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In April 2019, the New York Times published an article titled “The Only Answer Is Less Internet”. This article brought the Western mainstream media’s criticism of the current development trend of the Internet industry to a new peak. Prior to this, the popular consensus was that the Internet had improved individual’s lives and that social media had become an important source of access to new information and entertainment for the public.
However, with the development of technology in high-tech industries, the Western mainstream media gradually realize the negative effects of the Internet: centralization, cognitive segregation, and polarization of opposing viewpoints.
On the Internet, any point of view may be opposed by others, and anyone can be subjected to cyberbullying, which leads to the disappearance in the sense of the Internet. As a result, it becomes extremely challenging to simply ‘speak up’, not to mention moderate, decent, and adequate discussion, and communication on the Internet becomes stagnant and lacking in diversity.
The history of diversity on the Internet:
The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), born in the United States in 1969, was the earliest manifestation of the Internet. Before the birth of the Internet, in 1964, McLuhan in his book “Understanding of Media” foresaw that the media is an extension of the person. At a time when media were still seen only as physical or technological, his idea of media as information was intended to emphasize that changes in the form of media would trigger certain changes in society. With the advent of the Internet and the corresponding new media era, new information and communication technologies have created new social relations, new ways of social interaction, and even a new system of cultural communication.
After the 1970s, with the rapid development of the Internet, the focus of researchers has shifted from how the media affects the audience to how the audience uses the media, that is, the Internet. Early audiences did not interact with the media. From the perspective of traditional media in the past, the mainstream media, as seen from the perspective of traditional media in the past, essentially holds the right to speak, and information and opinions are mainly disseminated top-down, which is one-sided communication. However, the Internet has endowed the audience with the greatest initiative, and they are no longer simply passive receiver of content, but bystanders, commentators, and even promoters and participants of news production or news event development. Specifically, compared with the era of media before the 1970s, the audience in the Internet age is no longer only responsible for receiving information, they can also be the source of information.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the rapid development of the Internet lead to the appearance of the worldwide social media software, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tiktok. The birth of these software almost completely returned the initiative of information dissemination to the public. Diversified Internet system provides users with an independent space for information production, accumulation, sharing, and dissemination.
Social and cultural issues arising from Network Changes:
Although the scientific dissemination of the Internet has facilitated direct communication between audiences and the media and promoted the development of new media, the reduction of Internet diversity caused by the misuse of the Internet potentially leads to the social and cultural problems in different area of the world.
- Internet Diversity Reduction – Algorithms
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Algorithmic mechanisms are embedded in various online software to help users in sorting through the mass of information and delivering personalized news. However, this has brought about ethical issues with online platforms, such as the emergence of ‘Filter Bubble’. This is a phenomenon that emerged with the new media, which refers to the algorithms that assists users filter out content that they are not interested in, ensuring that only the content they want to see is available. For instance, the Homepage Recommendation Systems on Facebook and YouTube are filtered based on the individual behaviour and previously viewed videos and posts.
According to Flaxman and his colleagues at the University of Oxford, a study of the browsing history of 50,000 users in the United States shows that social media and other search engines (e.g., Google) tend to use more extreme news sources, such as recommending Breitbart News (more extreme) instead of Fox News (more neutral), and therefore users’ opinions are more radical.
Another example to is that Shearer’s survey of where Americans gets news in 2021, nearly 80% of Americans get the information they want from digital media. Therefore, due to the existence of social identity within the public, it is difficult for individuals caused by algorithms to identify with opinions different other than their own. Gradually, with the increasing amount of data on the Internet, the diversity of information gradually decreases. There have a high probability of public will be in a state of cognitive segregation. Like-minded individuals gather together, hold similar views, and only obtain information from the same sources.
- Reduced Internet Diversity – Monopoly
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Internet leading enterprises have huge market advantages and market positions, and the Internet monopoly behaviours caused by them have affected the development of online diversification. The main manifestations of Internet monopoly are data monopoly, price abuse, and exclusive trading. In the Internet industry, there is a saying that there will only be one or two companies with huge shares in the same field, and those companies that rank lower in this market have a negligible market share.
Based on the data reported by Questmobile in 2018, in China, the softwares from only the four leading Internet enterprise occupied the 75.9% Internet usage time of Chinese clients.
This illustration demonstrates how a high degree of centralization has come to be the standard in marketplaces tried to the Internet. Because of this centralization, it allows public to see a number of familiar Internet giants in every sector, that is, Internet giants consolidate this monopoly structure through investment and mergers and acquisitions. Thus, this monopoly inhibits the innovation of related industries and has an adverse impact on the healthy development of the entire industry.
The impact on society and individuals:
The Internet has a crucial role in economic development. It changed the competitive model of the market, created the new economic forms, so called virtual economy and influenced the globalization of the economy. In any case, as mentioned before that due to the high concentration of the Internet, the acquisition of big players can lead to the retreat of those start-up companies and small and medium-sized enterprises. The consequence is the observable decrease in the diversity of the Internet industry. In particular, it should be noted that, during the Cov-19 epidemic, it is undoubtedly the decrease in the diversity contribute to a profound negative impact on the current global economy. According to the World Bank’s Global Economic Outlook published in Oct of 2020, the prosperous Internet economy has contracted by 5.2 percent since the outbreak of Cov-19, which was a heavy blow to global economic development.
- Political polarization
On an individual level, social media platforms on the Internet have dramatically changed the way the general public participates in politics. Individual can more easily find information they care about and communicate with people who have similar political preferences. Algorithms take advantage of this by providing direction to current public opinion through people’s free expression of aspects related to their political preferences on the Internet. As a result, this can lead to a polarization of emotions, political perspectives and even ideology of people.
Many political commentators and strategists have called Obama’s successful 2008 campaign the success of the ‘Twitter campaign’ and the ‘success of new media in the political arena’. Later in 2012, Obama’s investment in social media was even greater than in 2008, about $47,000,000, 10 times more than Romney. In addition, he also hired a team of more than 100 people, dedicated to operating his social media account. This is undoubtedly hints that the importance of Internet in affecting the political perspectives, and the potential political polarization.
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