The lack of diversity not only has a significant impact on the development of the Internet but also has a hugely detrimental effect on society and the individual. Firstly, this essay attempts to demonstrate a strong link between the Internet, society, and the individual. The essay will next examine how the lack of variety in three areas—gender, competitiveness, and content—has affected the growth of the Internet and how it has hurt society and individuals.
The Internet and society are inextricably linked to the individual
Today, the importance of the Internet is increasing. Specifically, the Internet is vital for a country’s political, economic, social, and cultural development (Hao & Chow, 2004). In other words, the Internet is closely linked to society as well as to individuals. Therefore, the disadvantages of the Internet’s lack of diversity inevitably have a corresponding negative impact on society and people.
Lack of gender diversity
- The lack of gender diversity has turned the Internet into an unfair place. One must mention Silicon Valley, the go-to destination for building tech businesses when it comes to the Internet. However, Silicon Valley, the key player in Internet development, has become a biased area due to its lack of gender diversity. Chang (2018) has said that Silicon Valley is not a friendly fantasy world for women in technology but a “brotopia.” Here, the proportion of female workers is severely lower than that of men, and men hold the primary power and make all the rules.
Historically, this lack of gender diversity has had a tangible impact on the development of the Internet (Chang, 2018). For example, Apple’s voice assistant Siri was initially designed to perform ‘wife’ duties and can even flirt with male users; if you ask Siri if she is a slut, you will get the response, ‘I would blush if I could.’ However, Apple has not designed Siri to perform husbandly duties to meet the needs of the female user community. Clearly, this design puts male users in the lead, marginalizes female users, and reinforces the stereotype of female subservience.
- Gender bias on the Internet will lead to biased attitudes towards gender in society and among individuals. Mary Aiken (2016) argues that the Internet has not only changed the world around us but has also shaped our behaviour and social norms. Simply put, if people are exposed to an internet world with gender stereotypes, then people’s behaviour and psychology may also be affected. For example, a 17-year-old American girl realized after her gender reassignment surgery that she was not transgender. She was simply influenced by LGBT discourse on the Internet. She found out that being LGBT allowed her to get more compliments on the Internet. It was the gender-biased comments on the Internet that led to this tragedy.
‘I literally lost organs’ Why detransitioned teens regret changing genders by Event News. All rights reserved. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFRcVReDPeY
Lack of competitive diversity in the same field
- On an economic level, the lack of competitive diversity has allowed the Internet to evolve from a sharing-based to a profit-making one. Mark Zuckerberg originally created Facebook to provide an environment for university students to connect, in that users could stay in touch with each other no matter where they were. However, Facebook has now become a place where profit is paramount, consider the infamous Cambridge Analytica data scandal, where Facebook leaked users’ privacy without permission in order to benefit, and it is no wonder that corporate giants like Facebook are now often portrayed as greedy robber barons of the digital age (Flew, 2019).
The lack of competitive diversity is related to the monopoly of technology companies on the market. Put differently, users’ choices in various areas of the Internet have become very limited due to the monopoly of large companies. Tech giants such as Facebook, Google, etc., have gained near-monopolies in their respective global markets (Popiel, 2018), leaving little room for their competitors to penetrate their core markets (Poell et al., 2019). For example, as of September 2022, Facebook holds 71.7% of the social media market, and Google holds 92.42% of the search engine market. Therefore, when users want to socialize, Facebook may be the first one they think of, and when they want to search for information via the Internet, Google may be the first one they think of. Therefore, people choose to use the services offered by technology companies, even though they know that these companies may reveal their privacy to make money (Quinn, 2016, as cited in Chambers, 2017). This is because, due to the monopoly of large companies, people have little choice if they want to enjoy a particular service.
- The monopolistic behaviour of Internet companies impacts society and individuals in that it can increase the gap between rich and poor and inequality. As a result of monopolies, the Big Five began to have an increasingly influential voice in various fields, and a platform society based on the Big Five began to permeate every aspect of people’s lives (Poell et al., 2019). It is undeniable that the creation of a platform society has facilitated the lives of most people. For example, people can now buy the products they need on the Internet without leaving their homes, but this ‘convenience’ does not reach all people.
An example of this is the dark stores, where the popularity of online shopping has led to the closure or warehousing of shops that once stood on the roadside, seriously affecting the lives of older people who do not use the Internet or those who cannot afford to do so. It is the monopoly of the big companies that are causing this problem, as people are forced to reduce their choice of shopping channels. The big companies are only thinking about making profits and expanding their influence without considering whether the lives of marginalized groups will be more difficult.
Lack of content diversity
- Limiting Internet speech or content diversity in the development of the Internet is reducing network performance. The use of filtering systems in Australia reduces the speed of regular Internet browsing by 87% (Pillion, 2009, as cited in Oh & Aukerman, 2013). Attempts at content filtering in various countries initially intended to block some illegal content but, in practice, have had little effect as those determined to access blocked content can easily bypass internet restrictions (Oh & Aukerman, 2013). For example, mainland China has blocked access to foreign software such as Facebook and Google, but it is still easy for people to use them through VPNs. In short, for those who want to, internet content filtering systems only reduce the efficiency of their internet use but do not fundamentally prevent them from doing so.
- For society and individuals, the lack of diversity in Internet speech/content can lead to a “filter bubble” in which people become one-sided and single-minded. Regarding filter bubbles, it is impossible not to mention the personalization algorithms that internet companies have created for each user. Personalization algorithms are able to accurately predict the preferences of different users based on their past behaviour on the Internet and push them accordingly in the future (Flew, 2019). Admittedly, personalization algorithms demonstrate the convenience of the Internet as people can easily find the content they want to see on the Internet. However, at the same time, users are trapped in an ecosystem of personal information made up of these algorithms (Pariser, 2011), reducing the likelihood of users being exposed to information with which they disagree. Simply put, users see what the Internet wants them to see rather than what they should see.
In conclusion, the lack of diversity can lead to many problems in the development of the Internet. Such as the imbalance between men and women in Silicon Valley, a key player in the Internet, leading to gender bias and stereotyping of the Internet and its extensions, and the lack of competitive diversity due to the monopolistic behaviour of the Internet’s technology giants, leading to the development of the Internet from an altruistic to a money-oriented one. In addition, the Internet’s content filtering mechanisms can reduce the efficiency of the Internet’s use. Furthermore, as mentioned at the beginning of this paper, since the Internet and society and the individual have become closely linked, the problems in the development of the Internet are reflected in society and the individual. Accordingly, societies and individuals can become biased, unequal, and homogenized. It is, therefore, essential to ensure that diversity exists, both for the course of the Internet and for society and individuals.
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