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Thread: equity and the internet

  1. #1
    libertine librarian sandwitch's Avatar
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    equity and the internet

    This essay "How the Cult of Internet Openness Enables Misogyny" argues that the current state of the Internet serves to re-establish social hierarchies, rather than flatten them. I wonder if the author chose that title- she speaks to more discrimination than gender alone, though that is the most prevalent. I hope to read the book sometime; it builds from the research I studied in a Communications seminar, and I like the idea of applying urban planning concepts.

    If equity is something we value, we have to build it into the system, developing structures that encourage fairness, serendipity, deliberation, and diversity through a process of trial and error. The question of how we encourage, or even enforce, diversity in so-called open networks is not easy to answer, and there is no obvious and uncomplicated solution to the problem of online harassment. As a philosophy, openness can easily rationalize its own failure, chalking people's inability to participate up to choice, and keeping with the myth of the meritocracy, blaming any disparities in audience on a lack of talent or will.

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    So, how can this be changed through a top-down mechanism? Can authority enforce equality? If so, how is it remotely possible for this to be done in a non-hierarchical fashion. Perhaps rules are needed after all, and perhaps pure anarchy is inherently unequal.


    If equity is something we value, we have to build it into the system, developing structures that encourage fairness, serendipity, deliberation, and diversity through a process of trial and error. The question of how we encourage, or even enforce, diversity in so-called open networks is not easy to answer, and there is no obvious and uncomplicated solution to the problem of online harassment.
    I think there is no easy and uncomplicated solution, because there is no solution separate from the solutions that exist for it in meatspace. a problem on the internet, because it's a problem in the real world. It's less that it's "built into" the structure of the internet, but that it's "built into" the structure of society, and since people in society use the internet, it's a problem on the internet. Any solution that is not bottom up would, by definition be top-down, and would be based on hierarchy.

    Perhaps a hierarchical solution of some kind, involving moderator action or forum policy, would work. The leadership may not allow that , though. Personally, I'm wary of moderators exerting too much of a heavy hand, from past experiences. I thought they banned qualia and enki for no damn reason at the old place other than for having too much passion about something. I'd hate for someone to do something like that because they didn't fully agree with someone's political ideology. I could see something like that happening to a woman, too, for what that's worth. I really like that we have had no threads calling for an individual member's banning... I don't think those things create a good environment to be in.

    I think you can't really effect change like this in a community without some kind of rules or something top-down, unless you try a more informal bottom-up approach.

    Perhaps I'm wrong and I'm just commenting on a perceived subtext to this article that isn't actually there. But I can't help but perceive a specific kind of subtext. This place sort of means a lot to me right now... I'm probably not going to get invited to hang on anyone's beer patio right now, and I'm still single.... other than work and the occasional meetup group, it's pretty much my only social outlet. I hope if someone is concerned about this place, they are actually concerned about it and are as invested in it as I am.

    Anyway, I'm going to let other people respond for now, if they are interested, and step away from this thread, for a little bit.
    Last edited by msg_v2; 05-15-2014 at 04:24 AM.

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    libertine librarian sandwitch's Avatar
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    I'm interested in moving the conversation beyond the forum to address the over-arching Internet culture.

    I don't totally agree with the idea that these are just society's issues transferred to the Internet, but let's explore that. If the "society" you refer to is North American middle class, what does it mean for active Internet users of other regions/class/culture? Are they going to assimilate the attitudes displayed online?

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    Quote Originally Posted by sandwitch View Post
    I'm interested in moving the conversation beyond the forum to address the over-arching Internet culture.

    I don't totally agree with the idea that these are just society's issues transferred to the Internet, but let's explore that. If the "society" you refer to is North American middle class, what does it mean for active Internet users of other regions/class/culture? Are they going to assimilate the attitudes displayed online?
    They bring attitudes from their culture to the table. Youtube comments show this all the time.

    I don't think you can separate technology from the people who use it, usually. If reddit was made by women, but with the same user base, I don't think it would be any better. That kind of thinking reminds me of the annoying idea that by electing Barack Obama, we "solved" racism, which was omnipresent in 2008. I'm not sure what effect that really had on racism, really... it might be too early to tell, but I think it's ridiculously simplistic and naive to argue that it means that racism is over.

    Maybe this is one of those areas where my bias shows, though.
    Last edited by msg_v2; 05-15-2014 at 05:20 PM.

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    Global Moderator Polemarch's Avatar
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    I think the internet is a massive force for social change. So in the sense that a large chunk of the world is oppressive and unfree, the internet provides a catalyst for changing that.

    More to the point of participation and choice - yes, people have a choice. It's far easier to silence someone in real life, simply by virtue of not permitting them to speak, or to be in the same room, than it is online, where everyone's comments have, more or less, an equal face value.

    I think the author is making a very specious argument... Just because the Internet isn't a haven of universal equality doesn't mean it fully perpetuates, let alone amplifies, inequalities seen in real life. And why should it be a haven of anything? It's a tool - one which reflects the world in which it exists.
    We didn't land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.

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    (semantics) I wouldn't call the internet a tool or a place. It's a mixture of both. And both aspects-- place and tool-- can be constricting or freeing.

