Monthly Archives: November 2012

Internet and Divides

At the beginning, Internet was thought of as a Utopian where all other social issues could be abolished. Everyone could be anyone online. The New Yorker’s Peter Steiner’s famous On The Internet, Nobody Knows You’re A Dog cartoon is an evident to this point.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/f8/Internet_dog.jpg

The idea that one person could become anonymous, and detach him/herself from offline reality has been proven wrong by many researches. It’s harder to remain anonymous when everyone is online nowadays. People start to move their offline network online, and also expanding it. Not only that, author Eszter Hargittai wrote in¬†Open Doors, Closed Spaces? Differentiated Adoption of Social Network Sites by User Background¬†that “offline identities very much carry over to online behaviors” (224). That means one could hardly hide one’s identity such as race or gender online. Thus, the segregation one has suffered by one’s identity offline also moves online. So, instead of a promised land, the Internet is a very mean place. It is a place where all of the bad -isms (e.g. racism, sexism…) are existing and well.

In the article How Black People Use Twitter, columnist Farhad Manjoo tried to find out why a certain Tweet hashtags that initiated by black users gone viral. He explained that because black users have a more close knit network of followers than other races. They followed back everyone that followed them. The interaction was mutual, and reciprocal. Yet, the heat that this article had attracted wasn’t so much because of the content, but rather the picture of a Black Twitter bird.

Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer. Click image to expand.

Why did this particular picture of the bird ignite such a big discourse online? Is it because it depicted very visually a trait of a particular race? Or is it because it play along with racial stereotypes (that black people are usually seen wearing oversized baseball cap). There are different parody to this Twitter bird, and the majority of them come from black community.

If the Internet has set out to fix the problem with social segregation, then why is it people still stay in their particular community? Why is it content that has racial implications quick to go viral? I think the answer is that people online are still individuals offline. As an individual, one is subjected to different social and cultural forces. To go through life, an individual rely a lot on different social stereotypes to save them time and cognitive energy. In this way, racial stereotypes get reinforced generations to generations. For what we see becomes what we think, it would become habits, and eventually become us. This explains why Hargittai said that offline identities got carried over to online behaviors.

Technology is getting more advanced everyday. People are increasingly connected online. But can we abolish all of the hate online? Can the Internet be that Utopian like it was once thought of? I would like to see that happen despite how impossible it seems right now. Maybe it won’t happen in my life time, but the old teachings that created these divides in the first place will be forgotten one day. People in the 1800s wouldn’t even think about interracial dating. In the 21st century, it is nothing strange to see family that made up of two or more races. The Internet, with its speed and transparency, will, one day, help to bring the battle about race down to the grave. Until we can Avada Kadavra these divides, let just make them visible by talking about them!

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