AU Students Debate the Internet's Impact on Society, Part A


This fall in the sophomore-level course I teach on "Communication and Society," we spent several weeks examining the many ways that individuals and groups are using the internet to alter the nature of community, civic engagement, and social relationships.

For college students who grew up online, it's easy to take for granted the virtual society we live in, seldom pausing to consider how it might be different from more traditional forms of community life. Therefore, one of the goals of the course was to encourage students to think systematically and rigorously about the many changes introduced by the internet over the past decade.

From political blogs to Facebook to online dating, students were introduced to the latest scholarship in the area, grouped into opposing teams, and then asked to research and write evidence-based position papers on the topic. Last week, after turning in their individual papers, students joined up in their teams and squared off in a face-to-face class debate.

But now things get really interesting. Below the fold, I have posted representative position papers from each of the opposing teams. Until Tuesday, December 4, students will continue their classroom debate in the comment section of the blog. In this pane, Cyberoptimists face off against Cyberskeptics. In the other blog pane, Team Social Change square off against Team Reinforcers.

Each individual student will be evaluated on the frequency and quality of their posts, drawing on research and evidence to back up their claims. (This is the third semester where AU students have engaged in a blog debate over the Internet's impact on community. For past debates, go here and here.)

At issue is the following:


"Community" is enhanced by new communication technologies such as email, online discussion groups, Web sites, and blogs. These technologies either allow for new forms of cyber-community and/or contribute to old forms of community.



"Community" is hurt by new communication technologies such as email, online discussion groups, Web sites, and blogs. Community cannot exist in cyberspace, and/or these technologies detract from old forms of community.

The Internet: Convenience and Community

by Saverio R.

Team members: Amir R., Toniann C., Ashley K., Alex M. & Juliana S.

If the ultimate goal of communication is to facilitate the sharing, expression, and exchange of ideas among individuals, then the Internet is the ultimate medium for this process. Humanity's insatiable pursuit of innovation and achievement has led to an abundance of different technological innovations that over time have transformed the status quo of societies all over the world. The Internet is the latest, perhaps most transformative, example of this natural propensity to reform and modernize. Unlike previous methods of communication such as the telegraph, radio, and television--which were transformative in their own right--the adoption of the Internet has been so swift that life without it is hard to imagine. Evidence of the rapid diffusion of the Internet can be found in the fact that "It took 38 years for radio to get a market of at least 50 million users; [and] it took television 13 years...[but] once it was open to the general public, it is estimated that it took just four years for the Internet to achieve 50 million users" (Elon University/Pew Internet and American Life, 2004).

The Internet also allows for greater possibilities than other past forms of communication, giving new meaning to the phrase, "having the world at your fingertips." With a few keystrokes and the click of a mouse, an individual with Internet access can perform important research, get updated on the latest news, connect with millions of other users all over the world, and obtain virtually any kind of information desired. As is the case with other forms of information technology, there are drawbacks to the Internet, but these are nowhere near strong enough to deny the fact that the Internet has positively transformed and enhanced the idea of a "community" while serving as an accessible and convenient means for communication. In order to sufficiently prove this claim, the term "community" must be concretely defined and analyzed in the context of a revised, modern version of the traditional definition.

What is Community?

It is crucial to break free from the constraints of the traditional definition of a community, which defines it as an entity bounded by geographical area. A community is not simply "a group of people living together in one place," as the AskOxford online dictionary defines the term; this definition equates a community with the term "neighborhood," but is not entirely accurate since not all people who live in one place share the same interests and consider themselves part of a community (Sosnick, Dowd, & Fournier, 2006).

Instead, a more suitable definition of community is one that transcends the outdated restrictions inherent in definitions that bind the term "community" to a specific physical area. Therefore, a more functional and appropriate definition of community takes into consideration that more so than physical location, a community consists of individuals with shared/common interests or values who willfully and consistently communicate with each other. Rogers and Chen (2005) define a community as "a group of individuals with a common interest or a shared purpose, whose interactions are governed by policies in the form of rules, rituals, or protocols; [and] who have ongoing and persistent interactions..." Internet communities bring people together with common interests (more so than can be done in a non-virtual setting), are often self-moderating, and provide a low-cost, efficient way of communicating with others online through email, instant messaging, or video-chatting; therefore, an online community fulfills all of these requirements and in fact expands upon and enhances the ability of an individual to create and maintain social capital.

A modern definition of community is more functional because it takes into account that an online community is just as valid as a traditional community with geography being the main determining factor. Communities do exist online and more people are simply using electronic communication "to support and mediate social interaction and facilitate a sense of togetherness" (Rogers and Chen, 2005).

The sociologist Barry Wellman puts the idea of a "network society" into perspective when he says that "it is the sociable and supportive aspect of interaction that defines community and not the local space in which interaction may take place" (Hampton & Wellman, 1999). Wellman also points out that virtual/network communities have "introduced new methods to be used in maintaining relationships with members of traditional communities...and with members of new electronic communities" (Hampton & Wellman, 1999). With the theoretical foundations established, it is now possible to use the specific examples of blogs, social networking sites, and online support groups to explore how the Internet has enhanced community.

Blogs: Facilitating the Two-Way Flow of Information

The advent of "web logs," blogs for short, provides a strong empirical basis of the positive effects the Internet has had not only on community, but on society as a whole. These easy-to-create-and-maintain online diaries facilitate the flow of two-way communication in a way that other mediums cannot replicate. With the creation of blogging, anyone with Internet access and the desire to voice their opinions on any variety of issues can relatively quickly create a blog to do so; therefore, blogs have empowered citizens by tearing down the barriers to entry and enabling the voice of the individual to be heard. Unlike face-to-face communication, the telephone, or television, blogs bring together voices from all over the world, which enhances the process of communication by circumventing previous barriers such as geographical location and selective censorship. In theory, an individual can create a blog that focuses on a particular issue or category that he/she is interested in and once that information is posted on the web, any other individual who comes across the blog and is interested in the same issues can leave comments, participate in online debates, and build social capital on the Internet. Before providing examples of how blogs enhance community, it is necessary to briefly consider the history of blogs and address the current state of blogging in America.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, as of 2006, out of the 147 million American adults who use the Internet, eight percent, or about 12 million American adults, report that they have a blog (Lenhart & Fox, 2006). Even more notable, thirty-nine percent, or about 57 million American adults, say that they read blogs. Pew also reports that although user-friendly blogging tools were introduced in 1999, most bloggers began blogging within three years or less, which makes sense since blogs began receiving more mainstream media attention during the 2004 presidential election cycle. Speaking to the issue of blogs empowering individuals by allowing them to voice their opinions regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity, Pew found that more so than the general Internet population, bloggers were evenly split between men and women and more racially diverse. Whereas the general Internet population breaks down into 74% white, 9% African-American, 11% English-speaking Hispanic, and 6% other race, the demography of bloggers stands at 60% white, 11% African-American, 19% English-speaking Hispanic, and 10% other race. Pew also found that the most distinguishable characteristic of bloggers was their youth, with 54% of bloggers being under the age of thirty. The diffusion of blogs has been gradually rising since 2002 when only 3% of Americans reported having a blog ( In regards to community, Pew found that most bloggers use features that enhance community, usability, and interactivity in the sense that almost nine in ten (87%) bloggers allow comments and 41% have a blogroll or friends list on their blog (Lenhart & Fox, 2006).

