Since the millennium, the technology sector has rapidly concentrated, and technology has provided increasing opportunities for diversity, creating an ideal utopian space of seeming diversity (Granka, 2010). However, after decades of optimism about innovation and the Internet, concentration has ushered in an era of solid opposition and skepticism (Granka, 2010). The lack of diversity has gradually revealed itself, prompting several problems brought about by the prevalence of biased search content on the Internet and the rampant phenomenon of corporate monopolies. Meanwhile, the lack of diversity fosters prejudices and inequalities that harm society and individuals at the political, social, and cultural levels.
The impact of the lack of diversity on the Internet
“Google Logo Search” by theglobalpanorama is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
- Rampant biased search content
The critical factor in the lack of diversity on the Internet is the development of racist and sexist algorithms by developers that have created a world where biased search terms dominate, recirculate and spread in the algorithmic Internet (Schroeder, 2020). Safiya Umoja Noble, author of Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, has publicly stated in an interview for Vox that programmers at Google have always intentionally or unintentionally built their own biases into code. This behavior drives users to search for targeted terms more likely to result in racist and sexist articles, images, or information.
Moreover, the algorithms widely used in Internet search engines encode pre-existing societies, propagating existing biases through the output and creating a vicious cycle. In other words, the algorithm inherits the programmer’s preferences when the coder intentionally or unintentionally outputs biased content. For example, research indicates that the algorithm of Google, one of the world’s most popular search engines, associates positive personality-related labels such as “smart” and “good” more often with men, and the association with white individuals is generally more positive (Papakyriakopoulos & Mboya, 2022). These results suggest that the algorithm treats individuals from different social groups unequally, indicating a preference for men and white races. Notably, due to modern society’s dependence on the Internet and search engines, such biased content is further clicked on and read, exacerbating the vicious cycle and spread of biased words (Schroeder, 2020). In short, search engines indirectly dominate the Internet’s memory by infiltrating and spreading these biases, exacerbating the rampant biased search content on the Internet.
How biased are our algorithms? by TEDx Talks. All rights reserved. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXuJ8yQf6dI
- Patent Grab
The lack of diversity has not only led to a large number of discriminatory terms on search engines but has also created a monopoly of the Internet by some companies, which will lead to the patent-grabbing phenomenon in the Internet’s development trajectory becoming common (Gómez-Uranga et al., 2014). Auerbach and Clark (2016) indicated that patents had prevented Internet innovation, but they help protect entrenched monopoly power, despite the high cost of litigation. Essentially, large Internet platforms use patents as a primary means of protecting their monopoly power to preserve their business position, protect their business strategies, and suppress potential competitors who desire to enter the market. For instance, Google in 2011 spent $12.5 billion to acquire Motorola Mobility, not just for its strength in Android smartphones and devices but primarily to gain ownership of the company’s 17,000 patents. This proprietary control, based on stifling the growth of other companies, drives companies to lock consumers into using only their products while shifting the power of future growth from knowledge sharing to private wealth. Giant companies adopt this kind of theory, so the monopoly situation caused by the lack of diversity creates the prospect of a patent-grabbing Internet.
The public concern behind the lack of diversity
Monopolistic control over the development of the Internet has severe implications for the future of democracy worldwide. Democracy is comprehended as pluralistic participation in the political process, involving the electoral choice of unbiased representatives in government (Dzur, 1998). Apparently, the lack of diversity runs counter to this theory. Dr. Taylor Owen, presenting at the 2017 Dalton Camp Lecture in Journalism, expressed that the reality of the Internet is now largely controlled by four platform companies – Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook— their impact on democracy is deeply troubling. The Internet has created a platform for accessible communication and distanced sharing. However, its lack of diversity has allowed it to evolve into a privatized, hyper-commercial place that manipulates the unconscious democratic views of its users. For example, the search engine “Google” changed its iconic logo on its home page on Election Day 2018 to a “Go Vote” prompt to induce users to vote. Then an experiment found that election-related searches were consistently biased toward certain ideologies and candidates that could sway more than 78.2 million votes. Today’s Internet has created a virtual channel for users to communicate with politics, but monopolistic platform companies collect large amounts of information about user preferences and reactions, forcing users’ values and choices to be collectively manipulated to achieve a specific interest group goal. Thus, the consequences created by the lack of diversity are contrary to the democratic perspective and will negatively affect citizens’ political life.
