Can you imagine that when you open your laptop as usual to check for breaking news, the comments from other internet users are no longer thought-provoking but incredibly consistent? Or when you are sick of watching sports channels on the internet and want to watch something entertaining, but it’s so hard to find one? Despite the fact that the internet was once lauded as a vehicle of the “participatory society,” it quickly proved less liberating than previously believed. (de Kloet.,et al., 2019, pp.249). For one reason, the Internet culture has generated a world of technocrats’ confidence in human development through technology, crystallized by money-driven entrepreneurs operating in a new economy. (Castells, 2001, pp.61) Thus, the Internet will face an even more significant lack of diversity under the control and monopoly of capital. This world limits our ability to see diversity and divides people into prejudiced groups. In terms of more severe implications, with further potentially harmful effects on social issues and cultural aspects that we cannot be ignorant of.
1. CASE STUDY:
APPLE AND ANDROID (Diversification of phone systems)
New technologies are viewed as a cause of both liberties, control, and coercion. (Kelty, 2014, pp.198). However, this argument is reflected incompletely in today’s platform-based Internet world, where the line between ‘freedom’ and ‘control’ in the Internet environment is blurred and contested, making it difficult for the Internet to move towards positive diversity. In other words, everything on the platform is designed and orchestrated. (Gillespie, 2018, pp. 257)
An example is the two world-renowned mobile phone systems, Android and iOS; iOS has a closed system compared to Android, with all apple applications emphasizing the user’s adherence to the same set of specifications. The advantage of this is that it is standardized and systematic. Still, the disadvantage is that innovation and exploration across the board are difficult for users to achieve under such a platform framework. Undeniably, iOS is a tightly controlled system and lacks diversity, but Android offers a broader and more diversified selection, including different handset makers for the consumers, which is why the notion that iOS will never beat Android regularly emerges on the internet. However, the truth is the opposite, as iOS’ system model of bundling user behavior does not appear to have stopped it from continuing to dominate the best-selling phones in the first half of 2022. According to Counterpoint’s global monthly mobile phone sales tracking latest report, it accounts for 89% of its monthly sales, followed by Android-dominated Samsung and Xiaomi. This shows that even with the potential limitations and controls that the Apple system brings to consumers that restrict diversity, a large group of “isleep” worldwide frequently change and pursue introducing expensive new Apple products. In their opinion, iOS has become irreplaceable. In this case, potential harm like the CSAM detection system ‘dangerous,’ which involves the Apple system was a proven infringement of user systems for review and surveillance, becomes a thorny issue.
2. Evidence that lack of diversity harm individual
The Internet’s increasingly uniform control of ideas means a lack of diverse expression for individuals. As Hannah Fry（2018）, a mathematician at University College London, mentioned in an interview, “algorithms do not have these flaws. They are incredibly consistent, never tire, and absolutely accurate.” It is no exaggeration to say that algorithms are controlling our lives. An unintended and dangerous consequence of the constant optimization of personalization algorithms by internet companies to suit the personal preferences of their audiences is that individuals can become trapped in a ‘filter bubble‘ (Pariser, 2011), unable to access information that challenges or broadens our worldview. Our social circles are based on shared interests and experiences, and people with opposing viewpoints may have been excluded from us for some time. Coupled with the convenience of the mobile internet, we have fewer and fewer people to communicate with in person; things that formerly required dialogue may now be accomplished with a few taps on our mobile devices. Even the results we get from our searches are scrubbed and sorted according to our preferences. In this way, we can imagine the complete control of Big Data over the diversity of users’ minds.
Through a visual narrative, this video above from YouTube describes how algorithms pay close attention to our daily behavior to deliver content that we are used to or inclined towards. “Filter bubble” (Pariser, 2011) leads to echo chambers, which means that people are only exposed to facts or opinions that confirm their own. The 2019 US presidential election is an example of this. The pro-Clinton bubble offers what seems to be the same idea, namely that everyone thinks Trump could suffer a crushing defeat against his Democratic opponent. At the same time, the ethics of algorithms have been criticized and questioned for inadvertently influencing and controlling users. The fact people can only worry about the control of the algorithm, but cannot completely get rid of it, proves that everything people say and do in contemporary society is under the cloak of the internet. The lack of diverse forms of participation is certainly a disservice to users.
