The World Wide Web provides a lot of benefits, so much that the United Nations stated in a report that disconnecting people from the Internet is a human rights violation. However, there are a few concepts that can undermine even the democratizing power of the Web.
Tyranny of the majority is an old term used to describe a scenario that undermines democracy. Instead of every person getting a fair vote, the majority may suppress the votes of others. Decisions made by the masses often overlook the interests of the individuals. Often laws like the Bill of Rights are formed to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.
Applying the concept to the Internet, the Tyranny of the Majority can be either strengthened or weakened. The Internet, social networks, and online communities can more strongly express a single opinion and even employ means to suppress counter-opinions with tools like upvoting/downvoting articles and opinions that disagree. This goes hand-in-hand with the next concept but stands on its own as well. If people are afraid to act against the majority opinion for whatever reason, they may even vote against their own interests or also work toward suppressing others that go against the majority.
One way that the Internet weakens the Tyranny of the majority is by allowing anonymous communication. If someone feels they are anonymous online, they may feel more free to express an opposing view point. If that anonymity is compromised, however, they may not have the same courage to stand up for their own interests or beliefs. By allowing anonymity online, people can speak their minds and provide a diverse number of thoughts for discussion and consideration.
The Filter Bubble is an interesting concept that is quite easy to see, particularly in today’s hyper-politicized world. You might even know some people that quite readily fall victim to their own filter bubble. If someone gets all of their news from a single source or single type of sources, it might give their thoughts a very limited framing. For example, if someone only watches Fox News, reads Drudge Report, and subscribes to similar sites, they might believe every report at face value and not question any bias to the news segments because it is reaffirmed by these other sources that agree with the first.
When it comes to the Web, its customization allows people to easily create their own filters. We tend to like websites that we agree with. Why would you visit a site that you dislike and disagree with? Even getting our news through websites, blogs, and social networks, we will likely follow those that we agree with, further biasing our viewpoint. Sometimes you might like a site for its presentation style and other conveniences but it can also be worthwhile to expand your horizons and find contrary news sources before cementing your thoughts.
Subscribing to certain sites, following organizations on social networks, and even browsing habits can make it difficult to escape one’s filter bubble. Google tweaks your search results based on your search history, location, and other factors it can determine. When you search for something and when somebody else searches for the same thing, might result in different results. They might be “tailored” to you but they are also affirming the mental trap you’re in and make it harder to escape a limited perspective. Knowing the facts is one thing but receiving biased opinion presenting those facts can shape a person’s actions. Aware of this concept, you might practice finding the source of the information, boiling it down to the facts, and even seek uncomfortable, contrary opinions to make sure you understand an issue from both sides.