24 votes

Time to decolonise the internet

24 comments

  1. [10]
    Silbern
    Link
    I really don't agree with the author. The US didn't colonize the internet, it was its birthplace for a huge part of it, and a significant chunk of it was invented or developed here (like with a...

    I really don't agree with the author. The US didn't colonize the internet, it was its birthplace for a huge part of it, and a significant chunk of it was invented or developed here (like with a lot of the tech industry). It would make as much sense to accuse Japan of colonizing the video game industry, because of its (alongside the US') overwhelming dominance of it. And for his concern about facing racism in the UK, it's hardly going to get better if the internet becomes less global and connected and we all retreat into our own bubbles. For the situations he mentioned as downsides, I think it's also worth pointing out the upsides of a connected internet as well - the US produces an enormous range of content, from entertainment to educational, that tons of people outside the US enjoy. Many Americans and foreigners have become friends through sharing the same spaces and interacting (I have several I met this way), and the US' massive software industry and the free software movement helped to connect the rest of the world much faster than if they had to develop their own version of all of our technology.

    16 votes
    1. [2]
      Ayax28
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I think my experience at living in Latin America may help you consider some points. Although we all have to give credit to the US for developing the internet, not as a technical standard but as an...

      I think my experience at living in Latin America may help you consider some points.

      Although we all have to give credit to the US for developing the internet, not as a technical standard but as an infrastructure in modern society. Yet it is surprising to see how far the influence of the US can be felt without some notice. You mention Japan as another exporter of culture, and in Latin America also applies, in the '90 everybody watched anime, without prejudice, in the '00 few kept, since we learned the stereotype of a U.S. anime-fan, and in '10 and this decade, since the anime is now accepted in the U.S., I have seen another resurgence in my country, without the prejudices we learned.

      Because that is the thing, when we are exposed to another cultures, we kinda have a disclaimer understanding that is "another thing", yet when we are exposed to the U.S., we all act like if it was universal and can be shared with all people, regardless of cultures. We need a type of disclaimer as well, yet it can't be done when the influence of the U.S. can be seen everywhere. I am bored of seeing for 4 years in my cable news the mistakes Trump said/did, He appears more in the news that even my president! (well, he is not liked as well).

      Back to the point, I get that the U.S. has a bigger share in the internet since they kinda created, but its influence is far more than servers and IPs, and as a Latino I need to doubt it in good faith in order to not get entangled in problems native to the U.S.

      When I learned the internet, there was a promise that there was a lot of cultures being shared around. It were the last years of forums and the first of social media, and since then the U.S. culture became the status quo.

      EDIT: Ironically, The Onion just made a joke about this very thing. https://www.theonion.com/nasa-discovers-evidence-that-life-could-exist-outside-a-1845285833

      13 votes
      1. skybrian
        Link Parent
        This focus on documenting Trump’s many mistakes is a big problem even in the US, since there is less attention on state and local issues. I don’t know what we can do about it other than to look...

        This focus on documenting Trump’s many mistakes is a big problem even in the US, since there is less attention on state and local issues. I don’t know what we can do about it other than to look for more interesting content and share it here.

        5 votes
    2. [2]
      papasquat
      Link Parent
      The whole thing is a problem of language. While the internet as a whole is logically one giant network of networks, in reality, there are multiple "internets" that people largely stick to, based...

      The whole thing is a problem of language. While the internet as a whole is logically one giant network of networks, in reality, there are multiple "internets" that people largely stick to, based entirely on language.

      People who speak Mandarin stick to sites that are natively Mandarin, people who speak Spanish stick to sites that are natively Spanish, and so on. It just so happens (obviously not coincidentally) that currently, the most widely spoken language in the world is English. It also just so happens that the largest collection of native English speakers in the world are in the US.

      Even if you took away the US's economic, cultural, and military powerhouse status, the fact that so many people speak English, and so many English speakers are American all but guarantees that the Internet never had any other option to be American dominated. Add those things back in and add a sprinkle of the fact that the internet is largely an American invention, and is still pretty new, and I don't see how things could have turned out any other way.

      His point that American companies dominate the internet isn't really totally true. Tmail, Baidu, Tencent, and VK are all very large players, with many of the Chinese sites having more influence than American sites. Most English speakers don't really see that because... well they don't go on the Chinese internet.

