A Site of Privilege

diversity
via weheartit

This post will be made in reference to William Osborne’s essay, ‘Neoliberalism and the Internet’s Privileged Epistemologies

I have spoken already a bit on how the internet is a privileged place. Relatively few people in the world have access to it and those who do are relatively wealthy in the grand scheme of things. After all, they can afford a computer. Osborne also talks about privilege and the internet, but not so much in terms of being able to access it, but instead in terms of being able to make a contribution on the internet and actually be listened to.

I’ve drawn up a Paint diagram (in my opinion paint is an under-utilised programme) which maps out the hierarchical distinctions in terms of being able to contribute to the internet:

pyramid
click for larger image

Point A is in relation to this post, and is touched on also in this post.

Point B will make up the content of the post I am making right now.

Point C is covered in two earlier posts, here and here.

The middle part of this hierarchy I’ve provided is really what Osborne talks about in his essay. He argues that whatever forces there are in real life that stops others or the dominant group from taking them seriously due to discrimination translates directly over the internet. He uses his own personal experiences in being part of an online discussion group to illuminate this point.

In the discussion group, the moderators and a few other members discussed whether or not it the group itself should be more highly moderated. There were instances of quite colourful language and certain members were found to be intimidating to other members, particularly new ones, which inhibited the pursuit of diversity in the group (it was largely white male dominated).

When the hapless woman who regularly participates said the list’s language was indeed a problem for her, one of the men responded: “I don’t really give a fuck as to how a person says what he/she needs to say…it’s the fuckin’ IDEA that ultimately counts.”

The idea of moderation was met with almost unanimous complaints of censorship by the men. The owner confirmed that the list is a place where anything goes, and that there would be no controls except the exclusion of concert notices (which are reserved for a separate address.) When the discussion of diversity became more heated (thus empowering the theme) one list member advised the others to quit addressing it, “Don’t wrestle with a pig,” he wrote, ” you both get covered in shit and the pig loves it.”

Another participant trivialized diversity by comparing it to musical recordings that present “elephants” and “five year olds”:

“Here’s something of interest to those of you who would like to see more inclusion of minorities in the music. Not only are these elephants Thai, but they are elephants. Very refreshing to see more folks including elephants. There’s also a very tempting CD by an orchestra of 5 year olds.”

In the end, the dominant view was that the group ought to be an ‘anarchy’. For some, this may be seen as refreshing. The discursive power of an unmoderated group means that anyone can express any view and so people who are marginalised may gain power by being able to communicate their ideas freely with the dominant majority. This is a very optimistic idea. Rather, Osborne writes:

This raises important questions about the Internet’s presumed anarchy and who it benefits. On one hand, anarchy guarantees a kind of free speech, but on the other, it grants the ruling status quo (which is often that of white males) an unrestricted exercise of power that can further marginalize those who are different. Since the general ethos of the Internet stigmatizes regulation, it is seldom that lists grant any form of encouragement or “epistemological privilege” to marginalized views. Lists tend to gravitate toward norms that leave members little to do except preach to the choir. Those who are different are relegated to smaller, more specialized lists where their concerns are ghettoized.

To some extent, those who are ordinarily marginal in their offline life can gain some power online because they can publish their ideas in the form of a blog or in a discussion group or on a message board and they become more powerful and able to put across their perspective than any other time. Unfortunately, the internet does not operate inside a utopic vacuum. The marginal still have to compete for attention with dominant perspectives, and given that the presence of the economically privileged on the internet is much higher than those marginalised people who may not be able to afford a computer in the first place, there are many more dominant perspectives on the internet than marginal ones.

2 Responses

  1. […] that are found offline can also be recreated online. You can take a look at my original post here. Second Life is an extremely potent example of this. This may be because race and gender is such an […]

  2. […] content is still subject to being part of a hierarchy. I’ve explored this a number of times, here, here, and here. And of course, linking to my previous sub-heading, ideas and people that face […]

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