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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2 thoughts on “Internet and Divides

  1. TFallonIII

    The first thing that struck me while going over the readings this week was how powerful the internet has become. I realized that it was powerful, but it is crazy to me that it went from a luxury to a necessity in such a short period of time. When I first got the internet, it was seen as a luxury like having cable TV. Now, if you have limited or no access at all to the internet, it is like you are living in the Stone Age.

    I agree that people’s offline behaviors follow them online. It makes sense because most people are not going to change the way they think or act just because they are online. I would actually think a person’s true self comes out more in their online identity. People can find communities of like minded individuals online where they can interact and discuss their opinions without being judged.

    I disagree that it is hard to hide your identity online. If you really want to, you can be pretty close to anonymous. That is why you see so many hateful comments on YouTube videos and blog postings. People can hide their true identity but at the same time, release their true feelings. I think that is part of the problem with the “How Black People Use Twitter” posting because the author has no real proof of which tweeters are black and which ones are just using a black avatar. It might be harder these days to conceal your identity completely online, but I still think a person can hide it pretty well if they really want to.

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  2. scrowe1

    You bring up a lot of interesting arguments in your blog Hahn. The United States, since its beginnings, has had to deal with conflicting ideas, one of which includes race, since its discovery by settlers. When the British settlers arrived in the Americas they realized that Indians had already occupied much of the land. What happened next would be a theme that would reoccur in our country many more times throughout history.

    Though this nation has made strides in racial inequality, the great divide of races and unequal access to information still exists- although now, it’s in the recent digital boom. That however is a topic that will be saved for next week’s readings.

    The outrage over a black Twitter bird is a fine example that illustrates the fact that racial inequality is nowhere close to being an issue of the past. But the article on How Black People Use Twitter introduces a rather perplexing element of modern racial inequality that seems to be rather troubling. What was found in the research on black Twitter users was that the conversations were racist in content. Farhad Manjoo who wrote the article states that the tags that reached the highest popularity often centered on “race, love, sex, and stereotypes about black culture.” There is nothing wrong with members of a particular race sharing amongst themselves topics and ideas about race, love and sex. However it just doesn’t seem right for any race to playfully toss around hurtful stereotypes about their own race and culture when there exist such backlash for an outsider to do so. Of course, most of us can admit to a time that we too used a stereotype at the expense of our own race to get a laugh from friends. Is this bad?

    Acceptance and kindness should come naturally to us. But there are so many people in the world and so many people in the U.S. who have the free will to form their own thoughts and opinions. How do we reach these people? Is it right for us to counter what they have been raised to think? Maybe we are closer than we think.

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