Race, Gender, and Exclusion in the Internet Era

The following was an essay for the course ICS 3 at the University of California, Irvine. I thought it would be a waste to let it sit on my hard drive, so here it is.
  The evolution of computing technologies has exponentially grown year after year, demonstrated roughly by Moore’s Law, since the 1940’s, when the first electronic computer was created. Since the dawn of the electronic computer some years ago, not only have computers themselves changed, but also the way society uses computers has fundamentally changed, going from calculating to connecting one another. With this increasingly useful and important technology, it is important to examine gender, ethnicity, and the inclusion or exclusion of peoples in relation to the Internet. The design of interfaces, system design, interactions, and access on the Internet all affect the perception of ethnicity and gender. The new sociology device, that is the Internet, creates and fixes social issues, while reinstating old issues and further publicizing major unsolved social issues. Gender, ethnicity, and Internet exclusion are perceived differently due to the Internet and the interfaces, interactions, openness, and constraints that comes with it. Gender, as defined by Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary, is: “the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.” This definition explores the thought that gender is a description that focuses not on the biological traits, but rather the behavioral traits, which is a good starting point for perceiving gender on the Internet. When interactions are not physical, such as ones on the Internet, it is difficult to decipher who one is truly interacting with. For this reason, one should not immediately perceive another individual as any given gender, as they could be either. Nicholas Palomares and Eun-Ju Lee’s study of virtual gender identity and language proves the theory that perceived online identity is not equivalent to perceived physical identity: “gender-based language use… is susceptible to the influence of arbitrarily assigned gendered avatars that represent oneself” (Palomares and Lee 18). In this study, it is shown that when an individual is assigned a gender-specific avatar, that individual’s language reflects their assigned gender regardless of physical-world gender. Because of this change in gender, perception of the online entity is changed for everyone interacting with that individual. In massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, it is shown that 23% of players, according to Syracuse.com, play as the opposite gender. The aforementioned facts show that gender online does not equal gender in the physical world, and thus, gender should not be perceived accordingly online. The word ethnic is defined by Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary as: “large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.” This definition is certainly still relevant in the Internet era; ethnicity does affect aspects of online interactions. One of the things that makes the Internet so valuable is the fact that it is global; however, this globalism means that some nations choose to use other services, like Qzone or Orkut, that alienate them from other nations. The article, “Preserving Diversity in Social Network Architectures, by Dominque Boullier, explains some of the distance between nations, and thus, by definition, ethnicity, that certain social networks can impose on the web: “...however the resistance to Facebook in China, which prefers Qzone [another, separate social network] (200M users)” (Boullier 4). Because ethnicity is largely related to country of origin, ethnicity online can be perceived as somewhat divided since different countries use different systems of interaction with one another. Ethnicity, being divided online, leads to some potential problems such as the question of user diversity in social networks. It is worth noting that diversity is very important to the internet, because it draws experiences, views, and thoughts that make the internet truly a global community. Because of these differences in social networks, no person should look at one social network as representative of the actual world in terms of diversity. The Internet era connects one another through instantaneous online media; however, some of these media cannot be looked at as completely ethnically diverse due to some nations clinging to certain media that other nations do not. Being a citizen of a state grants certain rights to that citizen. The same principle applies to the Internet era with an idea called “Digital Citizenship.” Rather than being a member of a certain geographical body, a digital citizenship means that one is able to participate with the online society6. One of the important issues in online sociology is the issue of inclusion and exclusion. These issues arise when certain groups of people, whether that group is based on race, income, age, and more, do not have access to the Internet, and thus are not digital citizens. According to Digital Citizenship the Internet, Society, and Participation, by Karen Mossberger, shows that in America 74% of people use the Internet occasionally, but some groups, like those who make less than $30,000 per year, are not high school educated, and are over age 65, are up to 39% less likely, when compared to the average to have Internet access and thus become digital citizens. This exclusion of certain groups changes the social ecology of the Internet, which means some problems, issues, types of life, and others are represented with less detail than the average in the Internet era and thus one’s perception of the Internet changes accordingly. Not only does this exclusion of groups mean unrealistic representation of age, social classes, or other demographics on the Internet, but it also implies less wages and a greater wealth disparity for the excluded groups. According to the aforementioned piece, workers who use the Internet at work make $118 more per week. In all, the exclusion of certain demographics from the Internet changes how the online community is perceived in that older, low income, and less educated peoples, to name a few, are not adequately represented online. The issues that come about with gender, ethnicity, and exclusion in the Internet era are important and worth devising a solution and re-designing to for the better of society as a whole. It is important to ensure that these solutions are both bi-partisan and agreeable for all parties. As discussed, exclusion is a major problem. The solution to inclusion would be to reclassify the internet as a utility, not a luxury, worldwide. This reclassification of the Internet as a utility is a crucial move to include as many people as possible, legally ensuring universal accessibility even to remote regions and making internet as affordable as electric. This reclassification makes the Internet as accessible as running water or gas and solves the problem of exclusion, and with it, knowledge sharing and possibly equality. Along with challenging and redefining terms and sociological issues, the Internet has become a staple for households worldwide due to its wealth of information and instantaneous access. This utility has become such an important tool that people excluded from it are not only excluded from information, but also are at an economic disadvantage. The prominence of the Internet calls for us to examine its interfaces, system design, interactions, and access to see how certain demographics are perceived on the web. After carefully examining gender, ethnicity, and digital citizenship in the Internet era, it can be perceived that gender is not always as it seems. Ethnicity is not equally represented throughout social networks, and certain socioeconomic groups are more likely to be excluded from being digital citizens.

An essay by Alec Kriebel

Works Cited:
  1. Boullier, Dominique. Preserving Diversity in Social Network Architectures Dominique Boullier Sciences Po Paris, CEE, Médialab Dominique.boullier@sciences-po.fr (n.d.): n. pag. 2012. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.
  2. Meyer Duntley, Sonja. "Syracuse University Researchers Help Figure out Whether That Female Avatar Player Is Really a Woman."Syracuse.com. Syracuse.com, 12 May 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.
  3. Mossberger, Karen, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Ramona S. McNeal. Digital Citizenship the Internet, Society, and Participation. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2008. Web.
  4. Nicholas A. Palomares and Eun-Ju Leen. Virtual Gender Identity: The Linguistic Assimilation to Gendered Avatars in Computer-Mediated Communication, Journal of Language and Social Psychology, March 2010 vol. 29 no. 1 5-23. Web.
  5. "Ethnic." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014