The blog is an excellent example of how the Internet enhances and builds on community. Upon navigating to the Slashdot homepage (, its aim is immediately clear. The website's tagline reads, "News for nerds, stuff that matters," and the entire website consists of user responses to technology related news stories that members can post up online. Unlike traditional media, the people posting these stories are not reporters who are trained to write about a topic that they may or may not have much interest in; instead, the stories that appear on the website are selected by permanent moderators and other members of the online community. The website itself is maintained by, contributed to, and moderated by members of the same online community who all have a considerable interest in technology. In his article, Poor (2005) describes the website as an online public sphere that is formed by online discourse, which means that users usually link to other stories that have already been disseminated through other sources and facilitate discussion by giving their opinions or highlighting certain aspects of the news. If other members of the massive blog find the entry to be interesting or would like to add something further to the discussion, they can leave comments or ask questions, which often sets off a chain reaction of discussion that can sometimes lead to heated debate.

The website is also self-moderated in the sense that "flaming," people posting up hostile, offensive, or senseless comments for no apparent reason, will rarely occur since the members of the Slashdot community are serious about discussing issues that they all share the same interests in. Using the traditional definition of community, this kind of healthy interaction among members likely would not occur since they are not being brought together by shared interests or purpose, but being brought together instead by geographical location.

The Slashdot website satisfies all of the parameters set out in Rogers and Chen's modern definition of community. Slashdot consists of people who share the same interests or purpose, is governed by policies in the form of rules or protocols (self-moderated website), and facilitates persistent and ongoing interactions among its members. In this case, it is clear that by bringing together people with similar interests, the Slashdot blog has enhanced community and even expanded upon it since the website is accessible to people all over the world and not just in one geographically bounded location.

The Internet can also enhance existing communities by providing a virtual space for expanding upon and further developing communication among individuals. Localized blogs provide support solid support to this claim. By the term "localized blogs," I am referring to a blog that is focused on issues or events pertaining to a local community of people in the same area.

The blog PhilaPhile ( is a salient example of how the Internet enhances community. As its tagline indicates, the blog consists of information about Philadelphia from a life-long resident. The blog is maintained by Michael Feagans, a regular citizen who uses his blog to write about his experiences, different events going on, good or bad places to eat, or anything else pertaining to Philadelphia. On the right side of the webpage, he has even broken down the city into different categories pertaining to geographical location or specific interests. For example there is a category for Center City and another for sports related issues. On the left side of the webpage, Feagans also provides links to numerous other blogs that are specific to issues regarding Philadelphia making it easier for users to find out more about issues they care about. Feagans' blog along with the multitude of other localized blogs on the Internet provide more extensive and personalized coverage of issues or events than can be achieved through other mediums of communication. For instance, the local news may cover the rising murder rates in Philadelphia, but it cannot realistically be expected to cover the same number of minor/micro issues that can be covered on places like blogs or Internet forums. Therefore, aside from the ability of blogs to create and foster healthy online communities, blogs also function to enhance local, geographically bound communities by vastly expanding upon the scope and depth of local issue coverage.

Social Networking Sites: The Era of Facebook and MySpace

The creation of online social networking sites like Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook signaled a new era in the field of communication. A social networking site is defined by the Pew Internet and American Life Project as "an online place where a user can create a profile and build a personal network that connects him or her to other users." Even more than blogs, which have essentially become incorporated into these sites, social networking sites have enabled people of all ages to create an online profile and accumulate friends with whom they can interact. While it is still early to determine how exactly people are using these sites, there is an empirical basis that supports the fact that the advent of these sites have enhanced community. I will focus on Facebook as an example of how the Internet has positively transformed community.

Facebook was created in 2004 and as of 2007, it was reported that it had more than 21 million registered members and generated 1.6 billion page views each day (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). Pew echoes this explosion in popularity of such sites with its data that show more than half (55%) of American youths 12-17 use social networking sites (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2007). Aside from safety and privacy concerns, social networking sites like Facebook are increasingly used by individuals to both maintain existing relationships and make new friends. Pew data show that 91% of users who use social networking sites reported that they used the sites to keep in touch with friends they saw a lot. Eighty-two percent of respondents said that they used the sites to stay in touch with friends they rarely saw, 72% used the sites to make plans with friends, and a considerable 49% said that they used the sites to make new friends. The data suggest that there are certain positive effects that are being experienced due to websites like Facebook.

Facebook and other social networking sites meet the criteria outlined in the following definition of social capital offered by Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992): "the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition." Not only do these sites satisfy the conditions, they enhance the traditional community by bringing together people with similar interests or tastes in a way that was previously not possible. Looking at the original purpose of Facebook provides a clear example of how this new communication technology has enhanced community. Originally designed only to be available to college students, Facebook served as a virtual icebreaker that made it easier for incoming freshmen to meet other people at the same school.

Students could search the profiles of others who had similar interests, hobbies, or political views and send them a friend request, which could lead to meeting that person face-to-face and building a closer relationship. Similarly, even if a student met someone in person at a party on a Friday night, they could then send a friend request to that person the next day and seek to extend that meeting into getting to know each other better. There is also the ability to create and join virtual groups that can bring together people with similar interests and lead to the building of more social capital. In fact, early research suggests that there is a certain directionality of online to offline relations in that Internet conversations and messaging are often used to build social trust with one another before pursuing face-to-face meetings (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007).

One counterargument to the beneficial effects of the Internet on community often focuses on the issue of core ties versus significant (loose) ties and suggests that having a multitude of loose ties while not having a few strong core ties means that social capital has been lost. In other words, the argument stipulates that having hundreds of Facebook friends means nothing if that same individual does not have at least one or more strong core ties with whom he/she discusses close personal issues. This counterargument will be decisively refuted.

When attempting to analyze the Internet's impact on social ties, it is necessary to consider the debate over whether the Internet is "capable of bringing strangers together to form intimate online networks" or if it just creates the "illusion of community" as some scholars have characterized it (Zhao, 2006). Unlike the telephone, which ended up being used only to reinforce existing networks of social contact, the Internet more aptly lends itself to creating and maintaining social capital. In regards to social ties, Zhao (2006) finds that people who use the Internet for interpersonal contact (email, chatting, forums) are likely to have more social connections than those users who use the Internet for nonsocial purposes (solitary activities such as general web surfing).

