Assault by a Conscienceless Typekiller…

Digital anonymity, in a sense, has provided the ability to presume a false identity, where identity consists of race, gender and class. In light of this digital transcendence of self, one might decide to act differently on the internet because it is an opportunity to do and say things that are either not culturally appropriate to say, or do not reflect one’s true character/self. The big question here is: do digital beings (users in rpg’s) have to abide by a code of honesty, or should one be able, by virtue of anonymity be able to choose who they want to be? When we put names and faces together, we automatically let multiple signifieds flood into our minds and decide (un/subconsciously) based on race, gander, and class, whether or not the subject of discussion is appropriate having come from a specific user. In Ian Shanahan’s article, we have no idea, in any capacity regarding identity, who the antagonist is, and whether or not his (or her) choice of words is appropriate in any regard. Besides the fact that this person uses a racial slur, this remains a display of the use and/or abuse of anonymity in a digital world. How does the digital world help or hinder one’s online identity?


Cybertype Default

In the readings it describes that when we interact on the web, we often assume a ‘default’ internet user identity, which would be considered a white male.  Nakamura refers to it as our ‘white self’. There are obviously many racial, ethnic and gender implications as we have learned this week. However, I feel that language has a lot to do with the ‘default’ user. English is the most widely used language on the internet, but if we find a website in Hindi, Cantonese or Swahili, a white male is no longer the ‘default’. Looking at McLuhan’s “the medium is the message”, the internet itself is a medium, but isn’t the language in which the internet is conveying content also a medium?  The English language has a history predominately of white, western culture, starting way back with the Anglo Saxons. Do you think that, in part, we may associate a white user to the internet, because we relate the English language to primarily white origins?

Race in RPG’s

When reading the essay “always_black”, I couldn’t help but be reminded of similar experiences I have had over the web that dealt with race in RPG’s (or Role Playing Games). The particular websites that stood out for me were the games I used to play as a child, mainly Runescape and Feral Heart. For those of you who don’t know, Runescape was (and still is) a popular online role playing game that was great to play because you didn’t have to download it to your computer. Feral Heart is a lesser known RPG that was targeted at a younger audience. I’ve seen my fair share of swearing and racial slurs in Runescape to be sure, but one event that stood out in particular for me happened on Feral Heart.

I was in a chat room with about 6 -7 other people, and we were waiting for more members to show up so that we could start the role play. It wasn’t uncommon for people to call each other names, but one of the members suddenly insulted another player by calling them a Jew. The chat room went quiet. I got that exact same feeling that the author of “always_black” described, uncomfortable and not quite sure how to respond. The insult wasn’t even directed at me! But how to you respond to something like that? Sure, it was probably just another kid acting up, but still. Do you choose to let it slide, or do you call them out for it?

I was even more surprised when two of the other players started laughing at the joke. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something more blatantly racist. The room broke out into an argument almost immediately. We were split down the middle, those who were offended by the “joke”, and those who found it funny. Eventually, the player apologized and we moved on.

However the situation got me thinking. How does something like that even happen? I doubt anyone would dare make that statement in public to another person. Is it possible people feel that it is okay to act that way because everyone on the internet is anonymous? There will be no repercussions in their real life, so do they not bother treating others they way they would outside of the game? Perhaps they also feel it is easier to insult others because people in RPG’s are so faceless. You can’t see them, you can’t hear their voice, and odds are you are never going to see that person again.

In a perfect world, people would treat those online the same as they do in the real world. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to make a racial slur towards another and get away with it almost anywhere on the internet nowadays.

An Unintentionally Racialized Community

One of the first points made in class on Monday was that technology is not really transcendent; in fact, many aspects of technology tend to be racialized. It is important to distinguish the difference between something that is explicitly racist and something that is racialized. Racism is performing an action (or not performing an action) despite whether it fits within the socio-cultural norm; for example, calling someone a derogatory term. When something is racialized, the concept of race is built into the dominant ideology. In other words, it is not intentional on the part of the doer.

It is important to note these differences when talking about technology because there are very few forms of technology that intend to be explicitly racist. In cyberspace, stereotypes tend to be perpetuated very heavily. I think the result of this is the formation of a stratified diversity within the Internet community. As much as everyone has access to everything, there are some areas which certain groups tend to gravitate towards more.

What comes to my mind are health and beauty video blogs (vlogs). I have always heard of this genre of vlogs within my friend circles. Many of my friends have a particular vlogger they like to follow. As I began to explore this new fad, I noticed that the vlogs (and their affiliated websites and blog pages) tended to be geared towards certain ethnic groups. It would never be said what the group was supposed to be, but it was implied. Asian vloggers would gear towards Asian viewers and black vloggers would view towards black viewers.

When I started my search, my friends, who are majority Asian, recommended me to some vloggers I should watch. The information was useful, but I found that I could never connect as well as someone who was actually Asian would be able to do. So I started to search people who shared a similar ethnicity to me. I found it so much easier to relate to them, and I was a lot more interested in what they had to say.

What this shows is how communities are formed around shared experiences. As a result, technological or otherwise, the Internet will never be able to be a completely diverse space because whatever identity people hold in real life will inevitably shine through their online identities. Cyberspace is racialized and I believe the Internet will always mirror what goes on in the real world.

Here are links to two health and beauty blogs that are the same, but different. Notice there is nothing that says explicit who is and is not welcome on the site.

What you’ll notice right away is that the colours they feature and the hairstyles the feature are geared towards people with certain hair colours and skins types (unintentionally, of course!), but it is based on their experiences and it draws in a certain audience.

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