In light of the readings this week digital inequalities are a real concern. Around the time the Internet was developing, it was believed that technology could end social divisions, but this is far from the truth because technology neither creates or solves cultural problems (Boyd, p. 156). First, there is the concern of the ‘digital divide, which is the difference between who has access to the Internet, social media, and social networks. Companies often design, implement, and test new technologies in limited settings, which results in biases and negatively affects certain people. For example, many image-capture technologies have had difficulties capturing darker skinned individuals because they rely on light, which reflects better off lighter objects (Boyd, p. 158). Also, Siri is better at recognizing American English accents most commonly represented at Apple. Once these products are ready to be sold and put one the shelves people began to notice the biases.
The Internet was supposed to be different from previous technologies with the attempt of becoming an equalizer, but instead the Internet sheds new light on the divisive social dynamics that plague contemporary society. The same biases and racism that occur in our everyday life also affect experiences people have on the Internet because everyone brings their knowledge, experiences, and values from the offline world into the online world. Boyd claims teenagers bring their friends and identities with them online while reinforcing existing connections people already have. In various online communities such as YouTube, Twitter, and even games like World of War craft, racism and hate speech are common (Boyd, p. 162). One of the main concerns is that people bring their attitude towards others with them, and their desire to position themselves in relation to others (Boyd, p. 160). For example, Alexandra Wallace was annoyed with what she perceived to be a lack of manners among Asian and Asian Americans at her school, so she decided to post a racist YouTube video mocking students of Asian descent at UCLA in 2011 (Boyd, p. 162). With this, Alexandra is using social media to spread her hate for Asian and Asian Americans in hope of having the same respond from other users, but in fact she received a lot of hate mail and threats. Social media makes it easy for people to express insensitive and hateful views, also, publicly shame and sometimes threats; these tools are creating easier ways of communication.
Boyd explains how even in schools where teens pride themselves on being open-minded often ignorantly continue producing racial divisions. For example, when asked about racial division in more privileged schools Boyd regularly heard that race did not matter in friend groups, but once they logged onto Facebook it was evident that the school was segregated between races (Boyd, p. 164). In a diverse school he noticed students were divided by race, but when teens were asked to explain they claimed the division was due to sports or classes, not realizing that segregation played a role in those aspects of school life, as well (Boyd, p. 164). Social norms and existing networks outside of the Internet, such as sport teams, are continued online. Boyd also asked a student if he could visit her Facebook page, he noticed she was friends with nearly everyone from her school, but once he looked at photos he realized most of the commenters were of the same race. Overall, social inequalities are just as much as a concern online as they are offline because people bring their outside lives with them onto the Internet, which reinforces cultural division.
When thinking about both Hargittai’s and Boyd’s findings, I believe there are ways in which online classes can reinforce inequalities. However, with my experience in an online course, online classes are a lot more individual than those that take place in a regular classroom setting. In an in class classroom students are able to see their peers, which means they can judge them based on their appearances and personalities. Whereas, on an online class we are only able to see other students names and styles of writing, which makes it harder to make assumptions. I think some students do make assumptions based on other students names and writing style, but I believe it occurs a lot less then it does on social media networks. Since online courses make it harder to judge our peers there is more room for challenging inequalities.
Hargittai, Eszter. “Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses Among Members of the ‘Net Generation’.” Sociological Inquiry 80.1 (2010): 92-113. http://www.webuse.org/pdf/Hargittai-DigitalNativesSI2010.pdf
Boyd, Dana. “ Inequality: Can Social Media Resolve Social Divisions? ” It’s complicated: The social lives of networked teens. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2014. 153-175.