    ----

    Also seems relevant-- a lot of the world's population doesn't even have access to the internet, and/or they aren't computer-literate. It seems like so many jobs and opportunities are posted online instead of irl. Not to mention news. It's worrying to think about how many people might (already?) be left behind in the "real world," unable to access information, basically immobilized, due to internet illiteracy/lack of access. So not only does the internet reflect inequity in cases like the author mentioned, it also strengthens it in a tangible real-world way. Negative feedback loop.

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    Global Moderator Polemarch's Avatar
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    Right, but what you're really arguing is that the lack of internet access is what's amplifying inequality, not the internet itself. That's a drastically different argument than the author was making.
    We didn't land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Polemarch View Post
    Right, but what you're really arguing is that the lack of internet access is what's amplifying inequality, not the internet itself. That's a drastically different argument than the author was making.
    true.
    Last edited by Blorg; 05-15-2014 at 07:46 PM.

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    know nothing pensive_pilgrim's Avatar
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    We've been having the argument over whether allowing people to say whatever they want is good or bad since long before the internet. The conclusion I came to long ago is that freedom of expression most definitely has its drawbacks, but they're consistently outweighed by the benefits. And yeah, the solution in most cases is to raise your threshold for getting offended or taking what someone says seriously.

    The issue of online threats is one I think is pretty interesting though. People who say that threats made online are just as serious as those made in real life have a bit of a point, I think, although I don't fully agree - I think saying something to someone's face shows a more serious intent than making a phone call than sending an email. But what are we supposed to do about such threats? When it comes to threats made in person or over the phone we get the police involved, but one of the benefits of the internet is supposed to be anonymity, and even if some don't like that anonymity it doesn't seem to be easily piercable right now.

    It reminds me of this story - basically, somebody used an anonymous remailer to send over 100 bomb threats to the University of Pittsburgh over a two month period. Dorms were being evacuated nearly every night. They apparently haven't found the person responsible. It made me wonder - bomb threats are always taken seriously by institutions, but it seems like it's trivial now to send them without fear of consequence. Society can't sustain itself if it goes into a panic at every threat, no matter how realistic or substantial, right? So what's the answer? Do we start ignoring emailed bomb threats?

    What about online death threats? Take this for example:
    What the fuck did you just fucking say about me, you little bitch? I’ll have you know I graduated top of my class in the Navy Seals, and I’ve been involved in numerous secret raids on Al-Quaeda, and I have over 300 confirmed kills. I am trained in gorilla warfare and I’m the top sniper in the entire US armed forces. You are nothing to me but just another target. I will wipe you the fuck out with precision the likes of which has never been seen before on this Earth, mark my fucking words. You think you can get away with saying that shit to me over the Internet? Think again, fucker. As we speak I am contacting my secret network of spies across the USA and your IP is being traced right now so you better prepare for the storm, maggot. The storm that wipes out the pathetic little thing you call your life. You’re fucking dead, kid. I can be anywhere, anytime, and I can kill you in over seven hundred ways, and that’s just with my bare hands. Not only am I extensively trained in unarmed combat, but I have access to the entire arsenal of the United States Marine Corps and I will use it to its full extent to wipe your miserable ass off the face of the continent, you little shit. If only you could have known what unholy retribution your little “clever” comment was about to bring down upon you, maybe you would have held your fucking tongue. But you couldn’t, you didn’t, and now you’re paying the price, you goddamn idiot. I will shit fury all over you and you will drown in it. You’re fucking dead, kiddo.
    You could look at that block of text and see a deranged, violent death threat - or you could recognize and old "copypasta" that's intended to be satirical and humorous. That's a case where the intention is easy to spot, but how often do people post or send death threats that they think are hilarious and have absolutely no intention of following through on? But if you've posted something controversial on your blog and you start getting messages saying someone's going to kill you because of what you said, you really have no way of telling how serious they might be.

    I don't know what the answer to this is. Part of me wants to say that the only appropriate response to trolls is to ignore them, and that if people who face harassment and threats online simply ignore it, it will go away eventually. On the other hand, I can understand both how that's not always easy and I can easily entertain hypotheticals where the threats should very much be taken seriously.

    On a side note, has there ever been a case where somebody called in a bomb threat and there was an actual bomb? The whole concept seems like such a joke now.

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    Obviously representation is a major, pervasive problem, but I do find anonymous internet genuinely valuable and promising. I've recently started to frequent /a/*, which actually isn't all that offensive if you lower your standards. The unique thing about it is that very, very few personalities are recognizable there, and not one is noticeably so, so one-upmanship is rare, and people call bullshit pretty quickly, and since there are so many replies by so many people the threads always devolve into more and more strands of discussions -- it gives the voices a sort of equality. In addition, the focus is more on contribution and community, not on individuals, which I think is near impossible with a username or any sort of point system format. It makes me wonder about Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto, where individuals are mere nodes on an integrated circuit and notions of identity and boundaries are completely erased -- I think that's the potential of the internet.

    *emphasis on "recently," I'm not an expert on 4chan and I'll probably get tired of it after a while.

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