Before the advent of the Internet, the public believed that traditional mass media had various means of communication, which could be called communication media. Today, with increasingly mature digital technology, the Internet has integrated the forms and advantages of various media and has become the essential communication medium in the information age. The Internet has been shaped by its history, technology, and social influence and has shown various characteristics (Dworak et al., 2014). On the one hand, strong inclusivity, unlimited writing space, and deliberative relationships with audiences allow online media to expand the discussion of issues to an unlimited number of topics (Dworak et al., 2014). On the other hand, users are satisfied with the information interconnection created by the Internet and are enthusiastic about the more diverse discussion spaces and unconstrained instant information coverage brought by the Web (Dworak et al., 2014). However, emerging digital technologies are closely related to economic power relations, governments, and regulators (Karppinen, 2017). Once excessive restrictions on development will inevitably stifle creativity and individual rights, resulting in a lack of diversity on the Internet (Karppinen, 2017). This essay will explore the economic and cultural manifestations of the lack of diversity on the Internet.
Internet lacks economic diversity
With the advent of the Web 2.0 era, the public increasingly accesses Internet content through specialized social media platforms and applications, and digital media and communication platform companies are also migrating to these services (Terry et al., 2019). As of August 2016, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook have become the five most prominent companies in the world by market capitalization (McCarthy, 2022). The lack of diversity in the Internet’s online economy is evident in the technology itself (McCarthy, 2022). Over the past decade, Google searches account for 92% of all web searches worldwide (McCarthy, 2022). Its users reach nearly two-thirds of the world’s population due to the widening differences between digital technologies (McCarthy, 2022). In addition, Google also contributes a considerable presence to nearly four-thirds of the world’s digital advertising spending (McCarthy, 2022). The growing power of big tech giants will not only threaten the survival of emerging sites, but the resulting platform capitalism and surveillance capitalism will further monopolize the diversity of the Internet economy. On the one hand, large tech giants rely on advanced technology to launch innovations and set up branches worldwide, posing a considerable challenge to establishing new websites (McCarthy, 2022). In a survey last year, new websites’ survival rate has been on a long-term downward trend over the past decade (McCarthy, 2022). Specifically, half of the websites created in 2005 exist today, while the survival rate of new websites has become increasingly low after 2005 (McCarthy, 2022). About 90% of new sites launched in 2018 failed within two years of launch (McCarthy, 2022). On the other hand, large tech giants can further broaden the scope of their business for platforms by extracting user data through big data technologies (Zuboff, 2020). The core of both platform capitalism and surveillance capitalism lies in the extraction of data and the precise placement of personalized and customized content introduced for users through data analysis, thus gradually creating an increasingly pathological dependency on social media and the Internet and even controlling the individual’s right to free choice (Zuboff, 2020). For example, some applications authorize the privacy of the microphone, location, photos, and videos in an individual’s mobile phone without the user’s knowledge (Holloway, 2022). With these authorizations, the application can create a unique algorithm to manipulate the user’s information (Holloway, 2022). In some cases, when a user mentions a product while chatting with others on a social application, data is collected behind the scenes to create a filter bubble (Holloway, 2022). The purchase information for this product will be pushed to the homepage when the user opens the shopping platform on their mobile phone (Holloway, 2022). An Australian user mentioned that after buying a bedroom set for his child online, his mobile page was inundated with bedding ads on Google and Facebook (Holloway, 2022). Surveillance capitalism has brought staggering business growth to big tech giants, with Google processing an average of 1.2 trillion searches yearly and a company valuation of about $822 billion as of 2019 (Holloway, 2022). The lack of online economic diversity not only leads to the slow infusion of new blood in the development of the Internet but also challenges users’ online privacy to a certain extent.
