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4 Ways Many Americans (and Others) Are Ethnocentric on the Web [Opinion]

Angela Randall 27-04-2012

Are your ears burning? Did you click on this title to find out what those awful non-Americans think Americans are doing wrong this time? If so, maybe this article is written for you more than you’d like to believe, whether you’re American or not.


You see, there’s a whole lot of ethnocentricity going on online and it’s not just the Americans who are doing it. Yes, the Americans can look like the major culprits here, but mainly that’s because there are so many of them represented online. The Brits, Aussies, Europeans and Indians are all a little ethnocentric too as are other minority and majority groups divided by race, religion or other things. Wherever there’s a group representing a bunch of people, you’re likely to find ethnocentric behaviour. And where better to see it all in action than in the melting pot of the web where people from all walks of life are thrown in together.

What Is Ethnocentric Behaviour?

Ethnocentric behaviour is not the same as racism or patriotism, although it’s often found alongside both of these. Ethnocentricity is where any group of people compares themselves to outsiders by using the cultural norms of their own group, and often then surmise that they are superior to all others.

For instance, consider what would happen if a bunch of ballet dancers with their strict diets and exercise routines were to discuss a room full of geeks 5 Reasons It's Better To Date A Geek [Opinion] Let's face it - geeks make for a better relationship than any of those alpha-male types. Exactly why is that though? Are you prepared to shun good looks for reliability and utility? What can you... Read More they just saw playing games and eating pizza. They’d probably be slightly repulsed and if they got into a conversation the dancers might suggest the geeks go for a walk or something.

4 Ways Many Americans (and Others) Are Ethnocentric on the Web [Opinion] shutterstock 41687203 Geek

Now, here’s the trick: we’re all ethnocentric, really. You grow up thinking what your family does is normal, then every single person you meet for the rest of your life either challenges or reinforces those beliefs.


1. Forgetting That Other Groups Exist In Your Audience

This sign of ethnocentrism denies other people are different and is mainly a problem when several large groups share a language. This means English speakers online suffer from this problem a lot.

Consider these headlines as Tweets: “Government Loses Billions In Petty Theft”; “Prime Minister Dead After Eating Airline Food”; “How To Prepare Your Taxes”. Whose Government? Which Prime Minister? Which country’s taxes? It’s incredibly ethnocentric to presume all your readers online are from the same country as you. People omitting specific country details in headlines like this are basically implying that their country is so well represented online that they consider the rest of the planet is a minority.

Rose Tyler: If you are an alien how come you sound like you’re from the North?
The Doctor: Lots of planets have a North!

2. Defence – Us Vs Them

Ethnocentric types don’t seem to realise that it’s possible to debate political topics without taking personal offence at the differences. If you’re chatting online about healthcare, taxes or any number of things that are very different between countries, try to keep your discussion about the merits of the various models and methods available, rather than just saying “But our way is best”. Face it, no country has got everything 100% right and every one of us would create a different utopia if we could. The best we can do is to listen, learn and teach others about how different things work or don’t work in each country.

4 Ways Many Americans (and Others) Are Ethnocentric on the Web [Opinion] shutterstock 82638280 Diversity


3. Entertainment Industry Ethnocentrism

Have you ever seen the “This XYZ Is Not Available In Your Country” messages? To many people viewing these it feels a little like an ethnocentric slap in the face from the big entertainment corporations and start-ups. It’s not just any one country giving out these messages, but it’s true that many of the corporations are American. Americans should therefore know that this is the message the rest of the world sees before they even consider what individual Americans say and do which may be considered ethnocentric.

4 Ways Many Americans (and Others) Are Ethnocentric on the Web [Opinion] Ethnocentric YouTube Video

4. Stereotyping And Making Derisive Generalisations

Stereotypes and other derisive generalisations are rife online, especially when it comes to other cultures and countries (such as propaganda). If you find yourself about to pigeon-hole someone according to their country of origin, consider that they’ve navigated to the same part of the internet. They’ve obviously got some similar tastes to you and could indeed be quite a lot like you.

