosphere in the future.
In summary, this essay set out to examine the absence of diversity on the Internet that has influenced the development of the internet industry and society. It has been identified that internet censorship prevents people from having the freedom of speech, which results in the Internet’s lack of diversity in the authentic voice of the public, only hearing the voices regulated by the governments. This deficiency of comprehensive voices on the Internet will also harm the health of the public and society. The increasing globalisation of powerful tech companies has also been noted as a factor in the extent of economic diversity. Their entry into new markets will lead to a concentration of power in the hands of a select few firms, which will contribute to the absence of small businesses on the Internet. To prevent the Internet from becoming the hegemony tool of white men and from disseminating inaccurate information, people should also consider the preconceptions held against female practitioners and members of minority groups in the internet industry.
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