      "Decolonizing" (terrible term btw), as in, de-americanizing the internet just doesn't seem possible, at least in the English speaking part of the internet. I imagine the Hindi, Spanish, and Mandarin portions of the internet don't have a whole lot of Americans on it as it stands.

      The English internet will always have 300 million Americans to contend with, more than every commonwealth country combined. It will always have a US bent until the US ceases to exist online.

      11 votes
      1. culturedleftfoot
        Link Parent
        What do you think of the graphics at the top of the article and how do you think they relate?

        What do you think of the graphics at the top of the article and how do you think they relate?

        3 votes
    3. [2]
      skybrian
      Link Parent
      I was prepared to disagree with this article, but it seems that the word “colonialism” is not used in any deep way. It’s just about the dominant influence of American culture on the Internet. I do...

      I was prepared to disagree with this article, but it seems that the word “colonialism” is not used in any deep way. It’s just about the dominant influence of American culture on the Internet.

      I do wonder, though, how things look in parts of the Internet that aren’t written in English?

      7 votes
      1. Ayax28
        Link Parent
        VERY dependent on Social Media. Most people have been customed to use internet only by phones, so most don't even go to web pages. And even then, Instagram, facebook or Tiktok are the way of many...

        VERY dependent on Social Media. Most people have been customed to use internet only by phones, so most don't even go to web pages. And even then, Instagram, facebook or Tiktok are the way of many of being part of the internet.

        It isn't so bad, actually, it is just centralized on those things and if you wanna escape that, you gotta learn english. This is Latin America point of view, though. I know Spain is a bit different having the same language.

        4 votes
    4. [3]
      culturedleftfoot
      Link Parent
      Video games don't really make a great comparison here. The crux of the argument here is not simply that the US is dominant in a particular industry/area, but that the presence of said industry is...

      Video games don't really make a great comparison here. The crux of the argument here is not simply that the US is dominant in a particular industry/area, but that the presence of said industry is so overwhelmingly widespread that its influence in ostensibly unrelated spheres is insidiously pervasive and disproportional. Video games are very popular but don't fit that bill... the only thing I can think of that could have once maybe compared to the internet's influence is television, which was a big factor in facilitating US cultural imperialism in the first place.

      I don't mean any offense here, but am I correct in wagering that you've not lived outside of the US? I find it's very difficult for Americans who've not lived abroad to have a real grasp of how questionable or negative aspects of US culture ripple into other societies in unwanted ways (and that's at the heart of the suitability of the term colonization/colonialism here). I think part of that is because US society nowadays largely ignores major parts of its colonial history and how it has impacted large sections of its population, and part of that is simply that you have to experience certain things firsthand, like how so many white people don't think about racial dynamics until they experience being the only white person in the room.

      6 votes
      1. [2]
        Silbern
        Link Parent
        I've absolutely lived outside the US, in Japan and Germany for several years. Combine my time living in Hawaii, and I've probably spent a fair bit over half my life living as a minority, albeit it...

        I've absolutely lived outside the US, in Japan and Germany for several years. Combine my time living in Hawaii, and I've probably spent a fair bit over half my life living as a minority, albeit it a generally well privileged minority in countries that themselves are pretty well off. Travelling a lot gave me an appreciation for the world outside my own country's borders, and I made it a point to engage in the local country's media to the best I could when I lived there.

        But I don't agree with the sentiment that US media being popular is tantamount to imperialism or colonialism. Those refer to active exploitation, and for sure, the US has plenty of that in our history, in our treatment of slaves, the Native Americans, the indigenous people of Hawaii. But being incredibly successful at making TV shows, or having paved the way to a global internet, particularly when foreigners often go out of their way to consume American content, isn't a sign of abuse.

        If video games aren't widespread enough, would Japanese anime in the specific field of Cartoons (a sub field of TV) count? It's incredibly dominant and a major source of Japan exporting its culture worldwide. Lots of Americans, Canadians, Koreans, French, etc. Enjoy it, and in the US, it's given our own cartoon industry some competition, particularly more adult cartoons that fight for the audience share. But I don't see how the people that consume anime would be any better off if they didn't watch it and stuck only to shows made in the US, in the same vein that Latin Americans (where Japanese anime and American cartoons are also relatively popular) would be better off if they refused to watch non-Latin American made shows.

        But I have a feeling I'm not properly grasping your viewpoint. Would it be okay for you provide me a detailed example perhaps, to help me better understand?

