The culture is in the site

In order to fully realize the effect and impact of the internet world, we must first understand what exactly internet culture is.

Each website fosters its own norms in the vast, diverse landscape that is the Internet. | Courtesy beminteractive.com

Each website fosters its own norms in the vast, diverse landscape that is the Internet. | Courtesy beminteractive.com

Jacqueline Lewis, Writer

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Numerous studies, articles, blogs and books continue to make their cases for or against what they commonly call Internet culture. Some argue the Internet’s ability to create anonymity on a wide scale allows for a free exchange of information and ideas, whereas others claim this same anonymity breeds hostility and the dehumanization of whoever lies on the other side of the screen. Although anonymity plays a large role in the types of interaction between people on the Internet, it does not account for all of it. For example, Twitter and Facebook generally do not possess the same level of anonymity that Tumblr or Reddit do, yet some users still publicly display the same type of hostility found on more anonymous websites. This indicates anonymity is not the sole culprit of Internet behavior. Thus, behind the term “Internet culture,” lies a vast overgeneralization.

UNIQUE USER DEMOGRAPHICS

Little research is needed to see that not every website on the Internet contains the same user demographic or general beliefs. Although the sites share some traits, the kind of users on each particular website plays a large role in the function of the site, often creating their own culture. According to a study done by Pew Research Center, the majority of Tumblr’s user base consists of college-educated, urban, young adults, whereas young, urban men compose the predominant demographic of Twitter, and young men remain twice as likely to use Reddit than women. Still, the users of these websites are not bound solely by age, gender, education or urban affiliation, but by common interests, values and discussion. In this way, we can consider them communities of practice as described by Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave. For example, Tumblr users often focus on the pursuit of social sensitivity whereas many Redditors generally focus on displays of intellectualism. In this way, each website forms its own identity based upon these communities. Another contributor to these cultures are the limitations of the site itself. Twitter exemplifies this aspect with its 140 character limit which forces users to type succinctly and simply.

COMMUNITY AFFECTS BEHAVIOR

However, these unique individual cultures are a great contributor to the behavior, good and bad, witnessed on the Internet. In one way, the sense of community and common purpose combined with the far-reaching capacities of the internet itself allows for a vast pool of support for activism, charity and encouragement. Yet unfortunately, this sense of community, coupled with the constant barrage of information often only confirming the collective values of the site, creates an “us” and “them” scenario of ideas. Those who do not comply with the values of social sensitivity in Tumblr or intellectualism on Reddit are swiftly condemned by a mob of users. On Twitter, reactions to complex political or social issues are reduced to a mere few sentences, causing opinions to lack nuance and creating widespread misunderstanding. This individual website culture and community accounts for internet behavior far better than just anonymity itself. Internet culture is composed of website culture, and as we venture onto Twitter, Reddit or Tumblr, let us make ourselves aware of its community’s and culture’s effects on what we type and what we do. Let the communities of these websites encourage positive behavior in its users and reach their potential as sources of camaraderie and charity, not elitism or hostility.

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The culture is in the site