Internet cookies enable corporations, online social media and search engine providers, and even government entities to track a private internet user’s browsing history and manage or adjust the content that the user sees accordingly. In addition to this online-space revising power done basically without consent by these entities, internet users can themselves mold the internet that they come into contact with; they can download certain search extensions (like the one that replaces all instances of “Donald Trump” with “Donald Drumpf”) that block certain content, revise some content, or emphasize certain kinds of content based on the user’s preferences.
Although privacy advocates have taken issue with the non consensual use of internet cookies or selling of private internet browsing history to major corporations for advertising purposes, little to nothing has been said about an internet user’s ability to mold his or her own internet space, be it the news that he or she receives, the filters he or she employs, etc.
This lack of conversation constitutes a major absence in the discussion of contemporary politics and philosophy; now more than ever people are navigating an internet space that to them represents the exploration of wider scope of reality than is accessible to them physically. However, due to factors both in and outside of their control, this space is warped, limited, and invisibly tied into a feedback loop that relies on the user’s own habitual use of the internet. This of course does not apply to those using proxies, VPNs, cryptocurrencies, and the like.
In other words, despite the unlimited breadth of information that the world wide web represents to our culture, people are much more likely to find what they’re looking for more often and in greater proportions than how that information exists in reality. A power crystal enthusiast will find power crystal products and articles pop up all the time in side margins of web pages and news articles, even outside what that enthusiast seeks out on his or her own.
To continue with this hypothetical situation, the power crystal believer may not only continue in his or her hobby, but become increasingly polarized as a result of being constantly bombarded with this information and with confirmation of its validity. Where there might have once been doubt or at least the feeling of being part of a fringe spirituality (if this person was to navigate the nonvirtual world espousing his or her beliefs in power crystals), there may instead be an assuredness in numbers that could only be felt by use of the internet.
This is relatively harmless, if somewhat sad, for the power crystal believer. However, there are other fringe cultures and non-universally-held radical belief systems that this aspect of the internet feeds into an increasingly polarized status. Take the tragic massacre in Charleston that occured in 2015. The shooter was polarized by white supremacist websites and likely found support in white supremacist chatrooms. Perhaps gun advertisements lined the shooter’s web pages.
All in all, it’s important to consider that while the web can be an unlimited source of new and ground breaking information, it can be used to further the momentum of a person’s worldview, as opposed to destabilizing that world view. In fact, in most cases, the former is more common than the latter.