4 Ways Many Americans (and Others) Are Ethnocentric on the Web [Opinion] shutterstock 48466048 ethnocentric


How To Practise Ethnorelativism

If you want to keep your internet friends and don’t want to succumb to ethnocentricism, there’s a few things you can do:

  • Accept that there are many different cultures represented online and that your worldview is just one of many valid worldviews.
  • Adapt to real online multiculturalism.
  • See the value in the variety of viewpoints and try to learn from them where you can.
  • Consider that all internet users worldwide are integrated into an online society together.

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  1. sharon overman
    October 1, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    *defense *behavior just FYI..........

  2. Matt
    November 20, 2015 at 4:24 am

    Article and comments are VERY ethnocentric...I came across this researching ideas for an introductory Sociology class I teach at the 11th grade level. I think I will end up using the article and some comments to show how ethnocentric people discuss ethnocentrism, thanks :)

    • Angela Randall
      December 4, 2015 at 3:25 pm

      Hah - that's hilariously meta. And you're right that the comments on this article are pretty interesting in and of themselves.

  3. Joe
    May 1, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Great aricle and well relevant. I find this behaviour a lot on make use of page "cool tech deals of the week" where a lot of the offers are for people physically located in the US which can be slightly annoying as I dont live there.

    • Angela Alcorn
      May 5, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      Good point. I'll pass this on to Aibek and see if he can be more specific with regards to where the shipping is free to. Thanks for mentioning it!

      • Aibek Esengulov
        May 7, 2012 at 9:52 am

        Thanks Angela, I'll discuss this with Siakat and see if we can do something about it.

  4. JerryP
    April 30, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    My opinion on what this article should have said: more or less.

    It is a global world. A large part of the internet is America-centric. But more and more, the nature of the internet means that more English speakers are coming from other parts of the world.

    #1 Authors should be more sensitive to the makeup of their audiences and could make some adjustments to make their articles less country specific.

    #2 Just because someone is from a different culture does not make them wrong. Try to understand that they are coming from a different point of view and respect that.

    #3 The internet is global. If you have to have separate copyright/distribution agreements for digital than physical to allow you to be seen in more countries, then do so. The costs should be relatively inexpensive, and then you can cut some of the logistical ties that are associated with physical media.

    #4 Reread your articles before you post them. Are you making broad generalizations about other groups, and is that fair or is there a better way to make your point?


    • Angela Alcorn
      May 5, 2012 at 3:06 pm

      Nice summary! Yes, exactly that. :)

  5. JerryP
    April 30, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Summary of article:

    Inflammatory statements using ethnocentric methods to accuse others of ethnocentricism. And Americans are bad. There are some from other countries with the same issue, but only a little. Same for other organizations, but it is those nasty Americans. Oh and while they aren't exactly racist, they are similar.

    Everything should be crafted to me. And to make sure that we are clear that it is the evil Americans, I will keep using them as THE example. And since I am not one of them, I can use quotes out of context about a patient talking to her doctor who thinks he is from another planet, and everyone should know exactly what that is about even though I do not identify the doctor or the show, or that it is from my country's media outlet.

    Oh, and Americans are bad, because they stereotype and make derisive generalisations about people from specific countries. Those dirty Americans and those American companies. They stereotype me, and are mean to me and talk among themselves like I wasn't even there, and then they won't let me watch their evil videos. And the worst part, is because there are so many of them on the internet, alot of it is presented as if the viewers were largely going to be from there! Those bastards! And in conclusion, to avoid being like them 1. Accept that Americans are bad, don't be American 2. Adapt to real online multiculturalism (which is apparently anything that is not "American") 3. Listen to and learn from me, even though I get angry with the thought that not everything is designed for my point of view or at least towards my culture (don't even joke about word spelling, or I will tell you how you are wrong, and it is just the stupid "Americans" and all the other English speaking countries did it the right way) 4. we are all one big integrated happy place, as long as you take into account every group and subgroup, or at least mine, and do it my way.

