With the massive development of the internet and technology, people’s lives changed. The Internet is full of potential, especially in the commerce and business aspect. However, the culture of the internet is also compliant as a “lack of diversity”, which has been proven to be an issue over years. This piece of writing will analyze to what extent the internet lack diversity and how this has become a problem through the following perspectives – the nature of the internet, internet and reality, and internet-related technology.
Internet Culture and Minority Culture
On the internet, the domination of the mainstream culture and the neglect of minority cultures together constitute a lack of diversity. Just as Matamoros-Fernandez (2017) claimed, the internet and network communication is shaped by specific cultural forces. Even though women are more actively involved in the development of the internet, masculinity still mainstreams the internet. (Turner, 2006). With the lack of diversity, minorities are ignored, instead, they are more often to be painted negatively on social media. (Korff, 2021) Under such circumstances, minorities are placed in a position where they must face the culture shock directly. For instance, some features of Facebook lack the inclusiveness of minority cultures. Facebook is always one of the most popular applications for Aboriginal Australians. However, the cancellation of a deceased relative’s profile on Facebook has troubled the indigenous people. The whole process presents to be over complex and can take up to 90 days for it to be done, and during the process, the deceased relative’s profile is still visible to everyone. For the aboriginals, this can be problematic because, in their culture, the reproduction of a deceased person’s information is restricted during his/her mourning period. (Australian Government, n.d). The Internet has never been equal from the beginning, the dominant white culture has enjoyed absolute privilege on the Internet. The prejudice against minorities is reflected on the Internet so their needs are constantly being ignored by the vast majority. Until now, Facebook has not provided any further support for Aboriginals based on this. Ironically, when googling Aboriginal Australian and Facebook, one of the articles listed on the top next to a few official Australian Government sites is about how Facebook helps the indigenous people quit smoking, which is a clear display of the mainstream culture’s arrogance and at the same time a deepening of prejudice against indigenous people.
Internet, Reality and Racism
Nowadays, as Gillespie (2017) claimed, the monitoring of content by platforms is increasingly influenced by the public’s opinion. In other words, the internet is getting closer and closer to reality. The real-world event will also reflect on the network. For instance, the “#BlackLivesMatter” campaign on Twitter. Despite the fact that it began with a painful tragedy, the campaign eventually led to the promotion of equal rights for black people both online and in the reality. However, if the society itself also lacks diversity, it will only reflect in a more severe way on the internet. Combined with the ‘anonymity and pseudonymity’ (Duguay, 2017) provided by the internet, facilitate abuse online and pushed such lack of diversity to a higher level. Chinese society is very mono-cultural, leading many Chinese to reject the sense of multicultural. Recently, the discussion around the casting of “The Little Mermaid” goes viral on Chinese social platforms. Chinese internet users expressed outrage at the casting of the Little Mermaid which they claim should have been a white actress. With the release of the trailer, the attention grows and the criticism towards the actress rises to the level of her race. On Chinese social media, people aggressively attacked the actress like a witch hunt. During that period of time, racist comments fulfilled every post relating to the Little Mermaid. They claimed that Disney choose to use a black actress because of ‘political correctness and to follow the trend of ‘Black Lives Matter. And there are even posts on RED (a Chinese social media) photoshopping the actress into white. It is absolutely heartbreaking that no one realizes this is a form of racism. The case of Little Mermaid in a society lack of diversity demonstrates that it is easy to form racism without diversity, and the internet can exacerbate it. Reasoned and objective speech is only gonging to be drowned out by mass criticism.
“China Re-Canonisez Ariel! The Little Black Mermaid Made White In Race Swapped Race Swap…” by The ArchCast All rights reserved. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bf2DktcFbU
Algorithm and Bias
The technology relies on data and the algorithm requires a large sample of historical observations to complete the process of learning and increase accuracy (Richardson, 2022). The recorded actions with bias will also be included in the database and go into the process of learning, and eventually lead to more serious bias. Microsoft used to have a chatbot Tay, which was meant to be constantly upgraded through learning. However, a few hours after its published, internet users turned Tay into a “misogynistic and racism bot” (Matamoros-Fernandez, 2017), illustrating that on the Internet, anonymity fosters malice and the use of algorithms needs to be under surveillance. The algorithm’s accuracy also depends on the size of the sample. That means for some specific groups of people, the data sets will be smaller and therefore the technology will have little progress in learning their behavior and providing possible service, which could potentially lead to discrimination and class deviation. A recent case proves that algorithms can contain racial bias. In a US hospital, a study showed that the algorithm system is less likely to refer black patients compared to white people who are in similar situations. The algorithm was aim to manage the care for 200 million patients in the US every year. Such racial bias has negatively affected a lot of patients’ health conditions before it alarms the scientists.
In conclusion, the lack of diversity on the internet can be shown from different perspectives, the internet itself, the issues in reality that reflect on the internet, and also the technology relating to the internet. At an earlier stage, the internet was not built with a multicultural and gender equality focus, nowadays, prejudice and bias, in reality, are amplified on the internet through the algorithm. Such lack of diversity will ultimately harm individuals and society through different aspects, whether politically or socially. In order to prevent these, both government and tech companies should implement rules to regulate hate speech on the internet, same as the algorithmic technologies. Individuals, people need to realize the harmful consequences that inappropriate actions cloud bring and weaken the bias on the internet.
Richardson, R. (2022). Racial Segregation and the Data-Driven Society: How Our Failure to Reckon with Root Causes Perpetuates Separate and Unequal Realities. Berkeley Technology Law Journal 36(3), pp. 101-139. https://doi.org/10.15779/Z38PN8XG3V.
Turner, F. (2006). From counterculture to cyberculture: Stewart brand, the whole earth network, and the rise of digital utopianism. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Australian Government. (n.d.). Cultural protocols relating to deaths in Indigenous communities. Retrieved from https://apps.indigenous.gov.au/cultural_protocol.htm
Gillespie, T. (2017). Governance of and by platforms. In J. Burgess & T. Poell (Eds.), The Sage handbook of social media. Sage. Pre-Publication Copy. Retrieved from http://culturedigitally.org/wpcontent/uploads/2016/06/Gillespie-Governance-ofby-Platforms-PREPRINT.pdf
Duguay, S. (2017). Dressing up Tinderella: Interrogating authenticity claims on the mobile dating app Tinder. Information, Communication & Society, 20(3), 351–367. doi:10.1080/1369118X. 2016.1168471
Ariadna Matamoros-Fernández (2017) Platformed racism: the mediation and circulation of an Australian race-based controversy on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Information, Communication & Society, 20:6, 930-946, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2017.1293130
Hefler, M., Kerrigan, V., Freeman, B., Boot, G. R., & Thomas, D. P. (2019). Using Facebook to reduce smoking among Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: a participatory grounded action study. BMC Public Health, 19(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6918-7
Korff, J. (2021, February 7). Stereotypes & prejudice of “Aboriginal Australia.” Creative Spirits. https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/people/stereotypes-prejudice-of-aboriginal-australia
Ledford, H. (2019). Millions of black people affected by racial bias in health-care algorithms. Nature, 574. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-03228-6
TheArchCast. (2022, September 14). China Re-Canonisez Ariel! The Little Black Mermaid Made White In Race Swapped Race Swap… Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bf2DktcFbU