        8 votes
        1. culturedleftfoot
          Link Parent
          Again, it's not that their simply being very popular amounts to cultural imperialism. It's about the context in which this happens, i.e. the accompanying power structure and the imbalance it...

          Again, it's not that their simply being very popular amounts to cultural imperialism. It's about the context in which this happens, i.e. the accompanying power structure and the imbalance it typically engenders and/or seeks to maintain.

          Consider two scenarios mentioned here. In the first, McDonald's comes in - we're cool, we're American, this is our food, fuck yeah, freedom fries. It becomes popular, sometimes to the detriment of local businesses. No problem, that's capitalism, right? That in and of itself is not imperialist. The problem is when eating an American diet introduces high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and other lifestyle diseases (that the slick McDonald's commercials make no mention of) into the populace. Tough tits, maybe they should know not to eat so much fast food. Well, when you also consider Americans' steadfast rejection of other food cuisines within their own country for being too weird, isn't that a bit suspect? Your food, as healthy and as storied and as delicious as you might think it is... it sucks, don't bring it here. Our food is great though, buy as much as you want and don't mind the chemicals. Wait, what? Your family got sick? That's a shame, I can't imagine why. Here, have some of our pharmaceuticals.

          Disney's the other example. Pretty little girls grow up as princesses, kiss a frog or two, marry a handsome prince, live happily ever after, right? But princesses only look like us, not like you. Yes, yes, our heroes may have had to kill people that look like you, but that's all in the past, stop complaining. Look how fabulous we are, it was just the price of business. Et cetera, et cetera.

          There is a lot that you can get into further down the rabbit hole, but in a nutshell it's about the implicit values and attitudes that are exported alongside the tangible product, the unspoken assumptions of superiority upon which one culture is sold as ideal. It echoes the paternalistic practices that many previously-colonized countries still reckon with to this day: the systems that these standards came from are/were often ignorant and intolerant of the people, ideas and experiences that those other cultures could introduce. Even when those colonial powers might be open to those ideas or concepts, it rings hollow when there's a vested interest in maintaining a power imbalance. Japan and Germany maybe didn't exactly have such histories but I imagine that if you ask older generations there about resentment to American influence post-WW2, you can find suitable examples. In countries that have not been empires themselves, the effect is that much more magnified.

          Given that people are people, everywhere, every culture is going to have its pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, but when you only know one steeped in its own assurance of exceptionalism, it is difficult to recognize and own up to the poison in the cookie. When you earnestly expose yourself to other societies, other cultures, other perspectives, you can think differently, you can learn, you can grow. This all ties into why there is strength in diversity, and the internet as it is structured today is not as diverse as it could or perhaps should be.

          I feel like I'm rambling and I'm not sure if I'm simply repeating everything that was already succinctly laid out in the article, but it's definitely something that's easier to recognize with prior experience.

          4 votes
  2. [14]
    culturedleftfoot
    Link
    The world is a lot poorer for a few corporations' dominance over the web, let alone one country.

    The world is a lot poorer for a few corporations' dominance over the web, let alone one country.

    6 votes
    1. [10]
      skybrian
      Link Parent
      Well, maybe, but compared to what? I'm listening to obscure (to me) music from all over the world on YouTube and Spotify and I think our culture is richer due to it. It's unlikely that I would be...

      Well, maybe, but compared to what? I'm listening to obscure (to me) music from all over the world on YouTube and Spotify and I think our culture is richer due to it. It's unlikely that I would be watching videos of people teaching Tejano accordion music or listening to revival bands playing inter-war Polish music if it weren't easy to find, once you know where to start looking.

      5 votes
      1. [2]
        culturedleftfoot
        Link Parent
        You may not have intended it, but this sounds a lot like most tech companies' responses whenever there's any criticism of the long term effects of their products, or (in cases outside just the...

        Well, maybe, but compared to what?

        You may not have intended it, but this sounds a lot like most tech companies' responses whenever there's any criticism of the long term effects of their products, or (in cases outside just the tech sector) the cultures that produced them within their organizations. "It's the best we can do!" It belies a lack of imagination and is really used as a cover for people being uncomfortable with change, even when it's beneficial.
        There's an entire world of unexplored possibilities, what reason do we have to believe that what we have now is the best? Who's to say you wouldn't have more access to a wider range of music from across the world with artists being compensated better if we started out with those aims from the start? Yes, it's hypothetical, but it is way too easy to endorse the status quo and sweep problems under the rug when you aren't the one directly suffering, or you don't realize what/how much you're losing out on.