    Review at the definition of ethnocentrism. Read each of the author's points. Only #4 is ethnocentrism.

    I started with complete logical arguments, but it was longer than the article so here's the short form:
    #1 is context and target audience as issues, not a person judging another culture from their own world view.
    #2 generic arguement about debates not being intellectual discusions with the word "ethnocentrism" thrown in to somehow try to make it apply to the topic.
    #3 try distribution/copyright issues as the more likely culprit. The offered argument sounds more like paranoia. Are there voices in your head telling you the "Americans" are spreading rumors behind your back"?

    #4 is ethnocentricism and seems to be used throughout the article, though quite unintentionally.

    • Angela Alcorn
      May 5, 2012 at 3:05 pm

      Yes, it was a deliberately inflammatory title that was suggested to me, and hence I used examples which backed up the title. But, I used the examples sparingly and in conjunction with others because, as I mentioned several times through out the article, ethnocentric behaviour is everywhere. It's clearly not just Americans and I tried to ensure no American could feel personally put upon by any of the points. I'm not out to make enemies. :D

      In regards to the quote, you either haven't seen Doctor Who or you're just making a point deliberately. Either way, it's a very popular show across most English-speaking countries (UK, Australia and America at least). If you haven't seen it yet, you should definitely check it out. :)

      I personally think #2 is the MOST ethnocentric example I gave, as many people find it hard to look at the way other countries do things objectively, that is without thinking "But our way is best".

      And you're right, it's impossible to write an article backing up a sweeping generalisation without making sweeping generalisations throughout. Sorry!

  6. Eva
    April 28, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    There are many instances of this online, and often it's small things. People referring to shops/foodstuffs/products that exist only in certain countries (well, usually it's the US) without even considering the possibility that readers might not know what they are, let alone have access to them. This is particularly interesting in forums where people frequently post questions related to writing or RL advice - in the places I frequent, both people posting and answering questions seem to consider the US the "default location", with the possible addition of other English-speaking countries. People from countries with other native languages who frequent English-language websites for whatever reason don't exist at all.

    Sometimes it really gets funny - an international internet services announces a downtime, giving UTC (which is something one doesn't always get, and which at least allows conversions without checking if a given time zone has daylight savings), and all the US time zones but one. Cue people from that time zone complaining loudly that they were left out - and reacting surprised when people from other countries point out that there are a lot more time zones who are never included in posts like that.

    Of course it's not US people alone doing this. I'm myself guilty of frequently forgetting that people in three of my countries neighbouring countries speak (or might possibly speak) the same language that I do, and assume that everyone posting in my language is from my country. It's just that the presence of US people in the English-language internet is so... overwhelming which makes one think that this is merely a US problem.

    That said, the internet is a great opportunity for talking to people from other places and extending one's horizon - it's certainly done a lot for me in that respect. That's also why I continue to mostly read English-language websites.

    • Angela Alcorn
      May 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      It's very easy to presume things about your audience, but hopefully fewer people will after they think about it a while. And yes, it's not just the Americans!

  7. themainliner
    April 28, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    I agree and I have often gone as far as visiting websites you've recommended after reading about their services at length. Only to be quickly disappointed that all their services are in US Dollars and restricted to North America...

    Good article which everyone at MakeUseOf needs to read and bear in mind.

    • Angela Alcorn
      April 28, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      That's just the way the internet is - so much stuff is USA only and it's really annoying! There are a lot of writers at MakeUseOf who aren't in the USA and we will usually point out if a service is USA only (or not write about it at all because we can't even try it). Hopefully the rest will read this article. :)

  8. Joshua Lockhart
    April 28, 2012 at 6:51 am

    Wow. Great article, Angela. I definitely can pull a lot from this article. I can pick out quite a few times where I've slipped up, but other than that, I do try to make an effort to realize the vast amount of people that we have floating around out here. Granted, I try my best to stay away from politics in all forms...