While Zhao's study does not find that the Internet unequivocally increases social ties, it illustrates the fact that social ties depend on how an individual uses the Internet, which in essence is a reflection of that individual's personality. If a person is using the Internet solely for solitary purposes, it is likely that that person does not wish to maintain many social ties in the first place. Similarly, if a person is using the Internet for interpersonal contact, it is likely that that person is more of an extrovert who craves social contact. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to say that the since the Internet enables the miserly public to selectively expose themselves only to information of their choosing, it has resulted in a decrease of social ties. Instead, it would seem that the reason for the decline is rooted in something else since the Internet does not change a person's value dispositions or personality. The Internet has simply added on to existing technologies and in many cases expanded upon community.

As outlined in the 2006 "lonely Americans" Duke study, in the past two decades there has been a sharp decline in the number of confidants an individual has, with the greatest loss in non-family connections (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Brashears, 2007). This data would suggest that the decline in core ties is evidence of the decline of social capital that Robert D. Putnam outlined in his book Bowling Alone, but the data do not show the whole picture. Websites like Facebook enable an individual to maintain a multitude of loose ties that very well can be more beneficial to them than only a few core ties.

As Professor Nisbet suggested, having a large number of Facebook friends is essentially equivalent to accumulating a lot of business cards when you meet people at various locations. Before the Internet, maintaining these loose ties would be difficult to do, but with the rise of email and social networking sites, you can much more efficiently and effectively keep in touch with these loose ties. While you may not invite all of these people to dinner or discuss your deep-seated desires with them, having them as loose ties can be extremely beneficial to you since you can easily activate these loose ties with an email or a Facebook message whenever it is most convenient or beneficial for you to do so. Having strong core ties is definitely not a bad thing, but the trade-off associated with having more loose ties is not inherently a bad thing either. Especially in this case, the Internet has merely added on and enhanced other forms of communication by making the process more efficient, cost-effective, and practical.

Online Support Groups: A Virtual Helping Hand

One of the best places to look for the unifying and community-enhancing effects of the Internet is at online support groups, which provide a compelling basis for the overlying thesis of this paper. Recent Pew data have suggested that an increasing number of people are using the Internet to become more informed on a variety of health issues. Seventy-nine percent, or 95 million American adults, of Internet users said that they used the Internet to find out information on health-related issues (Fox, 2005). Sixty-six percent of users looked for information regarding a specific disease and more than half (51%) searched for more information on medical treatments and procedures.

There have been a variety of studies that at times contradict each other, but a Fogel et al. (2002) study looked at 178 breast cancer patients and examined the role that the Internet played in gaining psychological benefits (Rodgers & Chen, 2005). The study found that use of the Internet for attaining information on breast health related issues was associated with greater social support and less loneliness; other studies also suggest that women found Internet-based discussion groups and bulletin boards helpful and empowering (Rodgers & Chen, 2005). Another benefit added by the Internet is the ability of people to spread their own personal narratives of their experiences with breast cancer or other sicknesses/illnesses. In regards to women with breast cancer, "The Internet is increasingly becoming a medium in which women with breast cancer not only receive information and/or support about illness but also compose and circulate their own stories about breast cancer," which in turn helps create more social capital among a group of people who have been brought together by similar circumstances and not geographical location (Rodgers & Chen, 2005).

A traditional geographically-bounded community could not produce the same kind of beneficial psychological results that an online support group does because the community is not based upon shared experiences. A woman with breast cancer, for example, would probably not get much social support from a community in which no one else had any experience with the disease. This is precisely when the Internet can be used to help give social support and form an online community that benefits all of the parties involved.

There are also added benefits to online support groups that cannot be experienced in a traditional setting. According to Walther and Boyd (2002), computer mediated communication (CMC) offers potential benefits such as anonymity, greater access, and a wider range of expertise. In reference to the support group Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), VanLear et al. (2005) state that "AA members often report feelings of extreme isolation from others and a lack of openness and honesty in communication with other prior to joining AA," which goes away when they are able to share experiences and information with other and receive support. The Internet expands the range of people who are available to share experiences and provide support at low-cost; therefore, it facilitates more healthy interaction among people in online support groups, a specific kind of community.

It is also possible for the members of the online support group to arrange face-to-face meetings if it is desired and feasible. This is supported by the fact that "Communication is hardly ever restricted to a single medium; usually several media are used depending on what is most convenient at the time" (Preece & Maloney-Krichmar, 2005). It is this issue of convenience that is central to understanding the impact of the Internet. Although there are many cases when the Internet makes things possible that were not before, it also accents other forms of more traditional communication.


As is usually the case with the rise of most new information technologies, the advent of the Internet brought about a confluence of opinions about its impact on the future. On one end of the spectrum, the Internet is often discussed in a utopian manner. On the other end, "Cyber-skeptics" believe that the Internet will only reinforce existing patterns of behavior and have an overall negative effect on humanity. While the Internet clearly does not provide a perfect utopia for humanity, the argument laid out in this paper has shown that it provides many benefits that help to create and enhance communities all over the world.

The rise of blogging has given a voice back to the individual in the sense that anyone with Internet access can create a blog and at once be connected with a mass of other Internet users. Likewise, social networking sites like Facebook have enhanced community by making it easier to create and maintain social capital by allowing individuals to more efficiently keep in touch with both core and loose ties. The rise of these sites did not create a new way of social networking; instead, the Internet has added on to other forms of communication and in many cases made the process better. Online support groups are also great examples of the positive emotional effects that can be experienced by using the Internet. Unlike support groups that meet in geographically-bound locations, the Internet can bring together a wider variety of people with similar experiences and greater levels of knowledge. This enhanced capability helps foster community by bringing together people who can trade stories and, in turn, provide each other with a greater amount of helpful support than can be achieved in a traditional setting.

The main way the Internet helps enhance community is by bringing people together who have similar interests, hobbies, or beliefs. Unlike a traditional community that is usually brought together by location, online communities create more focused groups of people and add more diversity by tearing down restrictive geographical boundaries. Aside from these benefits, the Internet also makes the process of communication more efficient, less costly, and provides more opportunities to create and maintain social capital. The Internet also allows for a greater amount of specialization, localization, and selectivity. Internet users can easily obtain more detailed information about different issues or events and connect with a multitude of other users to discuss different opinions and reactions. Therefore, the Internet is best characterized as a complement to other forms of media technology that frequently can be used to accomplish tasks that could not have been done before its rise.

As the evidence has shown, it is not accurate to say that online communities do not produce the same amount of social capital as traditional communities simply because they do not take place in a face-to-face setting. In fact, once a sufficient amount of social trust has been accumulated among members of an online community, their interaction will often move from an online setting to an offline setting if it is possible. And as far as the argument of time displacement goes, there is opportunity cost associated with every activity; therefore, it would be misleading to apply this theory to say that the Internet's influence is negative overall. Using the same logic, one could say that any activity causes time displacement since you can only do so many things at one time. At least with the Internet, there is often two-or-more-way interaction that takes place as opposed to a medium like television where people have one-way parasocial relationships with made-up characters on shows and movies. It is still early to gauge the exact extent of the Internet's effect on community, but there are certain trends that appear to be forming. As the Internet further solidifies and engrains itself in the fabric of life all over the world, it will yield greater benefits and establish healthier communities based on shared interests across a more diverse and abundant field of citizens.


