The Lack of Diversity in the Development of the Internet and the Aftermath

The internet is the world’s most popular communication system and computer network. It allows users to connect and exchange information on a global scale, as long as they have an internet connection. The ability for this rapid exchange to occur further expedites the structure of society, by allowing for useful, but also hateful information to be spread at an instantaneous rate.

The internet displays a plethora of representations of individuals and groups of people from different backgrounds and beliefs. Although, these representations are often followed by ominous narratives and results in regards to specific groups of people – mostly non-cis-white-males. This is mirrored by how they are represented on the internet as a result of the lack of diversity in its development. 

As the history of the development of the internet is discussed and revealed, and its lack of diversity in the development brought to light, it is revealed that there is a lack of:

  • Equal Gender Representation
  • Racial Diversity
  • Ageism

just to name a few, in the development of the internet we know today; all of which are detrimental to societies and individuals. 


Equal Gender Representation

Firstly, the lack of equal gender representation of men and women perpetuates specific stereotypes in regards to the content we consume on the internet. In the development of the internet, most of the prominent achievements and developments were carried out by men, such as Microsoft’s consumer-oriented operating system – Windows95, developed by Bill Gates and his team; as well as the invention of the World Wide Web – the very popular information system which enables us to access documents and other web resources over the internet, developed by Tim Berners-Lee. As for women in the internet’s development process, they are only shown to make up 25% of all computer-science and tech related jobs (Volges, 2021). 

The lack of women in the industry has resulted in certain stereotypes being perpetuated in regards to females on the internet. This is a result of male-curated functions of the internet’s workings, with women having little to no say in the stereotypes perpetuated against women, due to the lack of position and power they have in the industry itself. This leads to the internet becoming an unsafe and risky place for women to utilize. Here, women are often exposed to sexual harassment and threats of violence. (Adeleke et al., 2021). This can be seen through the event of ‘The Fappening’ – when an iCloud hack resulted in nude photos of a number of high profile female celebrities being leaked online. (Massanari, 2017). This occasion is just one of the many that depicts women as ‘victims’ on the internet, further emphasizing their vulnerability and ‘helplessness’ on the platform, and in turn pushing this very stereotype into real-life ideals and situations. Furthermore, this very concept can be mirrored by popular female users on the social media platform Instagram. An example of this can be seen through the comparison of some of the most ‘popular’ content creators of each country across the globe, with many who take the ‘number-one spot’ being content creators who post ultra-sexualised images of themselves, with most of their followers being cis-males. This trend shows that women can feel pressured into leaning towards a more ‘pornified’ aesthetic in order to be ‘successful’ on the platform. This is attributed by the number of cis-males that take pleasure in viewing and exploiting these women online, which can further maintain the perception of women as objects in real-life as well, due to the desensitization that the ‘luxury’ of social media allows – anonymity where users can hide behind the screen and do as they please. This further exemplifies the dominance of men, and the submission of women in the internet culture, as well as in societies and individuals.

(Screenshots of popular ultra-sexualised instagram models (own photo))


Racial Diversity

Furthermore, the lack of racial diversity in the tech industry has resulted in harmful stereotypes being circulated around the internet as a lack of accurate representation in regards to specific groups of individuals is taken account of. These inaccurate stereotypes and narratives are circulated as a result of having predominantly cis-white-men as the primary developpers of the internet. (Lusoli & Turner, 2021). For example, big tech companies in Silicon Valley actively front ‘diversity recruitment strategies’. However, data has shown that only 3% of the workforce is of African descent, and a mere 1.8% is made up of individuals of Hispanic descent. (Twine, 2018).