    • Angela Alcorn
      April 28, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      Yes, politics. Shhh, we don't talk about that. :)

  9. Aaron
    April 28, 2012 at 2:52 am

    This article is ethnocentric because it uses the British spelling of words instead of the American ones (ex: defence vs defense). :)

    • epiquestions
      April 28, 2012 at 7:49 am

      If this was is a poor one =p

      • Angela Alcorn
        April 28, 2012 at 3:46 pm

        But still a little funny. :)

      • Aaron
        April 28, 2012 at 6:01 pm

        Not sarcasm. Just a commentary on the subtlety of ethnocentrism and how ingrained it is from an early age.

    • Angela Alcorn
      April 28, 2012 at 3:46 pm

      Haha. I nearly mentioned spelling! I think it's hilarious that Americans always complain about English spelling. You're the ones who changed the spelling!! :D

      • Aaron
        April 28, 2012 at 6:36 pm

        Such an ethnocentric statement! :)

        According to Wikipedia:
        "In the early 18th century, English spelling was not standardized. Differences became noticeable after the publishing of influential dictionaries. Current British English spellings follow, for the most part, those of Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), whereas many American English spellings follow Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828)."


        Original Source: Scragg, Donald (1974). A history of English spelling. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press. pp. 82–83.

        • Angela Alcorn
          April 30, 2012 at 10:51 am

          Very true, but there's more to it than that. :D

          Noah Webster actually deliberately changed the spelling of words for that dictionary as he was trying to make spelling more phoenetic. America adopted most of his suggested spelling changes, but the rest of the English-speaking countries didn't.

          "In 1806, Noah Webster published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. It included an essay on the oddities of modern orthography and his proposals for reform. Many of the spellings he used, such as color and center, would become hallmarks of American English. In 1807 Webster began compiling an expanded dictionary. It was published in 1828 as An American Dictionary of the English Language. Although it drew some protest, the reformed spellings were gradually adopted throughout the United States."

  10. Aaron
    April 28, 2012 at 2:51 am

    This article is ethnocentric because the words are spelled using the British spellings instead of the American ones (ex. Defence vs. defense). :)

  11. Nick
    April 27, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Great article! This is something many of us probably aren't even aware of and is definitely worth some attention.

    I would point out that the "Entertainment Industry Ethnocentrism" you mentioned actually has a more practical basis than simply being arbitrary. Often it is because advertisements aren't available for a given country, which is important if that is a major source of revenue for the given product or service. Showing foreign ads in another country could actually prove to be a more dramatic example of ethnocentrism, and also wouldn't be any better than not showing adds at all.

    • epiquestions
      April 28, 2012 at 8:02 am

      I think it doesn't refer to the ads shown.I've been to tv network websites that don't show a preview vid or teaser vid of a series because I am from a region that they chose to exclude.

      I don't think showing foreign ads could be considered ethnocentrism. If the product is not available in my country I could have it shipped or have a relative buy it and send it to me...Anyway most ads that are shown today are region based depending on what country you are browsing from.

      • Angela Alcorn
        April 28, 2012 at 3:53 pm

        Yeah, and speaking as an English-speaking person in France I can honestly say that English adverts for things I can import are just as useful to me as French local ones.

    • Angela Alcorn
      April 28, 2012 at 3:51 pm

      It's true, there is a practical side to the "not available in your country" messages. But there are plenty of websites which will manage to show relevant adverts to people worldwide. And so many things worth advertising are international companies now. Maybe they should just get with the times!

    • Eva
      April 28, 2012 at 6:37 pm

      Oh, I've seen websites show me an ad in my language before the content I want to view, and then proceed to inform me that the content isn't available in my location. Yes, Daily Show, I'm looking at you. If they want to show you ads, they'll find a way to do it.

      • Angela Alcorn
        April 30, 2012 at 10:53 am

        I get that and similar stuff all the time. Once PayPal told me in English that help wasn't available in "My language" because I was in France. Go figure!