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How the Internet Hurts Communities

by Brittney M.

Team members: Heather A., Everett B., Katie L. & Kelley R.

i-dfb99d18e983a0e33090b89a9bc6c7ba-Time_Cover.jpgThe term "Internet" is defined as the electronic network that links people and information through computers and other digital devices allowing person-to-person communication and information retrieval (DiMaggio, 2001, p. 307). The Internet emerged in 1982, but did not begin its rapid ascent as a new media until the 1990s. With more than 55 million Americans going online in 2000, the Internet is rapidly changing society. While it has positively expanded the way many people communicate with others in their community, it has had negative draw backs as well. From the viewpoint of a cyber-skeptic, community is hurt by new communication technologies such as email, online discussion groups, Web sites, and blogs. Community cannot exist in cyberspace, and these technologies detract from traditional forms of community.

Internet and Community

When defining community, one might think back to the traditional view of community as a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific location, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage. A traditional community is people with common interests living in a particular area. Today's community is what you make of it, where and how you want it, because "the Internet has knocked down traditional barriers to participation and community" (Sosnik, 2006, p. 150). Community is a set of social relationships among individuals based on a common interest. Strong communities feature relationships that have high degree of support, emotional depth, personal intimacy, and moral commitment that remain relatively constant or reliable across time.

The Internet has contributed to a shift from a group-based to a network-based society that is decoupling community and geographic propinquity (DiMaggio et al., 2001). Because of this, a community can now be defined as the social circle people choose to inhabit. Online (virtual) communities have emerged with the use of the Internet, connecting geographically distant people who share similar interests as well as facilitating interaction among friends and families to discuss issues related to their neighborhood (DiMaggio et al., 2001).

Community and Social Capital. Social capital describes how basic elements of community life such as interpersonal trust and social networks provide the means for citizens to cooperate on joint problems (Shah, 2001, p. 142). This concept is the resources of information, norms, and social relations embedded in communities that enable people to coordinate collective action for the achievement of a common goal (Shah, 2001, p. 467). Social movements create social capital, by fostering new identities and extending social networks (Putnam, 2001, p. 153). Specific norms, forms of trust, aspects of knowledge, or other resources forged through social interaction allow individuals to come together to solve problems.
Social capital was created through interactions that are ideally both "bridging" (across different groups) and "bonding" (personally intimate). Dimensions of social capital include trust, knowledge, number and diversity of "social ties," group association or involvement, and political participation. The Internet does not provide grounds to build such communities. Interpersonal trust and civic participation are important individual-level indicators of social capital (Shah, 2001, p. 467). The Internet generally implies physical inactivity and limited face-to-face social interaction (Shah, 2001).

Heightened use of the Internet caused declines in participant's communication with family and friends. Studies relate increases in time spent on-line with decreases in time socializing and attending events outside the home, suggesting that the Internet causes people to lose touch with their social environment. Connecting with others in on-line environments may undermine traditional relationships, displacing strong, face-to-face ties with weak associations. The recreational uses of the Internet may erode the individual-level production of social capital because these activities are generally anonymous, but foster a false sense of social interaction. They provide the illusion of face-to-face social interplay and belonging without the civic benefits (Shah, 2001, p. 473).

Community and Civic Engagement

Civic engagement refers to participation in civic and community activities (Shah, 2001, p. 146). According to author Robert Putnam, the Internet is a powerful tool for the transmission of information among physically distant people. But, he begs the question as to whether that flow of information fosters social capital and genuine community (Putnam, 2001). Putnam argues that Internet has brought a loss of social capital to society by abandoning the idea of a genuine community and enhancing the notion of virtual communities. The Internet is pulling people apart and reducing civic engagement rather than building it up (Sosnik, 2006, p. 152). Putnam argues that reinforcement, the digital divide, loss of social cues online, cyber-balkanization, and time displacement of the Internet have hurt the community.

Reinforcement. The Internet does not help people make or develop new social ties, but instead reinforces pre-existing social networks (Putnam, 2001, p. 168). Instead of opening new possibilities, the Internet merely lets people pursue their original way of life. Putnam compares the telephone to the Internet saying that it allowed Americans to do more casually and with less effort what they had already been doing before (Putnam, 2001, p. 169). Likewise, the Internet reinforces patterns in social ties allowing people to communicate with the same friends and like-minded others.

Digital Divide. The "digital divide" refers to the social inequality of access to cyberspace (Putnam, 2001, p. 174). Internet access can limit people's opportunity to find jobs, obtain an education, access government information, participate in political dialog, and build networks of social support (DiMaggio, 2001, p. 310). Access to the Internet is limited and those who do not have access will not be able to get ahead in society.

In the early years of the Internet, heavy users were predominantly younger, highly educated, and upper-income white males. A study by the Census Bureau in 1997 found that the least connected groups in American society were the rural poor, racial minorities, and young, female-headed households. Moreover, these gaps in education, income, race, and family structure are growing.

The Internet has not mobilized inactive groups, but instead has reinforced existing bias and patterns in who has online access. Socially and economically advantaged individuals already have access to the Internet giving them an unfair advantage. This is called a "Cyberapartheid" where "bridging social capital" of Internet becomes less accessible to the disadvantaged. This is also a global issue in which only 5% of the world's population has Internet access (DiMaggio, 2001, p. 312). 97% of Internet host computers are located in developed countries making a great divide between developed and less developed nations.

Loss of Social Cues Online. Computer-mediated communication transmits much less nonverbal information than face-to-face communication (Putnam, 2001, p. 172). Face-to-face encounters provide a depth and speed of feedback that is impossible in computer-mediated communication. Online interaction lacks nuance of face-to-face and therefore is not nearly as information rich in getting to know someone. Online groups are very good at sharing information, gathering opinions, and debating alternatives, but not very good at building trust, goodwill, and solidarity as they foster feelings of depersonalization.

"The poverty of social cues in computer-mediated communication inhibits interpersonal collaboration and trust, especially when the interaction is anonymous and not nested in a wider social context" (Putnam, 2001, p. 173). Computer-mediated communication is more egalitarian, frank, and task oriented than face-to-face communication. Cheating and reneging are more common in computer-mediated communication because of misrepresentation and misunderstanding.

People are less bound by social niceties and are quicker to resort to extreme language and invective "flaming," or the image of communication as hand-to-hand combat with flamethrowers. It is difficult to build trust and goodwill in cyberspace and computer-mediated communication networks tend to be sparse and unbound. It is good to coordinate and collaborate with old friends or face-to-face colleagues via the Internet, but not very good at getting to know your new neighbors, or people you have never met face-to-face.

Cyber-Balkanization. The Internet enables us to confine our communication to people who share our same interests (Putnam, 2001, p. 177). While this could attract people to the Internet, it is a threat to bridging social capital. Real-world interactions often force us to deal with diversity, whereas the virtual world may be more homogeneous in terms of interest and outlook. Place-based communities may be substituted by interest-based communities. "In physical communities we are forced to live with people who may differ from us in many ways. But virtual communities offer us the opportunity to construct utopian collectivities - communities of interest, education, tastes, beliefs, and skills. In cyberspace we can remake the world out of an "unsettled landscape" (Putnam, 2001, p. 178).