Internet lacks cultural diversity
The phenomenon of new media platforms gradually replacing traditional media reflects the rapid development of Internet technology and shows the process of audiences changing from passive to active (Henry, 2014). The new media is powerfully interactive and permeates our daily life. Its emergence has given ordinary people the right to discuss and calligraphy their opinions while blurring the concept of public and private space (Henry, 2014). Today’s audience is becoming more active on an active basis, generating thoughts and giving actions (Henry, 2014). Under the blessing of this background, a new type of fan culture phenomenon has gradually emerged (Henry, 2014). They rely on Internet technology to gather on social platforms to form a vociferous fan base while simultaneously participating in the construction of social platforms, making creative changes or new builds (Henry, 2014). Fandom has become a unique media landscape in today’s society and plays an indispensable role in the media (Henry, 2014). As a diverse and highly participatory communication culture, it once again expands the rights of the audience and the market to a certain extent, making the audience’s identity from a receiver to a producer and realising the activism of the audience (Henry, 2014). In recent years, with the support of technology and ideas, more and more creators have devoted themselves to textual poaching, and the creation and production of homoerotic culture have gradually become popular. However, while attracting a huge audience, this culture has also become the attack target of social and cultural industries. The Untamed is a 2019 Chinese television series based on fan fiction that stars Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo (Jiang, 2020). The series sparked a public outcry and received widespread praise from fans for the explicit romance between the two male leads (Jiang, 2020). In early 2020, a fan fiction about the two went viral on the Archive of Our Own website (Jiang, 2020). Some fans thought it was a successful second creation. However, some fans were angry because they were dissatisfied with the character set in the article, then reported that the site (Jiang, 2020). Archive of Our Own is a resource storage site for fans worldwide, hosting over 5 million novels across more than 35,000 fanbases, and the platform has also won the Hugo Award for Best Related Work (Jiang, 2020). Its founders wanted the site to be a haven for fan fiction (Jackson, 2019). The site’s main concerns are helping the commercial development of fan works, continuing fan fiction history, and protecting fans’ freedom of expression (Jackson, 2019). The LGBT community sees it as their habitat (Jackson, 2019). However, after being reported, the website was blocked in mainland China and cannot be accessed through the Chinese national network (Romano, 2020). In March 2020, the government announced stricter restrictions on content posted on websites to ensure that content presented on the web is positive and uplifting and that all content that is vague, sexually suggestive, violent and gory, or in any way contrary to social mores, is not allowed to be posted (Romano, 2020). With China’s ongoing crackdown on queer content, sexually explicit content, and websites based abroad, Archive of Our Own has fallen victim to internet cultural censorship (Romano, 2020). Fandom represents one of many transnational forces in the contemporary world and plays an essential role in shaping the core dialogue around media and culture (Henry, 2014). The lack of online cultural diversity, on the one hand, undermines society’s inclusiveness of multiculturalism. On the other hand, to a certain extent, it affects the viewers’ activism, discouraging them from the secondary creation of culture.
With the development of society and the advancement of technology, it has become inevitable that there is a diversity of news dissemination subjects. As the infrastructure on which today’s society depends, the Internet provides a powerful impetus for economic development, public participation and technological innovation. Therefore, network diversity is vital.
Holloway, D. (2022, June 29). Explainer: What is surveillance capitalism and how does it shape our economy? The Conversation. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-surveillance-capitalism-and-how-does-it-shape-our-economy-119158
Dworak, B. J., Lovett, J., Baumgartner, F., Richardson, R. J., & Hill, U. (2014, April 3). The diversity of internet media: Utopia or dystopia?: Semantic scholar. undefined. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Diversity-of-Internet-Media%3A-Utopia-or-Dystopia-Dworak-Lovett/a3f54c77102c2c9dbdf55e34109377dc1ac10fb2
Henry, J. (2014). Fandom studies as I see it. Journal of Fandom Studies, 2(2), 89–109. https://doi.org/10.1386/jfs.2.2.89_1
Jackson, G. (2019, June 24). Banned From The Chinese Internet, LGBT Fanfiction Writers Find New Home On U.S. Website. Kotaku. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://kotaku.com/banned-from-the-chinese-internet-lgbt-fanfiction-write-1835812630
Jiang, S. (2020, March 10). Xiao Zhan and AO3 fans clash, sparking social media Firestorm. Pandaily. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://pandaily.com/xiao-zhan-and-ao3-fans-clash-sparking-social-media-firestorm/
Karppinen, K. (2017). Human rights and the digital. In The Routledge Companion to Media and Human Rights (pp. 95–103). Routledge.
McCarthy, P. X. (2022, May 20). The online economy’s lack of diversity. Cosmos. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/internet/online-lack-diversity/
Romano, A. (2020, March 1). China has censored the Archive of Our Own, one of the internet’s largest fanfiction websites. Vox. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://www.vox.com/2020/3/1/21159275/china-ao3-archive-of-our-own-banned-censorship
Terry, F., Fiona, M., & Nicolas, S. (2019). Internet regulation AS media policy: Rethinking the question of Digital Communication Platform Governance. Journal of Digital Media & Policy, 10(1), 33–50. https://doi.org/10.1386/jdmp.10.1.33_1
Zuboff, S. (2020). The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for a human future at the New Frontier of Power. New York : PublicAffairs.