The internet is, to put in laymen’s terms, a big scary place. This big scary place is where people have found a way to come together and have created small virtual communities. Communities have sprung up on chat sites, blogs, and social media sites. Each one of the communities allows an individual to carve out their own personal nook on the internet. In this space a person can create a reconstructed version of themselves. Sherry Turkle, in her book Life on the Screen, talks about how this reconstruction takes place on the other side of the looking glass.
Lewis Carroll used this idea of the looking glass to represent that the ‘mirror image’ on the other side of the looking glass, though visually similar, was different. This is true for the reconstruction of the self through the digital looking glass. Trukle expresses that we are now able to express our identity as a multiplicity of ourselves. Let that sink in. To me this sounds like we are becoming internet Skitsofrantics; creating multiple personas in one space.
After thinking about the concept for a few minutes, and looking at my Facebook page, I realized Trukle had a point. We are able to ‘build a self’ representation using our digital devices. I can join groups, like artists/movies/books, follow political leaders/celebrities/imaginary people and ‘make’ friends. All of these things come together to make… me. Well virtual me, I believe I am much better looking in person.
Turkle states that the internet is a social laboratory meant for experimenting. Experimenting… on the internet… sounds dangerous to me. What Turkle meant is that we experiment with the representation and creation of ourselves. We are able to shape and self create a person that is at the same time us… and not us. The example in Life on the Screen is about an dating chat site where a woman states that she is confident in her interpersonal communications with a man (Turkle notes this woman is not entirely sure she is talking to a man, but believes ‘he’ would not desire to meet in person if he wasn’t) but is fearful of meeting in person. This woman, an internet Casanova, states that she was mostly honest in her communications, and believes this ‘man’ to have done the same.
Mostly honest. I was mostly honest when I told I was only going to only do my homework tonight. What is going on in this situation is a divide in reality. The woman that is on the other side of the looking glass is a fragmented personality of a real life person. The facts match up in most cases, but there are always going to be some shady ones right there too. Turkle states that this is a case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I hope internet Kevin is not so violently different from the Kevin that you see walking around (normally smiling).
The idea that we are different on the internet is one that I can accept; it is in the experimentation that worries me. The experimentation of the self can bring people to darker places (letting Jekyll out for a stroll). In a realm where you have carved out a personal space, unique to the individual, you can experiment with extremes. A simple idea that you hold is easy to blow up with the use of a few key strokes of a key board. Example “OMG I GOT 5 POINTS OFF MY MIDTERM FOR THE IMPROPER USE OF A SEMI-COLON. MY TEACHER IS SUCH A NAZI”. (Note: This is not a personal quote, as I would never use a semi-colon improperly) Now it is highly unlikely that the teacher of this boy/ girl/ intelligent chimp is really a Nazi. The accusation of which is extreme, and if brought to the public sphere can detrimentally hurt the career of this teacher (don’t they have it hard enough?).
This extends into the area I promised I would focus on, digital racism. This is not just simply being an active member on the KKK website (Note: I have not looked here personally yet, as I am fearful of being tracked for going there… one of the other staff writers can talk about that). This is as simple as updating your status.
Jessie Daniels, a woman who is doing research in cyber racism found this to be true at some American Colleges. The use of a social media website (read Facebook) was accessed during class (wait people do that?) by two white female students. Below is the conversation.
One of the posts read, “ewww a obabacare (sic) is in the room, i feel dirty, and unsafe. keep a eye on all of your valuables and dont make direct eye contact….i just threw up in my mouth right now …”
In another post, one of the women wrote, “were two white girls..she already has her (N-word) instinct to kill us and use us to her pleasure …”
Daniels is quick to mention that in the past these types of actions (read ‘overtly racist comments) took place ‘backstage’. The ‘backstage’ is the area Daniels refers to as the (white only space). The ‘backstage’ actions would be invisible to those watching an exchange between (white?) people. The digital advance has taken the behind the scenes to the spot light (the Internet, our personal E! True Hollywood Story).
Daniels pushes that the comments were placed into a (digital) public sphere, and despite the fact that the African American girl sitting in class (probably just trying to take notes) might never see the comments, someone else will, potentially someone who knows her. These comments are no longer just personal interaction; they have become a public declaration. A declaration that states racism very much still exists. (And with the click of your mouse you can ‘like’ that this took place!)
So how would Turkle look at this you may ask? Would she state that the girls are not really racist, and that they were just presenting a fragmented part of their personality? Is it the part that believes that the degradation of a classmate is not only acceptable, but should be put on a silver platter and served to their ‘friends’? Are these girls like Lady Casanova, presenting a mostly honest portrait of themselves? Regardless of any of these questions is the question over if this is even an acceptable action.
Should the digital self be able to produce hateful speech? Hate speech, a primary component of racism, is a murky area that is often protected by the Freedom of Speech. Is the digital persona we create responsible for the hate speech and advancement of digital racism, or is the responsible party the person experimenting with building a multiplicity of themselves?
Daniels is wise (in my opinion) to offer us the insight that the framers of the U.S. Constitution most likely did not have Facebook in mind when they decided to draft the First Amendment. (This could make a funny comedy sketch…) Can we afford to protect the tweets and status updates of every person that decides that today a racial slur will really make my status pop on the front page? If in our society we have decided that we should (try) to limit the amount of damage we place on another person, should this ideal also go through the looking glass?
Will your (and I am not saying you have, just go with this) post that is boarder line racist ever reach the eyes or ears of the described party/group? Maybe not, but is not stopping this type of ‘speech’ allowing for the internet to be saturated with more racism? Does the space an individual has carved out have an effect on the spaces of others?
I know that I have raised a few questions in the past few paragraphs (read essay/novel) but I feel the need to do some self reflection, and feel free to join in. Without looking I believe I may have at some point used a slur on one of my social media sites. Thinking about it does this make me racist… or does it make Digital-Fragmented-Reconstructed Kevin a racist. I sure hope not, but my followers (friends?) may think something different.
The effect of each post that Daniels sees as cyber racism is hard to quantify, but there is the chance that the existence of such posts create an unsafe (digital) community that can scare off potential users. An example: I would feel very uncomfortable on Facebook if my ‘friends’ started posting links and status about something personal to me (Insert: athletes, Irish people (hmmm), theater kids, and really ridiculously good looking people). I would feel as though the social medium was being used to attack me personally, even if this was not the intent.
So is the internet racist for allowing this to happen or are the users (at least their multiplicities) the racist ones? Something to think about the next time you post/read a questionable update/tweet.