Because the Internet allows us to confine our communication to people who personally share our own interests, members of issue-based or interest-based online communities are connected to each other only by that topic. According to Cyber-Balkanization, the Internet may only amplify trends toward greater homogeneity in society. This hurts community because people do not get to know others that are different from them.

Time Displacement. Time becomes relatively immaterial on the Internet (Bargh & McKenna, 2000). Time displacement is when avid Internet users are spending their time online, rather than in face-to-face communication. Like television, the majority of Internet is used for entertainment because citizens are cognitive misers. Individuals who use the Internet mainly for entertainment and anonymous socialization do not experience civic benefits (Shah, 2001).

Internet use can be addictive. Use of the Internet reduces time spent in community, and time used for real world and face-to-face involvement. Studies show that high levels of Internet use were "associated with declines in communication with family members, decline in social circles, and increased loneliness and depression" (DiMaggio, 2001, p. 315). Heavy users substituted interaction with weak ties on the Internet for time spent with close friends and relatives.

The Internet and Civic Engagement

The Internet essentially provides unlimited information on issues that can be obtained with relatively limited effort (Nisbet & Scheufele, 2004, p. 878). Individuals can track political issues in much greater depth and can personalize their own news consumption, potentially cutting down on the costs of keeping up with political events. People who like news take advantage of abundant political information offered by the Internet to become more knowledgeable (Prior, 2005, p. 577). In contrast, people who prefer entertainment abandon the news and become less likely to learn about politics and go to the polls. Individuals who use the Internet frequently for entertainment purposes are less likely to feel useful in their political role in the democratic process in society and also have less knowledge about facts relevant to current events (Scheufele & Nisbet, 2002, p. 55). The Internet, therefore, increases gaps in knowledge and turnout between people who prefer news and people who prefer entertainment.The Internet has brought a rise to audience fragmentation and selective exposure (Prior, 2005, p. 577).

Studies have shown that people's increasing ability to customize their political information will have a polarizing impact on democracy as media users become less likely to encounter information that challenges their partisan view. As media choice increases, the likelihood of "chance encounters" with any political content decline significantly. Greater choice allows politically interested people to access more information and increase their political knowledge. But, those who prefer nonpolitical content can more easily escape the news and therefore pick up less political information. In a high-choice environment, like the one the Internet gives, lack of motivation poses the main obstacle to a widely informed electorate.

Greater media choice thus widens the "knowledge gap" (Prior, 2005, p. 578). It reinforces gaps between the resource rich and resource poor (Scheufele & Nisbet, 2002, p. 56). This knowledge gap has lead to an unequal distribution of news exposure and less equal distribution of political knowledge.

Voter turnout has fallen over the past four decades, with less than a majority of Americans voting in recent elections (Scheufele & Nisbet, 2002, p. 57). Since political knowledge is an important predictor of turnout and since exposure to political information motivates turnout, the shift from a low-choice to a high-choice media environment implies changes in electoral participation as well (Prior, 2005, p. 578). Those with a preference for news not only become more knowledgeable, but also vote at higher rates. But, those with a stronger interest in other media content vote less.

The Internet will make people apolitical and provide mind-numbing entertainment that keeps citizens from fulfilling their democratic responsibilities (Prior, 2005, p. 587). Human beings are cognitive misers, seeking out as little information as possible to make any given decision (Scheufele & Nisbet, 2002, p. 59). The Internet makes it easier to selectively use certain types of information. It is like the magazine marker, where some individuals are likely to subscribe to the Economist while others may subscribe to Playboy (Scheufele & Nisbet, 2002, p. 59). The citizens that choose to take advantage of Internet information sources are determined by personal resources including time, money, and technology skills as well as motivation, inducing interest and confidence. People who are more likely to read political news online are already politically motivated, resource advantaged, have greater luxury opportunity, or have stronger local ties and engage more frequently in political activities (Scheufele & Nisbet, 2002, p. 61). Media content has shown dramatic growth in "soft news," or news unrelated to public affairs or policy that is typically more sensational, personally or celebrity oriented, less time-bound, and more incident-based than hard news (Scheufele & Nisbet, 2002, p. 58).

Online readers are exposed to fewer articles regarding international, national, or political issues, and are less likely to attend to stories that traditionally were grouped in the front section of most newspapers (Nisbet & Scheufele, 2004, p. 879). This leads those with a preference of entertainment to become less knowledgeable about politics and less likely to vote (Prior, 2005, p. 587).

In a survey taken in 2000, studies showed that when asked which specific types of news content people read online, political news (39 percent) and local news (37 percent) ranked last, while entertainment news ranked higher (44 percent) (Scheufele & Nisbet, 2002, p. 60). Fewer cues regarding the importance and prominence of stories online meant that individuals were more willing to follow their own interests (Nisbet & Scheufele, 2004, p. 879).

People's media content preferences become the key to understanding the political implications of news media (Prior, 2005). The knowledge gap will continue to increase as digital technology will multiply the number of choices online and thereby further increase the impact of content preferences on users' choices.

Online Relationships and Dating

Evolution has left individuals with a set of perceptual and interpretive processes that allow people to efficiently identify desirable potential partners (Online dating research at Berkley, 2004). Online relationships and online dating make us forfeit most of these sensory channels and generalize non-romantic situations.

Interpersonal perception relies on a variety of sophisticated mechanisms that humans have evolved over time (Online dating research at Berkley, 2004). Relating over the Internet is usually referred to as computer-mediated communication, focusing attention on the linguistic characteristics of such interactions (Whitty & Gavin, 2001, p. 624). Computer-mediated communication, however, offers only a limited set of communicative channels compared to face-to-face interaction, forcing users to employ other means to evaluate potential partners.
Online relationships are shallow and impersonal (Whitty & Gavin, 2001, p. 623). The relative lack of social cues on the Internet renders online relationships more hostile and less fulfilling than traditional face-to-face relationships. They are meaningless compared to face-to-face relationships, since they lack the full bandwidth, or the extent of verbal and nonverbal forms of communication, provided in face-to-face relationships.

Electronic communication provides a sense of intimacy without the emotional investment that leads to close and enduring relationships. This is demonstrated in the "boom or bust" phenomenon in which a rapid process of intimate self-disclosure leads budding relationships to become "quite intense quite quickly" (Whitty & Gavin, 2001, p. 624). It will feel exhilarating at first, and become quickly eroticized, both then not be able to be sustained because the underlying trust and true knowledge of the other are not there to support it.

Online relationships are more impersonal and less intimate than face-to-face relationships (Whitty & Gavin, 2001, p. 624). Social presence is the feeling that a person has with another person when involved in a communication exchange. Since computer-mediated communication involves less nonverbal cues (such as facial expression, posture, dress, etc.) and auditory cues in comparison to face-to-face communication, it is extremely low in social presence. As social presence declines, communication becomes more impersonal.