“GAFA” by P3D7AQ09M6 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
Users and search engine algorithms operate in cycles of bias propagation, which can lead people to think and act in ways that exacerbate social inequalities, thereby putting individuals at a disadvantage in the Labor market and even in life. For example, Facebook’s job ad algorithm that targets users based on gender was found to disproportionately recommend stereotypically female jobs such as nurse or secretary to women and stereotypically male jobs such as janitor or cab driver to men, further widening the existing gender gap in the labor market (Papakyriakopoulos & Mboya, 2022). Clearly, gender differences in search results influenced participants’ gender prototypes and inevitably guided their decision to be hired， demonstrating the influence of algorithmic bias on prototype formation. Given the widespread reliance on Internet search engines in people’s daily lives and the ever-increasing cycle of bias propagation on the Internet, those socially disadvantaged groups are more vulnerable to unequal treatment in the workplace and life in general (Papakyriakopoulos & Mboya, 2022). It cannot be denied that having a truly diverse workplace is the social equivalent of a meaningful brainstorming session, bringing together a group of diverse people to brainstorm and share experiences that are more likely to yield great ideas. Conversely, if a group of people of the same race, gender, and age come together, they are likely to get only a single, homogenized viewpoint, which is harmful to social development.
The lack of diversity on the Internet drives search concentration, bias, and parochialism, which subconsciously constructs or deepens racial discrimination, which is detrimental to cultural integration. The lack of image construction of some minority groups on the Internet, which subconsciously instills some prejudicial messages, can readily prompt many usersto form a negative consciousness of cultural integration. Furthermore, the search engine monopoly also contributes to the tendency of search engines to be parochial and direct to sites within their borders rather than outside them (Jiang, 2014). This is because by positioning searchers and search engines’ unequal indexing and coverage of the Web, searchers are prompted to limit their attention to local matters, information, knowledge, and events without venturing beyond local or national borders (Jiang, 2014). This narrow search approach is not conducive to users effectively drawing information about other cultures and also contributes to the limitations of cultural exchange between countries.
In conclusion, the lack of diversity has dramatically affected the development of the Internet and is reflected in the rampant biased entries and patent-grabbing phenomenon. Meanwhile, the lack of diversity inevitably harms individuals and society, mainly by increasing social inequalities and thus inducing negative social, political, and cultural impacts. We live in a critical technological era where the dangers of a lack of diversity are increasingly affecting every aspect of our lives. Therefore, exploring the increasingly complex and opaque digital mechanisms on which our media lives depend, and striving to create a pluralistic society, is the continuing goal of humanity in the future.
Auerbach, D., & Clark, B. (2016). The Internet and Monopoly Capitalism. Monthly Review, 68(5), 45–50. https://doi.org/10.14452/MR-068-05-2016-09_4
Dzur, A. W. (1998). Liberal Perfectionism and Democratic Participation. Polity, 30(4), 667–690. https://doi.org/10.2307/3235260
Gómez-Uranga, M., Miguel, J. C., & Zabala-Iturriagagoitia, J. M. (2014). Epigenetic Economic Dynamics: The evolution of big internet business ecosystems, evidence for patents. Technovation, 34(3), 177–189. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.technovation.2013.12.004
Granka, L. A. (2010). The Politics of Search: A Decade Retrospective. The Information Society, 26(5), 364–374. https://doi.org/10.1080/01972243.2010.511560
Jiang, M. (2014). Search Concentration, Bias, and Parochialism: A Comparative Study of Google, Baidu, and Jike’s Search Results From China: Search Concentration, Bias, and Parochialism. Journal of Communication, 64(6), 1088–1110. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12126
Papakyriakopoulos, O., & Mboya, A. M. (2022). Beyond Algorithmic Bias: A Socio-Computational Interrogation of the Google Search by Image Algorithm. Social Science Computer Review, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/08944393211073169
Schroeder, J. E. (2020). Reinscribing gender: social media, algorithms, bias. Journal of Marketing Management, 37(3-4), 376–378. https://doi.org/10.1080/0267257X.2020.1832378