The Internet and Intolerance

The report discusses how cyberpublics (e.g. blogging, social networking, user-generated media websites like YouTube) help to disseminate images and information that promote liberal ideals of tolerance and co-existence. On websites like Tumblr, for example, you are able to find a vibrant culture of awareness, advocacy, and activism that educates users on social issues and critical theory in a way that allows individuals  to engage positively with a political community. In areas that are under the control of a totalitarian or authoritarian system, the Internet offers a way for individuals to resist oppressive socio-political power in a way that minimizes personal vulnerability. Individuals in these cultures are able to connect with like-minded individuals and actively protest acts of political or structural violence, giving their subversive discourse more cultural power.

However, I also think it’s important to recognize how the Internet can, in fact, be used to encourage intolerance. For instance, just as the Internet allows positively minded individuals to connect with other people with similar aims to promote positive change, it also allows increased interaction to people with more regressive or violent interests. Traditionally, members of hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan were only able to recruit members and spread messages of extremism via person-to-person contact; now, the Internet allows members to spread dangerous ideologies to others they would have otherwise not have been able to contact. (I would link to the KKK’s website here, but I actually don’t want to give them any more web traffic.)

And it’s not just these ostentatiously regressive political groups that promote intolerance in the age of the Internet. You can find equally dangerous but more furtive discourse on other, more benign areas of the Internet. For instance, in the subreddit “The Red Pill,” a community of users encourage a perception of modern society as being female-dominated (as opposed to male-dominated). The rhetoric on this website is implicitly (and, often, explicitly) misogynistic, with women being cast as cruel, consumeristic, unintelligent shrews and feminism being characterized as a conspiracy to ruin the lives of men. However, because the community is not obviously violent (with some very significant exceptions), their ideas and ideologies are able to be consumed by naive users without critique.

My point is that the Internet can be used as an instrument of spreading both tolerance and intolerance, and that merely identifying the positive aspects without recognizing the negative results in an unfortunately unbalanced idea of the digital world.

4 thoughts on “The Internet and Intolerance

  1. Victoria Edsell

    I do think that people will be people, and with that both good and evil. Just as there are more opportunities for these hate groups to spread messages there are communities ready to shut them down. There will always be this balance, you can’t count on everyone to have happy, go-loving attitude, I mean some people even find that against their taste. It is important to say that a network like ours has power, it gives meaning through the information that is shared and experienced by so many. Power is wonderful, but so dangerous, the internet needs to be approached with caution. Even still that doesnt make it any less beautiful though.

  2. William Lam

    Great point. I feel like I spend a lot of time around my own safe digital bubble that I sometimes forget that there are people out there who’s speech goes unfiltered. While the internet is a great tool, as you point out, for individuals seeking to defy political oppression by way of expressing their voice, the adverse affect really is evident in other countries, including our own. It kind of makes me wonder if there are even any laws or regulations for websites promoting these types of ideals. Should there be? Everyone knows who the KKK is, so why is their website still alive?

  3. jordaninnabi

    It’s definitely important to recognize that the internet is just as capable of hosting hateful ideologies as it is at fostering a discussion of progress; the two often even coexist on the same website. I know tumblr, for example, was recently criticized for systematically deleting accounts that shared copyrighted music while completely ignoring average users’ longtime concerns about blogs oriented around child pornography, white supremacy, and other hate speech. The regulation of online communities, especially harmful ones, is probably possible but does not seem like a priority.

  4. snmarquez

    I’m so glad you brought up this point. As we discussed in class, the Internet has lead to more and more digital bubbles, and what does that mean if a specific user has been raised in a hateful segment of society? Maybe it’s highly unlikely they will attempt to venture out of that role only, and only foster more and more extremist ideology. What’s so interesting to me is how a vocal minority, especially online, can bleed into other areas of the Internet in a very obvious and troubling way.

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