So what color do you think #TheDress is?
Unless you have been living under a rock since Thursday evening, you know about the infamous black-and-blue (or white-and-gold) dress that whipped its way across social media in the span of a few hours. That very evening, this optical illusion was featured in news articles, science experiments were conducted, and color experts called in to solve the mysterious question: was the dress black-and-blue or was it white-and-gold?
While everyone marveled at the fact that this dress “broke the Internet” by how fast it spread, I was astonished at how it managed to explicitly prove a fact about Internet users and how they relate to each other. When the Internet emerged, it opened up a whole new breadth of opportunities. People can join international communities that would otherwise unavailable to them and they have access to a wide range of information, allowing Internet users to be better informed than ever before. It is essentially a space where everyone has an equal voice to participate in rational and critical debate – the idealized public sphere.
However, one of the dangers of such an open, unlimited space is that people can easily filter out all the opinions they disagree with and only connect with other users and information that reinforces their own opinions. Instead of the Internet becoming actualized as the ideal public sphere, it instead becomes an extremely polarized community that allows for less discussion and public debate.
I know there might not be enough substance in “the dress” argument for proper rational and critical debate, but the results perfectly articulate how polarized communities can form on the Internet. Users immediately split into teams based on which colors they perceived the dress to be, and got into heated arguments about the issue on social media. How much more so will these dangers of a too-broad community become prominent when important issues are brought into this public space? What about politics? Ethics? Philosophy?
Do you remember any other times an issue circulated on the Internet and polarized users? Share below!