As a reminder, the “splinternet,” can be defined as where cyberspace is controlled and regulated by different countries. This includes regulations and national firewalls. As well there are the barriers across cultures with media and language being two defining features. These naturally exist in the physical world (nation-state) because of how we naturally divide ourselves up and congregate in similar and like-minded groups. Internet reflects that and in some cases to a greater harmful degree. My view is you can divide the splinternet into three types:
- National/Geopolitical (i.e. West vs East)
- Regulatory (i.e. GDPR)
- Cultural (i.e. language)
The goal of this post is first explore some of the language gap within the cultural splinternet with examples and whether it is something worth tackling. Secondly, how the impact of regulatory / national splinternets affect the cultural splinternet. The examples I have chosen may be a bit biased but they are things I find personally interesting.
The first example of language different is the Wikipedia of an author, 山下 いくと/Ikuto Yamashita. I enjoyed a book series of his that has been translated into English so I decided to check what other things he has written and his English wiki page doesn't not give much information. Ok that could be expected. I checked his page on Japanese wiki far more information. So the question is does it matter? It depends on hand yes in one language his life and work is only give a brief instead of the detailed account which is available. On the other no, only small body of his work is available in English so his page reflects that some extent and as wikipedia is user driven there is no requirement to create pages reflecting the fullness of a persons life. A possible solution to narrow the gap would be have a system to compare pages same topic but different languages paired with human editors to ensure they aligned. Though that would require time and resources that may not be available to wikipedia as an organisation.
The second example is the Twitter pages Studio Ghibli Eng vs JP. I know different organisations run them but they post completely different things. This means the English twitter page is missing out on insights and details about what is happening within Studio Ghibli as Toshio Suzuki seems to direct and what is posted on Ghibli JP twitter account. There is auto translate but not perfect when translating Japanese kanji into other languages with it sometimes lacking context and doesn't reflect the original tweet. In the grand schemes of things this is not of big importance but failing to reflect to the rest of world the passion and insight about Ghibli in my opinion is a poor job. It creates a cultural gap which if a person lacks the skills and knowledge will find it very difficult to bridge. It is in some ways a reflection of the problems we have anyway. Since we struggle to fix those issue in the physical world it is no surprise they exist in the virtual world of the internet.
So is any these things important? It depends on what they are trying to achieve or what information is being conveyed. While these are arguable minor issues for topics I have used as examples it becomes more of a serious issues with scientific or medical information. While majority of research papers are published in English not all are so there is potential for loss of information sharing it also works the other way while English is the main languages of business not everyone reads and speaks it. It becomes worse with older papers and research that is not fully digitised or is locked behind expensive paywalls. There comes a potential for harm if people are unable to access or find information which could help them so ideally we need a way to minimise this for happening. There is no silver bullet solution to this and one day we might come up with a system which eliminate this language barrier though hopefully without erasing peoples cultural and history behind their mother tongue as well.
Impact of Regulatory / National splinternet on the Cultural Splinternet
I am only going to give this a quick overview as this is an area which could quickly become very large and has many different parts to it. Some of these occur as a reflection of physical world or how nationstate handle the internet while others are a deliberate attempt to shape the internet into a certain form. It would probable take a full on funded research project to fully map, explain and understand this.
The first example is limiting or preventing access to certain websites. An unintentional example of this GDPR (overall a positive thing) where if your in Europe you cannot access certain non-european websites (becoming less of an issue but still occurs). This causes a restriction of information and topics which can accessed on the internet. Another example is how Russian/China control over the internet within their borders vs global the web. This matters as the same with language barriers there is a risk of key or vital information might be missed or never reach people who could be impacted by problems. A more serious concern take LBGTQ as example there many online resources communities and forums to help who are LBGTQ but in they reside in a place where that is frowned or denied they will lack that support. This could potential cause harm to the people trying to find support and acceptance when it is being denied or prevented.
Second example is how regulatory but also technical limitations can effect users experience. I think an example of this the video game MMO Final Fantasy XIV. There are the Global, South Korea and China versions of it. It is described as having a global community but in practise it exists in silos's for example which server your are on/which community you engage with. This exists due technical limitations who will often play on the server which give the best player experience i.e. minimised latency. Also, due how video games regulated differently around the globe if a company wants to enter a market as an outsider they will have often partner up and releases a version compliment with that countries laws. In fairness this is common practise but there are problems which depending on what happens can quickly lead to issues of censorship or erasure of certain themes and topics. Rarely do these changes cause the player experience to vary dramatically from one regional version to another it is often the little things (or big things depending on context or viewpoint) that change. These situations are often considered the price of doing business same getting your product certified as safe to particular standard if you want sell in a particular market but this becomes serious when to avoid this creators will start to self-censor or limit what they choose do which as video games are a creative medium is a generally a bad thing I think. I would recommend reading up about Values Steam Platform in China if you find this topic interesting.
So are these issues to worry about? Personally, I think they are and at the very least we need to able to discuss them. Also, part of this topics depends on your world view. Do you see the internet as being Open vs closed platform or Liberal vs Authoritarian way to manage the internet. These are not easily solvable problems and no single answer will satisfy everyone that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
Hopefully, I have shown the idea that the context is key in understanding the cultural splinternet. At the moment there is no easy answer to decide which issues are serious problems to fix or solve. Or whether these problems worth tackling as part the cultural splinternet is a reflection of the national and regulatory splinternet. I find these questions interesting partly as a result of my background in anthropology which part involves learning to understand human culture. I think in part any technical issues can be solved but the cultural splinter is also a Human Factors/User experience issue which depending on the situation cannot be solved by small technical fixes but may require a complete change in design and implantation processes which do not happen overnight but take great deal of time. So it is partly a design and implantation issue paired with peoples worldview. Similar problems exist in the AI field where unconscious bias affects ML data input and results. If you have found this of interest I would recommend doing your own reading and research on this topic.
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