Since its development, the Internet has truly become an integral aspect in our daily lives, revolutionlising everyday methods of communications, e-commerce, entertainment, and learning (Dennis, 2022). Despite its wide proliferation, concerns regarding its lack of diversity such as women and ethnic backgrounds in its progression are apparent, with it immensely harming how societies and individuals interact with, and within the Internet.
The underlying biases and ideologies present within the Internet’s development and altercations form the media we consume today. The intrinsic networked nature of the Internet inherently spreads the cultural opinions or lack thereof of its developers through their work and focuses, influencing the experiences of its users. With little input from diverse contexts, Internet culture remains largely skewed. Bastian (2019) exemplifies this concern, iterating that the lack of minority involvement propagates “inequitable systems and create(s) echo chambers of perspectives”.
Early Development: The Middle-Class White Man’s Product
Though the story of the Internet’s development and wide proliferation remains as one of remarkable technological progress, it is vital to note that its foundations are deeply situated in the cultural contexts of its early producers (David, 2018). Due to its heavy intertwinement with academia, its development continues to expand in an inherently meritocratic space, which inherently lacks input from individuals of diverse backgrounds, subsequently harming individual and societal perspectives to a significant extent.
Although computers were able to execute online communication in 1982, the Internet prevalent in the modern age – the World Wide Web (WWW) – was formally created in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (World Wide Web Foundation, 2022). The crucial decision to formulate a code which enabled a decentralised online space was launched; one that aimed to facilitate royalty-free means of information dissemination for all people, no matter their background or context (W3C, 2021). Despite the values of collaboration and open communication, the ideologies of the Internet’s early developers remain controversial. As Castells (2002) states, the techno-meritocratic culture prevalent within the scientific community at the time represented a homogenous group based on meritocracy rather than diversity.
This issue is still prevalent in the current technology sphere, with developers still being predominantly white men, with the lack of diversity influencing the Internet’s production ever since its early periods (Daileda, 2016). As such, due to a pre-existing structure where inequality predominates and an apathetic consideration to equality, the Internet remains largely white, male and middle-class (Lusioli & Turner, 2021).
Gender Inequality: Women in the Web
Despite women in the technology space being a massive movement presented by advocates and tech companies alike, they still remain underrepresented, underpaid, and discriminated against within the workplace (White, 2021). This significant absence of diversity in the construction of the Internet as well as the consequences on its users is extremely prevalent, with issues surrounding women’s experiences on the Internet arising as a result.
There is a distinct employment gap within the technology sphere, with only a quarter of employees within tech being women (White, 2021). Furthermore, most of them have experienced gender discrimination at work, with almost 50% of women in computing jobs detailing their experiences of ostracisation as a result of their gender (Funk & Parker, 2018). The work culture within technology jobs, which portrays the Internet’s culture and developers, has evidently been created by those who are already represented heavily in the industry. . Essentially, the needs of women on the Internet are inadequately addressed as a result of the lack of direct input from the developing positions (White, 2021).
This concern is exemplified when examining the experience of women on the Internet. Within the online sphere, 52% of women and girls experienced online abuse, including threatening messages, sexual harassment and the unconcensual sharing of private photos and videos (Web Foundation, 2020). As the Internet continues to expand, the issue grows concurrently; as Berners-Lee, the creator of the web itself states, “the web is not working for women and girls” (Sample, 2020). In order to combat this, action from technology companies must be taken to ensure that the space they create is accommodating to all. For instance, the badly designed algorithm systems developed as a result of a male-dominated lens exacerbate such discrimination (Sample, 2020). Berners-Lee demands for the web to work for everyone, calling for the attention from all those who shape technologies to diversify and address the issue; “unless they dedicate resources and diversify teams to mitigate bias, they risk expanding discrimination at a speed and scale never seen before” (Sample, 2020).
With the imbalance of equality being made prevalent more and more by the intense differences of experiences between men and women, more criticism is piling up regarding the culture of the internet. However, due to more and more women joining the tech workforce, the potential of the technology industry as a whole can change with new values and developers to a more inclusive environment. The Internet can thus reflect such inclusivity.
Racial Discrimination: Artificial (Un)Intelligence
As mentioned prior, the algorithms and artificial intelligence created by the narrow scope of the Internet’s developers and a result of the lack of racially diverse developers, a its tone-deaf culture has been created, which breeds online issues.
The white-male conversation inherently rooted into the development of the Internet has continued to determine its progress, with racial minorities being under-represented in technological and computing jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 only 8.3% of all computing occupations are held by Black and African American people and 7.2% are held by Hispanic and Latino individuals. (Code.org, 2018). This issue is not simply about the representation or discrimination evident in its landscape, but rather the effectiveness of industry in creating successful technologies, within the theory that the exclusion of minorities in the Internet’s development directly influences the future of human society.
The algorithmic bias within the Internet’s construction is highlighted in the controversies regarding search engine results. Noble (2018)’s “Algorithms of Oppression” highlights the example of how users, when searching for “Black Girls” using the 2012 Google search engine, yielded results of pornographic material and hypsersexual sites. This established algorithm has essentially reinforced negative perceptions of a specific group of people with the potential of disillusioning societal perceptions of young black women. Moreover, the search results have shown to discriminate against people of colour further by categorising photos of black people as animals (Nobel, 2018).
Though the Internet has allowed global connectivity and accessible communication, the online space is still mainly altered and used by western audiences. The skewed population of those who navigate the space present the concerns of misinformation; only approximately 20% of the world shapes our understanding of 80% of the world (Graham & Sengupta, 2017). For instance, the articles published and edited on Wikipedia regarding African countries are done by editors, primarily men, in Europe or North America (Graham & Sengupta, 2017). This is a by-product of the Internet’s imbalance of ability to create meaningful input.
Due to the absence of racially diverse voices, the technology that dominates the Internet still represents the predominately white-centralised perspective which existed since its beginning. This inherent technological exclusion has led to adverse consequences to the user culture on the Internet, and subsequently this technology’s success in progressing society.
Since its establishment, the continual development of the Internet has been situated in a space of white-male meritocratic culture, with a significant absence of diverse voices. This cultural dynamic instigated by its producers perpetuates into the online space they have created, ultimately shaping the perspectives of its users. The less input of minority opinion considered within the technology industry, the more susceptible its products will be to skewed towards a certain culture; if diverse perspectives are not implemented in its development, is the Internet really for all users? The early utopian visions of the Internet to be a safe space to be used by all may only be reached through collaborative work by those from all walks of life; though the preceding bias of its academic creators may be complicated to eradicate completely, the inclusion of unique attitudes within the tech industry will certainly mitigate its effects.
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