Therefore, even though the trajectories of individual users on the web and their views on the same thing vary, we are still being controlled and compromised by the power of big data and algorithms. At this rate, people’s thinking and speech will be as uniform as algorithms and machines, which will significantly affect our vision of how we can continue to create a more diverse and benign online environment.
3. Evidence that lack of diversity harm society
The UNESCO World Languages Report (2021) released the “Global Framework for Assessing Linguistic Diversity” in May; around 7,000 languages currently in use could disappear by half by the end of the century. The Internet, the primary means of sharing information today, has played an essential role in promoting multilingualism.
“Destroying the indigenous culture is the only alternative to killing indigenous people.” (Pratt,1892, as cited in Udell,2019). This TED Talk video below addressed the cultural problem that nearly 7,000 languages still exist, but few are promoted by governments and displayed on the internet. As a result, indigenous people are driven to leave their languages and follow the current global language standards. Nowadays, the rise of MEME, Wikipedia, and YouTube videos online provides more potential avenues for people to use their mother language. The public accepts most of these. Admittedly, the overwhelming advantages of the Internet over the dissemination of language and culture should be accompanied by increased social responsibility. However, what has been accomplished so far does not maximize the opportunity.
“Culture specifics affects the Internet usage.” (Voiskounsky,1999, pp.113) When the Internet brings English into play as the iconic language of the worldwide media function, thousands of other languages are slowly disappearing. Hence, the diversity embodied in the Internet is not enough to develop and preserve language and culture.
Overall, in this age of fragmented information, the online environment is becoming increasingly homogeneous, with data being “fed” to internet users by the algorithm. In such a way, many people tend to quickly digest it without the ability to think, requiring only a few minutes to create a follow-through or an emotionally unified expression rather than through rational thought. However, the significance of the diversity of the web is that it offers humanity the possibility to explore its development. Therefore, to lead the way to the correct path of thought, let us reject the blind following and illusory control of the internet and focus on developing online diversity and a bright and accurate future.
Castells, M. (2001). The Culture of the Internet. In The Internet galaxy reflections on the Internet, business, and society (pp. 36-63). Oxford University Press.
de Kloet, J. P., Thomas ; Guohua, Zeng ; Yiu Fai, Chow. (2019). The platformization of Chinese Society: infrastructure, governance, and practice. Chinese journal of communication, 12(3), 249-256. https://doi.org/10.1080/17544750.2019.1644008
Emma O’Connor. (2020). Opinion: The internet is dividing us. scotscoop News. https://scotscoop.com/opinion-the-internet-is-dividing-us/
Gillespie, T. (2018). Governance by and through Platforms. In The SAGE handbook of social media. SAGE Publications.
Glance, D. (2014). The psychology behind Apple’s obsessive ‘iSheep’ fans. The washington post.https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/09/15/the-psychology-behind-apples-obsessive-isheep-fans/
GCFGlobal.org. (2022). How filter bubbles isolate you. https://edu.gcfglobal.org/en/info/who-we-are/1/
Kelty, C. M. (2014). The Fog of Freedom. In Media technologies : essays on communication, materiality, and society (pp. 196-220). The MIT Press.
Kingsley-Hughes, A. (2012). Why iOS will never beat Android – Diversity. https://www.zdnet.com/article/why-ios-will-never-beat-android-diversity/
Kelly, G. (2021). Researchers Label Apple’s CSAM Detection System ‘Dangerous’. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2021/08/24/apple-iphone-warning-ios-15-csam-privacy-upggrade-ios-macos-ipados-security/?sh=1eef09783456
Personalization Algorithms: Why it matters and how it impacts people. (2021). https://www.invisibly.com/publishers
Voiskounsky, A. E. (1999). Internet: Culture, Diversity and Unification. Javnost – The Public, 6(4), 101–115. https://doi.org/10.1080/13183222.1999.11008727
RASTOGI, H. (2022). Apple Leads Top 10 Smartphone List for April 2022, Samsung Follows. Counterpoint. https://www.counterpointresearch.com/apple-leads-top-smartphone-list-april-2022/
llling, S. (2018). How algorithms are controlling your life And why you should probably pay closer attention. Vox. https://www.vox.com/technology/2018/10/1/17882340/how-algorithms-control-your-life-hannah-fry
Udell, D.B.[TED](2019, December 20 ) How to save a language from extinction?
[TRT World] Trapped in a filter bubble: what are the algorithms hiding from you?[Video].YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXB3-yVGHcI