        4 votes
        1. skybrian
          Link Parent
          Yes, there are many possibilities. I am arguing in favor of uncertainty and many possibilities. Things could be better...or worse. The Internet isn't all crap, we have a lot of freedom, and we do...

          Yes, there are many possibilities. I am arguing in favor of uncertainty and many possibilities. Things could be better...or worse. The Internet isn't all crap, we have a lot of freedom, and we do have something to lose.

          I don't intend this as a general-purpose argument against all change, or that the status quo is the best of all possible worlds. Just that, essentially saying "this sucks" isn't much of a plan.

          This also isn't to say that coming up with a plan is a reasonable thing to do in a casual Internet conversation. But when we're on Tildes discussing what's happening it's probably better to think of ourselves as observers, not deciders. Actually making change is hard.

          Even writing about what that change might be in a serious way is more like homework than hanging out here chatting. If someone wants write something up, it would be interesting to read, though.

      2. [7]
        tindall
        Link Parent
        Would a non-monopolistic ecosystem of video and music sharing companies prevent that, though?

        Would a non-monopolistic ecosystem of video and music sharing companies prevent that, though?

        3 votes
        1. [5]
          Comment deleted by author
          Link Parent
          1. [4]
            tindall
            Link Parent
            PeerTube currently solves this problem pretty well, despite being generally rather bad software. Something like that with real investment behind it, and with multiple, compatible implementations...

            If one video I theoretically want to see is on one platform and a theoretically similiar or connected video (that is what YouTube would suggest to you) is on another, you may never know about it?

            PeerTube currently solves this problem pretty well, despite being generally rather bad software. Something like that with real investment behind it, and with multiple, compatible implementations for differing use cases (movies, music, educational content, etc) would be wonderfully versatile, and not have the monopoly issues of YouTube.

            The netflix monopoly never hurt me, but as soon as media properties were spread across 6-7 different properties I was looking at paying 15$ a month 6 different times to watch what minimal shows I enjoyed on each different platform.

            But all of these company do enjoy monopoly power - monopoly power over individual properties. If you want to watch, say, "The Americans", you must pay for Amazon Prime. That's not competition.

            2 votes
            1. [3]
              joplin
              Link Parent
              One thing I like though, is that you have the option to buy a single show (or even a single episode!) from other services. For example, I just checked and I can buy single episodes or entire...

              If you want to watch, say, "The Americans", you must pay for Amazon Prime.

              One thing I like though, is that you have the option to buy a single show (or even a single episode!) from other services. For example, I just checked and I can buy single episodes or entire seasons of "The Americans" on Apple TV. Back when "Game of Thrones" started, I didn't have HBO, so I bought just that show on iTunes and watched it without needing a subscription to HBO or to cable. So it's not all bad.

              1. [2]
                tindall
                Link Parent
                Yes, I think this model is much better. Buying individual shows - and being able to buy them, not rent them or buy a license to watch them on one service, which is the issue with Amazon Prime...

                Yes, I think this model is much better. Buying individual shows - and being able to buy them, not rent them or buy a license to watch them on one service, which is the issue with Amazon Prime Video for me - is great. But many services don't offer that anymore.

                Consider, for instance, buying a DVD. Yes, supposedly you're not supposed to be able to copy it, but that hasn't been true for over a decade. I buy it, now I can watch that movie whenever I want, on whatever device I want, even devices that haven't been invented yet. If I buy a movie on Amazon Prime, I can only watch it on devices with internet access that are blessed by Amazon to be allowed to play that content.

                This was a huge issue for me recently, when I built a home theater PC for my living room. It runs Linux. Everything works fine - Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and of course my large collection of video files - except for Disney Plus, which has occasional DRM issues. I've contacted support and I've been told they're not planning to fix the issue. I would have built it at much less expense using a Raspberry Pi 4, but Netflix and Amazon have decided that people trying to watch videos on non-Android Linux on armhf architectures must be pirates, and so I'm not allowed to do that.

                2 votes
                1. joplin
                  Link Parent
                  Wow! That's pretty egregious. Sorry you ran into that as that sucks.