Online dating is an example of an online relationship. Users of online dating systems often express disappointment in their experience, particularly after meeting a potential partner in person with whom they have only corresponded online (Online dating research at Berkley, 2004). This disappointment could stem from the systematic misperception of one another through mediated channels in general and online dating profiles in particular. Studies show that communication over sparse channels can lead to idealization. If this is the case, disappointment in online dating could steam from overly optimistic exception formed prior to meeting in person. Online dating users might misperceive each other, which could also lead to disappointment.

Many theories of computer-mediated communication describe the medium as impoverished, meaning the information conveyed might be of limited richness compared to face-to-face interaction (Online dating research at Berkley, 2004). Joseph Walther proposed a theory of "hyperpersonal" communication to explain this. When the channel is impoverished, users cannot receive as much information quickly as they would face-to-face, so they fill in the blanks optimistically about their conversational partner (Online dating research at Berkley, 2004). In some sense, they idealize them in light of incomplete information. Walther's research showed that this effect is most powerful in long-term online interaction in which participants never see photos of each other. His studies also showed the least social empathy occurred in short-term online interaction without photographs, a finding particularly relevant to online dating, where many users are unwilling or unable to post photos of themselves with their profiles.

Research in social psychology has shown that proximity, similarity in attitudes, political beliefs, and factors like religiosity predict attraction (Online dating research at Berkley, 2004). Studies by Klohnen and Mendelson found that people prefer similarity in traits that they like in themselves, and complementarily in traits that they dislike in themselves (those traits that do not match their conception of ideal self). Those characteristics that predict initial attraction might not predict long-term relationship satisfaction. The problem of matching two entities for mutual benefit goes beyond the realm of romance.

Social Interaction

The Internet leads to loss of privacy, impersonal communications, and isolation (Brignall & Van Valey, 2005, p. 335). An increasing problem in communities is that young people are becoming some of the heaviest users of the Internet. 74% of United States residents between the ages of 12 and 18 are using the Internet (Brignall & Van Valey, 2005, p. 336). Among Internet users between 12 and 18, 35% spend 31-60 minutes per day online, and 44% spend more than one hour per day online. Studies shows that 56% of teens aged 18 to 19 prefer Internet to the telephone and that to keep up their communications with friends, more than 81% of teens use e-mail while 70% use instant messaging.

Interpersonal communications are likely to be computer-mediated (Brignall & Van Valey, 2005, p. 337). If children and teenagers are already using computers as a significant form of education, communication, and entertainment, less time is spent having face-to-face interactions with peers. This leads to significant consequences for their development of social skills and their presentation of self.

The Internet leads to significant increases in loneliness and depression (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p. 58). Along with a loss of social cues is social isolation. According to studies preformed at Duke University and the University of Arizona, life in front of a computer screen is very lonely. Research shows that "most adults only have two people they can talk to about the most important subjects in their lives - serious health problems, for example, or issues like who will care for their children should they die. And about one-quarter have no close confidants at all" (McPherson, 2006).

People are missing out on deep, meaningful, interpersonal relationships and the number of ties with whom people can discuss important issues is decreasing. Ties are becoming more homogenous, smaller, more densely connected, and focused almost exclusively on the family. If social ties are an important source of social support, larger and more diverse social nets remain among the highly educated, but are narrowing and declining among lower education levels. Studies have shown that using the Internet has resulted in a reduction in the size of the average participant's social network. Internet takes time away form one's existing non-Internet relationships and could impact those, thus increasing loneliness.

The particular set of rules an individual chooses to follow derives from requirements established in social encounters (Brignall & Van Valey, 2005, p. 337). Therefore, an individual's concept of self is shaped by the sum of the social interaction in which that individual engages. Children learn to cope with role strains through their own social experience and by watching others navigate social interactions that involve contradictory or competing roles. Feelings of enthusiasm and confidence can both be generated and diminished through social interaction (Brignall & Van Valey, 2005, p. 339). Emotions that emerge out of social interactions are important in the development of any relationship.

Interaction taking place online is a new form of social interaction (Brignall & Van Valey, 2005). Online interactions lead to dysfunctional behavior, a lack of community, less privacy, a weakened democracy, and social isolation. It is difficult for individuals to accurately communicate the intent behind the words they typed without the use of their usual repertoire of visual and aural social cues. Thus when problems do arise, people leave the chat room or turn off the computer. Individuals online are more likely to respond in a quick and spontaneous manner. There is no shared physical space to disrupt, there is no implicit social contract, and there are few social interaction rituals to prevent individuals from being rude when delivering their responses.

If students develop unique interaction rituals based on online communication without enough experience or understanding of traditional face-to-face interaction rituals, the likelihood for friction and conflict to occur increases (Brignall & Van Valey, 2005, p. 341). Such youths may be perceived as rude, insolent, disconnected, spoiled, or apathetic. Classrooms with computers hooked up to the Internet predispose students to work as individuals rather than as members of any social group.

One aspect of online interaction that causes trouble in many face-to-face interactions is anonymity because it is possible to be anonymous while on the Internet. Physical appearance and visual cues are not present and are not an influential factor on the Internet (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p. 61). When an individual's self-awareness is blocked or seriously reduced by environmental conditions deindividuation can occur. Anonymity, feelings of close group unity, a high level of physiological arousal, and a focus on external events or goals are conditions that have been shown to encourage and often produce deindividuation. Outcomes include a weakened ability to regulate behavior, reduced ability to engage in rational, long-term planning, and a tendency to react to immediate cues or based largely on his or her current emotional state. An individual is less likely to care what others think of his or her behavior and may even have a reduced awareness of what others have said or done. These effects can culminate in impulsive and disinherited behavior.

People manipulate their online identities, pretending to be different people and giving false information to people they communicate with online (Brignall & Van Valey, 2005, p. 341). People tend to behave more bluntly when communicating by e-mail or participating in other electronic venues such as newsgroups, than they would in face-to-face situation (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p. 61). Misunderstanding, greater hostility and aggressive responses, and non conforming behavior are more likely to occur in computer-mediated interactions than in interactions that take place face-to-face. Computer-mediated communication can foster an inability to form group consensus, increased verbal hostility and impersonalization, and an inability to become task focused. Racists and members of hate groups have used the cloak of anonymity afforded by the Internet to harass minority group's members through sending hateful or threatening e-mail.


The Internet has hurt the traditional form of community that our society is based upon, but the greater concern is the continued negative impact on future generations that will be felt for years to come. With the large majority of our young people being raised with a dependence on forms of Internet communication as their main source of interaction with others, they are growing up with decreased social skills and a decreased presentation of self. This is their reality and their standard of what is acceptable. They will have less emotional depth, and will be void of high levels of personal intimacy and moral commitment. The end result of this will be a society in which relationships with family and friends are not a priority. Trust, goodwill, and solidarity will not be commonplace.

