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Technology exacerbates cultural divides

Illustration by: Maria Tahir | Staff Photographer

Technology has tethered itself into our networked lives. It has emphasized and exacerbated cultural divides and deep-rooted beliefs contrary to the societal progress inherent in contemporary times.

The Internet allows room for communication and the expansion of connections beyond our immediate surroundings. Danah Boyd is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder of Data & Society. She has focused most of her research on young people and their everyday use of social media. Boyd wrote “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens” in 2014, which illustrates the impact social media has on racist America.

Society tends to uphold technology as a means to break through social divisions. It was supposed to revolutionize the world and break prejudices—it’s certainly achieved the former, but the latter has yet to be fulfilled. As Boyd explains in her book, technology is not an instigator in cultural divisions, but has inadvertently highlighted discrimination.

Online involvement was initially seen as a forum to be set free from the chains of reality, but unfortunately, teenagers share their entire identities on social networking sites. They bring preconceptions and values along with the “dank memes” that surface on newsfeeds.

Ultimately, social media has only served to magnify racism. Although maybe not a conscientious choice made when logging on, social divides are the inevitable result. People may justify their cosmopolitanism by pointing out a few tokens in our list of friends, but the majority of those faces are similar to our own.

As the saying goes, you are the company you keep. Information of all sorts now circulates on social networks, but we are largely exposed to the material our friends post and share. This is because we more comfortably connect with others who have similar interests and backgrounds. Again, it is not a consciously racist choice, but this limited range further segregates people.

Danah Boyd writes about many anecdotes in her chapter dealing with inequality online, and mentions how even websites and social media outlets are subject to prejudice. When MySpace was widely used and Facebook barely coming into the spotlight, white people were drawn to the “cleaner” and “more pristine” Facebook page and left behind the more “ghetto” MySpace.

It is absolutely ridiculous to assign a race to these social platforms. Race is merely a social construct and to think that a website is more “colored” or more “white” is plain stupid.

Now, that is not to say people are more self-aware when dealing with race, but technology has failed to bridge the gaps between the multitudes of difference. Bigotry has seeped into the 140 characters of tweets and online forums are ignorantly and blatantly racist.

Racism is inescapable and will pervade through technology whether we like it or not. Social media is not and should not be seen as a remedy against discrimination. This may be the era of technology, but “post-racial” society has not yet been reached.