As the world delves further into a globalized society interdependent on one another economically, socially, and culturally, the age-old phenomena of intercultural conflict occurs, often on a global stage.
Digitally, the world is connected to each other in virtually every corner, which has had both its successes and consequences within global society. Internet forums, social media pages, and other digital platforms allow people from Asia to communicate with those in North America in a matter of seconds, which seldom existed previous to this century. The level of awareness and education about different cultures, as well as the information flow between regions is at an all-time high, but this isn’t as positive as you may think.
If you’ve ever surfed the worldwide web, you’re bound to come across a plethora of ignorance and cultural insensitivity posted from users regardless of the context. Regardless of the users’ intentions, it reveals a larger issue of intercultural communication clashes between populations— an issue that’ll only get worse with increased globalization.
Intercultural Communications is a field of academia that grew to prominence around the 1950s that American scholar Edward T. Hall is credited for, advancing the field when he was a part of the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of States. Higher academic institutions across the world began to devise their own academia related to Intercultural Communications, where it remains a prominent field of study today worldwide. It combines a wide range of disciplines like psychology, semiotics, and philosophy to better understand how different cultures interact with each other based on their distinct cultural differences.
Interesting theories such as Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions or Information flow and Contra-flow are among some research that could prove beneficial to improving cultural sensitivity online. These ideas present a new way of interpreting the global world, such as the Monochronic vs. Polychronic dimensions or collectivism vs. individualism; it allows us to rationalize the differences we see between populations in a way that minimizes judgment and prejudice. It’s human nature to perceive things that clash with our dominant understandings as negative, especially when it relates to our identities. But this doesn’t mean those initial judgements should be taken as truthful, and may in fact lead to further conflict between groups.
For example, many Westerners may think it’s absurd to eat food primarily with their hands, whereas most nonwestern societies prefer not to use cutlery. Both groups may quickly assume one another is odd, and their way is better, yet these sentiments only further create intercultural conflict. While this example may seem harmless in itself, such predispositions have drastic consequences on intercultural communication, clearly visible within the digital world.
In 2020, Twitter hate speech against China and the Chinese community increased 900% in part due to the ignorance about the pandemic. In general, internet traffic towards “hate sites” targeting Asians increased 200% in 2020 as well. Digital hate speech trends often reflect overall stereotypes, prejudices, and ignorance held by populations about one another that is echoed through forums and digital interactions.
44% of digital hate crimes reported in the UK contained Xenophobic or racist motivations in 2020, with most coming from popular social media platforms like Facebook. A further 27% of hate crimes involved religion, with both Islamophobia and Anti-semiticsm equally prevalent online. UK police believe that most digital hate crimes go unreported, meaning that any statistics gathered regarding the digital world often are unrepresentative of the issue at hand. Yet it’s clear from what little data available that most digital hate crimes are rooted in intercultural conflict, which will only get worse as globalization becomes the new normal.
Most of us access the digital world everyday, whether it’s for personal, professional, or a combination of both purposes. It’s been a great tool for education, sharing the previous secrets of cultures with each other from the click of a button. But current conversations about cultural sensitivity and intercultural communication have yet to match with the digital society, proposing a threat to the progress of the world wide web. Intercultural communications academia may just be the solution to cleaning up our digital world in favor of a positive socio-cultural internet.
Kathryn Williams, Rome Design Agency.