The Diversity of the Internet

The Internet is often lauded as a democratic, open space for collaboration and information sharing. Because anyone can post about anything, a larger variety of voices and opinions are available on the web. For an Information Science class, I’m reading “The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age” by Astra Taylor, who criticizes this idea of the democratic Internet.

Taylor points out that while we claim to have access to a wide variety of ideas, opinions, news, etc., we rarely interact with them on the web. Large percentages of Internet users go to Google for search, Netflix for streaming, CNN/MSNBC/Fox for news and Amazon for shopping. These companies have monopolies over various aspects of the Internet, meaning the content we see on the Internet may not be as diverse as we think it is. The same is true for social networks. On Facebook for example, users often interact exclusively with those in their real-life networks, instead of branching out to a more diverse group of people.

There is another major factor that reduces the diversity of information seen on the Internet- personalization. Every Google search, TV show on Netflix, purchase on Amazon or like on Facebook collects data. This data is used to provide a personalized experience for users, meaning all subsequent information presented on the Internet is a bit more tailored to a specific user and therefore less diverse than it could be.

While the monopolies are popular for a reason (i.e. price, credibility, ease of use, etc.) and personalization does make many tasks on the Internet easier, it’s important to recognize the control that those factors have surrounding what we see on the web. Perhaps it is up to users to seek out diverse views that do not simply echo their own, or maybe its time that diversity is more enforced on the web, either through policy or technology. Both are under human control and therefore have the potential to be changed.

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