Coming together with a wealth of knowledge of different ideas to expound upon will be a thing of the past, as the norm will be to only click on and spend time with those that share the same views. Views will not be challenged, compromises will not need to be met, and the status quo will become adherence to potentially biased views that remain within one's comfort zone. The characteristics that make us a successful melting pot of talents and ideas, and a nation of innovators and world leaders will be a thing of the past. The children of today will not know anything different and our world as we know it will be negatively changed forever. Human beings must think and feel. A community based in cyberspace will not be nurtured in these areas and our uniqueness as individuals and as a society will be lost forever.


Bargh, J.A., & McKenna, K. (2000). Plan 9 from Cyberspace: The Implications of the
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DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Neuman, W., & Robinson, J. (2001). Social Implications of the Internet. Annual Review of Sociology, 27(1), 307.

McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Brashears, M. (2006). Social Isolation in America:
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Nisbet, M., & Scheufele, D. (2004, Winter). Political Talk as a Catalyst for Online Citizenship. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 81(4), 877-896.

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Prior, M. (2005, July). News vs. Entertainment: How Increasing Media Choice Widens
Gaps in Political Knowledge and Turnout. American Journal of Political Science, 49(3), 577-592.

Putnam, R. (2001). Against the tide? Small groups, social movements, and the Net. In
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To get us started on what I'm sure will be a spirited debate, I would like to first respond to the claim made in the thesis of the Cyber-skeptics paper. In the opening paragraph, it is stated that "Community cannot exist in cyberspace," but this claim is based on the traditional definition of community, which is both outdated and restrictive. As you conceded, the Internet is rapidly changing society and for precisely this reason, old definitions of community need to be revised and reconsidered taking into account the effects of this very influential medium. The fields of sociology, communication studies, or any other academic concentration are hardly fixed and are constantly adapted when new findings or influences are discovered; in fact, this is the very essence of scientific study.

As Sosnick, et al. point out in Applebee's America, the traditional definition of community that binds the entity to a geographical location is a more suitable definition of a neighborhood. And living in the same neighborhood does not necessarily mean everyone builds and maintains social capital while considering themselves part of a "community." In fact, the Cyber-optimists have provided a variety of different examples of communities that exist online and in many cases are better sources of forging social capital than traditional face-to-face communities. Early evidence also indicates that after building a sufficient amount of social trust, if it is possible, online interactions often move to an offline setting (Preece & Maloney-Krichmar, 2005). When considering the Internet's impact on community, a modern definition is needed to provide the sufficient context for analysis. Furthermore, as examples like online support groups show, communities can and do exist online often achieving goals that were not possible prior to the advent of the Internet.

By Saverio R. (not verified) on 27 Nov 2007 #permalink

You say in your paper that "With a few keystrokes and the click of a mouse, an individual with Internet access can perform important research, get updated on the latest news, connect with millions of other users all over the world, and obtain virtually any kind of information desired." This is true to an extent because the Internet is useful for other things besides communicating. However, what about Putnam's theory of digital divide? There are millions of people across the globe who do not have the technological capabilities for the Internet. Are they supposed to be left behind in a world that is advancing? Surely they must not be part of a community.

By Kelley R. (not verified) on 27 Nov 2007 #permalink

As we discussed during our face-to-face debate, while the Digital Divide has not completely disappeared, it has been shown to be shrinking. I'm sure other Cyber-optimists will expound upon this idea further, but I will cite a few examples of why Putnam's argument about the Digital Divide does not hold as much weight in 2007 as it did in 2001 when he wrote Bowling Alone.

I suggest you take a look at this article written in 2006, which describes how Microsoft allocated $8.2 in grants "to fund basic technology and job training in Asia." Notice that these are grants, not loans that have to be paid back. And be assured, Microsoft is not alone in its quest to provide low-cost technology to less fortunate people across the world.

Even in a press release from 2000, Microsoft described its efforts to bridge the Digital Divide Also, with the rise of satellite Internet providers such as HughesNet, it is becoming increasingly possible to bring new technology to places that might not be geographically disposed to laying down the latest fiber-optic networks or telephone lines. Imagine being out in the Sahara desert and being able to watch videos on YouTube with broadband access. There are also Internet Cafes that offer Internet access for affordable prices or, in the U.S., public libraries that usually provide those services for free. Now even with all of these actions being taken to shrink the Digital Divide, it is not realistic to say that we can close the gap completely and bring the Internet to every individual in every part of the world. There are still people without telephones in certain places. We can only try to diminish the divide as much as possible, and I think it is clear that this is what a variety of organizations are trying to do.

It is also important to realize that the Internet has not replaced old forms of community; it has simply enhanced and added on. This is why even if a person cannot gain access to the Internet, they can still create and maintain social capital in their local physical areas. The consequence is that they are not able to use the Internet to expand upon that ability. The bottom line: Community existed before the advent of the Internet, but is now enhanced by the convenience and benefits that this new medium provides.

By Saverio R. (not verified) on 27 Nov 2007 #permalink

Commenting on the conclusion for the cyber skeptics, it seems very presumptuous to say that the Internet will have a negative impact on future generations. Yes, their may be some debate now on how the idea of community is being changed or misunderstood however, how can anyone say this will have a negative impact on generations to come. In comparison to other new inventions that came to be the telephone for instants did not harm our generation. It would be like saying that the cellular phone is taking away from, "emotional depth," and "personal intimacy." I am not sure anyone would be willing to admit that.

By ToniAnn C. (not verified) on 27 Nov 2007 #permalink

How can you say that the internet will not hurt future generations? Heavy users of the Internet today are young people...the future generation. Let me reiterate facts stated in the Cyber-Skeptic Paper. Statistics from Brignall and Van Valey show that 74% of U.S. residents between ages 12 and 18 are using the Internet. And among these users 35% spend 31-60 minutes online and 44% spend more than one hour per day online. 56% of teens prefer Internet to telephone. This is a great example of what Putnam argues as Time Displacement. I do not agree with the statement in the Cyber-Optimist paper of "one could say that any activity causes time displacement since you can only do so many things at one time." This is not what time displacement means. According to Putnam, it is people spending time online rather than in face-to-face communication. This lack of face-to-face communication negatively effects the development of social skills and loneliness and depression. Do we want these negative affects for the future generation?

By Brittney M. (not verified) on 27 Nov 2007 #permalink

When talking about blogs, the Cyber-Optimists said that they facilitate the flow of two-way communication in a way that other mediums cannot replicate. But, in the article, Reading Political Blogs During the 2004 Election Campaign by Eveland and Dylko there is evidence to disagree with your statement. They reference Johnson and Kaye saying that "blogs, like talk radio, only allow LIMITED audience response through comments sections on blogs." Also, according to Brignall and Van Valey, it is difficult for individuals to accurately communicate the intent behind the words they type on a computer without the use of visual and social cues that they would get in face-to-face interaction.

By Brittney M. (not verified) on 27 Nov 2007 #permalink

According to your characterization of the time displacement associated with the Internet, you are claiming that any kind of interaction that does not take place face-to-face is inherently bad and will have negative effects on development. Why then did we not see these proposed negative effects with other mediums such as the telephone? The reason is the same for the Internet as it was for the telephone. The Internet has not eliminated past forms of communication; it has become another method that is often more effective and provides more opportunities to build and maintain social capital. As your statistics show, more people are using the Internet because it is a more convenient and effective medium.