                  I've contacted support and I've been told they're not planning to fix the issue. I would have built it at much less expense using a Raspberry Pi 4, but Netflix and Amazon have decided that people trying to watch videos on non-Android Linux on armhf architectures must be pirates, and so I'm not allowed to do that.

                  Wow! That's pretty egregious. Sorry you ran into that as that sucks.

                  4 votes
        2. [2]
          skybrian
          Link Parent
          We would need a search engine that searches multiple video sites. Google search does this, using the "Video" tab. But that doesn't get away from the monopoly problem if that's your main concern. I...

          We would need a search engine that searches multiple video sites. Google search does this, using the "Video" tab. But that doesn't get away from the monopoly problem if that's your main concern.

          I have lists of liked videos on YouTube and liked songs on Spotify, and often go back to them to find something I've heard before. In theory, browser bookmarks could do this, and yet somehow it doesn't entirely substitute for a playlist.

          A lot more could be done, but it seems like this is comparing an unbuilt alternative with actually-existing technology, and I'm not sure how to make that comparison fair or meaningful. Do we compare an idealized YouTube with an idealized federated system?

          I guess it's like comparing to an alternative history that could be as utopian or dystopian as you want. Whether we are richer or poorer depends on the author's whims.

          Here's an interesting alternative: suppose we didn't have to worry about copyright? I mean, a lot of the time we don't, but a lot of the reason YouTube and Spotify exist as they are is they've figured out how to pay copyright owners well enough that they don't get shut down.

          3 votes
          1. tindall
            Link Parent
            No, we need to determine why our current system is failing in the cases that it is failing, and build something that doesn't fail in those ways or, hopefully, worse ways. I think your comment...

            A lot more could be done, but it seems like this is comparing an unbuilt alternative with actually-existing technology, and I'm not sure how to make that comparison fair or meaningful. Do we compare an idealized YouTube with an idealized federated system?

            No, we need to determine why our current system is failing in the cases that it is failing, and build something that doesn't fail in those ways or, hopefully, worse ways. I think your comment about copyright is an important one; without copyright restrictions, peer-to-peer file sharing with nice interfaces, search features, and metadata could solve a lot of the issues both with YouTube and with existing federated video and music services.

            On the other hand, Bandcamp is a great example of a service that doesn't really do anticompetitive things - they don't sue non-Bandcamp electronic distributors, for instance, or try to buy them. I still think that a large network of smaller electronic labels with a federated search system would be better, but I do think it's worth focusing where the immediate problems are.

            4 votes
    2. [3]
      Leonidas
      Link Parent
      Even when just looking at social media, it's a shame how the diverse array of forums, chatrooms, and other online spaces have been largely subsumed into a handful of massive platforms: Twitter,...

      Even when just looking at social media, it's a shame how the diverse array of forums, chatrooms, and other online spaces have been largely subsumed into a handful of massive platforms: Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), Tumblr, the usual suspects. I'm often frustrated by how often I see screenshots from one of these sites just shared a la carte onto other platforms--intentional or not, it gives the impression that original content is dwindling in favor of simply reposting memes and textposts ad nauseum.

      3 votes
      1. [2]
        tindall
        Link Parent
        There's nothing wrong with sharing content between platforms. The issues is that all these platforms have intentionally broken the whole point of the Web, hyperlinks, in order to keep people...

        There's nothing wrong with sharing content between platforms. The issues is that all these platforms have intentionally broken the whole point of the Web, hyperlinks, in order to keep people engaged with their platform.

        3 votes
        1. Leonidas
          Link Parent
          I agree, I'd say the issue is less that content is being shared in the first place and more that it's done in such a fragmentary way. The fair use standard is a high bar for this kind of thing,...

          I agree, I'd say the issue is less that content is being shared in the first place and more that it's done in such a fragmentary way. The fair use standard is a high bar for this kind of thing, but in a more general sense it can be applied as "does sharing this on this platform require me to put my own spin on it?" For example, on TikTok there's a fairly popular genre of post where people read funny tweets and stuff like that, sometimes with commentary and/or a funny voice filter--not exactly high-effort, but it puts a twist on the content rather than just shoving screenshots onto a different site with no additional context. And now the hyperlink issue has got me thinking about the Xanadu project and how social media might look in that kind of framework of total interconnection between posts. It'd have the potential to be either very good or borderline nonsensical.

          2 votes