To what extent has a lack of diversity influenced the development of the internet? How does this lack of diversity harm societies and individuals?

The development of the internet in its earliest forms has never had the relationship with diversity that we see today. The priority of inclusion and accessibility in the conception of internet technologies have never been of paramount importance and so have rendered many discriminatory by nature.

As a result of lack of diversity in gender, race and ability, individuals and societies who face discrimination are left isolated from society due to accessibility and misrepresentation. This essay aims to assist in the awakening of the public consciousness to issues of diversity in internet based creation.

It is said that art imitates life or vice versa. The environment in which we create is in some way mimicked and translated into our product. So can be said for the development of the internet. Spanning back into the late 1960’s, the culture in which it was created can be seen within it even today.

The earliest stages of the internet were already predestined by existing in a society that was already heavily flawed through social constructs of racism, sexism and ableism. The technological advancements that came through the cultivation of tech in the capital, Silicon Valley, however, were key to this lack of diversity.

The “bro-culture” that Silicon Valley propagated encapsulated itself and so the internet’s creation served as a framework for the white male-dominated, hetro normative population of this time (Lusoli & Turner, 2021).

Since, those in minority, namely women, people of colour and the disabled community have faced a system designed to disadvantage by inception.

The internet’s transition into a heavy automated intelligence system could be attributed to the implementation of algorithms. But just as the internets foundation was built from a culture of societal bias and discrimination, so too the algorithms they develop.

Taking a view of discrimination not just as a product of the internet but as one of its core rudiments one observes; coded into the very frameworks of applications is bias that continues to disadvantage women and people of colour (POC).

Both Ward (2020) and Forlano (2021) discuss the issues of racial bias and coded inequality through the development of the internet and its beginnings in Silicon Valley.

They focalise the comprehension and acknowledgement of the consequences of entrenched racism and inequality the establishment of the internet saw, as the first step to rid it from contemporary society (Ward, 2020).

The roots of issues such as these run so deep that we still feel their consequences today. Earlier this year in June, the U.S Department of Justices filed a lawsuit against tech giant Facebook regarding the use of the “Special Ad Audience” and its ability to exploit targeted advertising on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status and national origin. Facebook was accusedof using racially discriminatory algorithms to target housing advertisements to users based off a system known as a “Look-alike Audience” (U.S Department of Justice, 2022). Even after the effort to amend this behaviour in both Facebook’s company and technology, the effects of such can still be felt.

Again, the lack of diversity in the creation of the gaming sector alike has set back the inclusivity and progression of gaming in the modern age. Early social constructivism of the gaming sector as a “boys club” (Phillips, 2020) has seen a harsh gender divide in the development of internet based gaming.

Just as the internet’s own creation saw issues of discrimination towards womens inclusion so we see the same outcome. Women’s interest in technology “conditioned by gender division of labour in agriculturalism and industrial capitalism” (Harcourt,1999).

Representation of women in online gaming is most clearly what White (2015) describes as “coded and dismissed.” Women are continuously depreciated and degraded as valuable participants of the community. This includes both their representation as hypersexualised objects or the harassment faced throughout games (Gray, 2018).

Issues arise from the initial prejudice of women in the creation of gaming (like the internet) and further into the representation of women in gaming where we see a constant bigotry. Think of some of the most top grossing games of the past decade, GTA, Call Of Duty or World of Warcraft. In it women are portrayed in one of three ways, silenced, hypersexualised or degraded.

Application of common theories such as Dyer ( 2013) we can start to comprehend why the gaming sector has in a way disabled women from entering communities.

“How we are seen determines how we are treated, how we treat others is based on how we see them; such seeing comes from representation. “

The most obvious consequences of a lack of gender diversity in online gaming have been seen and felt through the hate and harassment explicated in the 2014 Gamergate discrimination campaign.

The controversy involved extensive harassment and threatening of women in and around the gaming realm (Paasonen, 2018). This behaviour grew to enormous lengths, even as far as threatening the life of women participants and those who stood by. Anita Sarkeesian one of many women fighting for a voice in the gaming industry, experienced unspeakable threats against her life which she refused to admit until years on.

Focusing further into the gaming industry and the extension of the internet as a disabling environment (Easton, 2011), the use of online gaming technologies provides valuable insight into another aspect of the influence of diversification or lack thereof.

The integration of AR technologies and Virtual Reality into online gaming has provided opportunities for development alongside diversity. Since their conception however, have and continue to be built around the able body, deepening the divide between societies.

Gaming technologies present issues of ability and accessibility for the disabled community. It is seen in almost all mainstream VR games on the market today due to the accessibility of the technology themselves, not the games designed within.

Frameworks such as Mott et al (2019) introduce features of accessibility that can be translated to the development of new AR and VR games. By doing so could offer inclusion and diversity to the disabled community into the online gaming realm. Five simple accessabilities of content, device, representation and application diversity.

Basic features such as virtual movement, position adaptation, boosting and amplifying gestures, individual hand adjustment and hand tracking could provide equal opportunity for both communities if applied to VR and AR games. Reviews of technological development such as All Access Life’s are valuable for the future design of tech and to cater to those once disadvantaged by a broken system.

The lack of diversity in gender, race and ability, throughout the basis of internet creation and its extending technologies have excited issues of discrimination and prejudice within their development. By understanding and acknowledging these issues there are hopes for even further development that will incorporate lessons learnt from past mistakes. These mistakes affect not only individuals but society as a whole as we hinder our progression in technological evolution.



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https://prismreports.org/2020/12/23/coded-bias-addresses-algorithmic-inequality-i n-big-tech/

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