This has created problems in terms of inaccurate representations of minority cultures. For example, particular phrases, such as those of which point to ‘girls of colour’ such as  “Black girls,” “Latina girls” and “Asian girls” bring up pornography when entered into certain search engines such as google or yahoo, even without mentioning words like “sex” or “porn”. (Young & Hagan, 2021). This perpetuates negative stereotypes and connotations about individuals who come from these minority backgrounds and highlights the issues of having a homogeneous tech workforce, sustaining negative and inaccurate representations of women of colour on the internet. This shows how dangerous a lack of diversity in the tech workforce can be – as the internet here can be seen as not just a form of technology, but also a cultural product (Voiskounsky, 1999) which can very much affect how societies and individuals think and function.

(Screenshot of google search “Asian girls” (own photo))



Finally, ageism is an issue which also plays a role in the development of the internet, hindering further progress in the industry, as they could have brought in more revenue if groups and individuals of an older age range were taken into account and prioritized more as users of the internet. The average worker in the tech industry is 38 years old, compared to 43 years old for non-tech workers. (Walsh, 2021). This sets back the usage amongst older populations, as they are not prioritized users, as well as workers of tech and the internet. This can be shown by the lack of internet users from the age range of 45 years to 65+ years, only making up 24% of global internet users. (Johnson, 2021). This shows that ageism in the industry does not just affect the workers, but older internet users and members of society as well. This is due to the fact that they do not have enough people in the industry like them, to support and advocate for their needs on the internet.

(Johnson, 2021)


The solution: Users take control through user-generated content

Although this lack of diversity in the industry has resulted in today’s aftermath, negatively affecting individuals and societies, users of the internet have been able to take control of their own narratives regardless of where they come from, and who they are, with the introduction of Web 2.0 in 2004. Web 2.0 has allowed for a shift from internet users being mindless consumers to active participants in revolutionizing the internet into what it is today, producing user-generated content. This participatory culture has allowed individuals of various cultures and identities to create their own narratives, and represent and share their own cultures and ideas across a variety of digital platforms. This shows a change from the conventional linear model of communication to that of a circular network connection instead (McQuail, 2013) – allowing for the internet to become a safer place for users to access and utilise, as well as display more accurate representations of certain groups and cultures, as compared to that of Web 1.0 which contained information mostly generated by a homogeneous group of workers in tech.

“Alorza’s stairway to web2.0” by Alorza is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The lack of diversity in the development of the internet has resulted in negative stereotypes perpetuated towards non-cis-white-male individuals on the internet, as well as pushed back progressions that could have happened if ageism was not a factor in the equation. This has shown that the industry has been a closed-society which could have made greater progress and made far-less mistakes and created less hateful narratives and actions if they were to branch out and seek out for a more diverse team of workers in the field. Although complete inclusivity has not yet been achieved, significant pushes to support more diversity on the internet have been made, especially since the conception of Web 2.0 where user-generated content allows people of all backgrounds to share their own content, images, and stories on the internet. This allows for us to actively change the narrative of the stereotypes once put out by those who created the internet, highlighting our power as users, and our importance in the development of the internet as well.


Reference List 

Adeleke, R., Iyanda, A. E., Osayomi, T., & Alabede, O. (2021). Tackling female digital exclusion: Drivers and constraints of female Internet use in Nigeria. African Geographical Review, 1–14.

Jenkins, H. (2014). Fandom studies as I see it. The Journal of Fandom Studies, 2(2), 89-109. doi:10.1386/jfs.2.2.89_1

Johnson, J. (2021, January 27). Internet users by age worldwide. Statista.

Lusoli, A., & Turner, F. (2020). “It’s an ongoing bromance”: Counterculture and cyberculture in Silicon Valley—an interview with Fred Turner. Journal of Management Inquiry, 30(2), 235–242.

Massanari, A. (2017). #Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures. New Media & Society, 19(3).

Voiskounsky, A. E. (1999). Internet: Culture, diversity and unification. Javnost – The Public, 6(4), 53–65.

Walsh, E. (2021, August 27). A tech firm’s call to hire “old people” highlights a troubling trend in Silicon Valley. Business Insider.

Young, R., & Hagan, A. (2021, September 30). Search Engines Like Google Are Powered By Racist, Misogynist Algorithms, Says MacArthur Fellow.