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SUMMARY:bias on net

K. Durack kdurack at dante.nmsu.edu
Mon May 17 10:42:23 EST 1993


A couple of months ago, I posted a general question about how/whether
people experience bias on the net.  Several of the people who responded
asked that a summary of results be posted, so here goes. 

Here's the original post; a summary of the responses follows.

---------------ORIGINAL POST-----------------
What do you think?

Many researchers have suggested that communication via computers is more
egalitarian and less subject to the kinds of power structures and
struggles that exist for other means of communication. This suggests that
those who might suffer bias due to ethnicity, disability, or gender might
find the net to be a "freer" place.

As net users, what's your experience? Do you pay attention to or try to
figure out the ethnicity, gender or disability status of other net users? 
If you've experienced bias in "the real world," do you experience less
bias on the net?

What do you think?  I'll summarize and post if there's interest in this

Katherine Durack
kdurack at nmsu.edu


21 people responded to this query, which was posted on 3 newsgroups:
misc.handicap, bionet.women-in-bio, and soc.culture.african.american. 
Most of the people who responded seem to think the net is indeed a biased
"community."  10 of the people who responded considered the net to be less
biased than "the real world,"  3 respondents thought it was more biased,
and 2 thought it was about the same.  The rest either didn't comment
directly or essentially said that "it depends" (i.e., some groups are
biased, some or not).  

Each response was interesting in its own right; what follows are some
samples of the kinds of things people said.  

SAMPLE QUOTES (all are excerpts)

"In general the net tends to be very egalitarian as far as culture,
gender, age and position is concerned....There are places though where
"real world" prejudices still poke through....In general though I believe
that the net ... judges people on ability, much more than on factors such
as those you quote."

"...groups are more or less egalitarian, however: it's a matter of who can
dish out the most heat and take the return fire in stride...There is a
great sense of freedom on the net....this is unfortunately reflected by
some people feeling free to appear bigoted.... You can't SEE the other
people out there, only their words.  You have to treat them, therefore, as
equal, with only what they say and how they say it to distinguish
"quality" from "lack of quality"....By the same token, they can't see YOU. 
You can say whatever stupid bigoted idiotic thing you want and get away
with it because you're just a user i.d. at a computer node.  The kind of
poison that would get you beaten up if you stood up and said it is
commonplace on the net...."

"I've never paid any attention to WHO was doing the writing until I had
read it and decided if it was important to me."

"I love the net, I can act like a human being and get treated like one and
communication is not a problem.  Oh by the way, I'm deaf."

"I have found it refreshing and have in general been encouraged that the
net is at least in potential a freer place."

"I do not (I believe) make judgements about the content of the note on the
basis of ethnicity or gender -  the judgement is made before I notice the
signature/identifier....In any case, I hope you hear from collegial users
that the networks are freer.  It is high time that men and women started
being people and people of whatever colour got colour blind....what counts
is NOT visible."

"....There are other biases introduced -- the computer haves & have-nots
...and those with sufficient free time to learn to do this stuff and see
sufficient value in it to continue.  The ability to "lurk" and learn the
"rules of the game" is enhanced in an e-mail environment compared to "real

"What counts is what the person has to say."

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