Furthermore, Putnam's theory of time displacement is flawed because social capital is capable of being forged and maintained online; therefore, the essence of community is not being diminished by the Internet's existence. Using Putnam's logic, you can say that any time a person spends not participating in face-to-face communication is wasted time. I certainly do not agree. Time displacement only occurs if the overall result is negative, and despite the questionable generalizations made about future generations, studies such as PEW's Strength of Internet Ties study shows a forming trend that rather than a growing isolated population, more people are using the Internet for social networking and community-building purposes These examples range from the popularity of social networking websites to breast cancer support groups as outlined in Rodgers & Chen (2005).

In regards to blogs, what other medium can connect users across such a vast geographical space based on shared interests? None that I know of. While it may be true that people selectively expose themselves to the information most preferred, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Moreover, blogs often function to cater to various niche audiences that would not otherwise be able to express their opinions and receive feedback from other individuals with similar interests. And as far as the loss of social cues goes, this argument is severely diminished when you take into account the use of webcams or programs like Skype, which largely circumvent those limitations.

By Saverio R. (not verified) on 27 Nov 2007 #permalink

Hi there Cyber-Optimists and Skeptics,
Some great comments so far and I wanted to weigh in with a few thoughts about blogs.

Whether or not the Internet serves a reinforcing or social change function in society depends in part on how you conceptualize Internet use and its effects. In the Eveland and Dylko chapter they conceptualize and measure effects of blog reading in comparison to traditional measures and effects for TV news, talk radio, and newspaper reading.

Yet should blogs only be considered in terms of a one-way flow of information similar to traditional news? Or as Saverio discusses in his position paper, does the interactivity and citizen-generated nature of blogs introduce other influences? In this case Saverio hits on two very important dimensions that I think challenge cyber-skeptics.

The first is the community building nature of blogs. Popular bloggers also have popular and well known commenters at their sites. These commenters interact with each other, agree with and challenge each others' ideas, and overall add to the informational content of a blog space. Moreover, bloggers, their commenters, and their readers often move their interactions offline, turning out together for social events or to public talks and political events in their local communities or nationally. Over the past year, I have experienced this social trend in blogs first hand as I give talks across the country.

Second is the hyper-localization of many blogs. For example in DC there are blogs that cover political and social events/issues specific to just Dupont Circle or Cleveland Park or U Street etc. Readers in these neighborhoods are able to pick up on information and news not available in the newspaper or other traditional media. Moreover, these hyper-local bloggers are serving as "mediated opinion leaders" sharing their views and recommendations not just interpersonally within their community but by way of a "two step flow of blogging."

--Professor Nisbet

This was fascinating to work through - the more so in the light of a couple of items in the NYT about teens victimised by cyber-bullies and the suicide of a young girl after a MySpace revenge scheme hatched by an adult woman. However, there seems to be some indication that some children are very robust about cyber-aggression and are confident about handling it.

Interesting sidelight on communication and the notion of cyber-community.

I find it interesting that a medium such as the Internet which has been reported to enable psychosocial issues in particular college students would be chosen as the site for our discussion on the benefits of online communities for our class at AU.
As studied by Niemz, Griffiths and Banyard (2005), pathological Internet use is common among students attempting to develop identity and gain independence from their parents. Depression and stress affects college students struggling to adapt to a new terrain, and the Internet can become an addictive outlet for introverts, perpetuating their low self-esteem in the "real" world by providing an outlet to romantic relationships and social interaction on a computer. But the computer offers none of the interpersonal, emotional affiliations correlated with face-to-face interaction. And as some of you may have experienced having ever met a partner from the Internet offline, sometimes it's better that they stay in cyberspace; they're cuter there.
Therefore, enabling social deficiencies and providing an outlet that compounds feelings of stress and depression are reason enough to suck it up and go to that party you were invited to by those people you don't like anyway.

The cyber-optimists define the concept of facebook and other social networking sites as reinforcing the relationships that you already have. People can go on facebook and "friend" people who they may not communicate with otherwise. I am sure everyone has friends on facebook who they would no longer call to wish a happy birthday. According to the Duke Study, Americans are getting lonelier and are spending more time reinforcing weak ties rather than communicating with their core ties. Since weak ties are being reinforced, eventually one's social network is going to revolve around their spouses/partners.

By Kelley R. (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

According to Putnam, it is people spending time online rather than in face-to-face communication. This lack of face-to-face communication negatively effects the development of social skills and loneliness and depression. Do we want these negative affects for the future generation?

Brittney M., these are valid questions, but they also remind me of the alarm that sounded in the 18th century about women reading too many novels, boys consuming too many penny-dreadfuls, and bluestockings reading too much Romantic poetry. Isolation is a fact of life, even amongst people, if one feels like a fish out of water in the crowd. Scienceblogs is a wonderful find for me. Any kind of written communication simultaneously seeks to transcend, and yet imposes, distance. I think that's just how it is.

Another fascinating aspect of the internet that I explored in a paper about librarian cataloging and classification was the collaboration by scientists at Panda's Thumb on chapters to refute the modern penny-dreadful Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. I find the use of a virtual "book" to launch a quick response to the printed book fascinating, and another example of how the internet is a resource to correct disinformation.

I see what you are saying Kristine, about "isolation being a fact of life." One can argue that reading a novel is simply just another form of time displacement, just like how the Internet can displace time away from having a face-to-face conversation. Cyber-skeptics are concerned that eventually a community will be based solely on virtual means. Like Brittany says, "Internet reduces time spent in community." The Internet is decreasing the time spent out socializing as a community.

By Kelley R. (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

Everett B., you state that "the computer offers none of the interpersonal, emotional affiliations correlated with face-to-face interaction," but your fundamental assumptions about what these terms mean are flawed. You are relying on archaic definitions of community and interpersonal communication to craft an argument about how the Internet does not facilitate the building and maintaining of social capital. As various studies such as the PEW Strength of Internet Ties study show, the Internet is actually helping people "[maintain] their social networks and provid[ing] pathways to help when people face big decisions." Rodgers and Chen (2005) study also shows how virtual communities can produce the same amount of, if not more, emotional gratification. Interpersonal communication is not restricted only to face-to-face contact; it is simply the process of sending and receiving of information between two or more people. Contrary to your pessimistic characterizations, the Internet has expanded individuals' ability to participate in interpersonal contact and receive greater support and expertise on a wider range of issues than is possible in a traditional geographically-bound setting.

You also claim that the Internet is "perpetuating [introverts'] low self-esteem in the 'real' world," but there a variety of cases in which the opposite is true. If anything, being able to participate in online interaction can very well lead to increased self-esteem. A relevant example of this would be what Toniann discussed during our presentation about the 34-year-old Mr. Case from Sherry Turkle's article who became more comfortable with face-to-face interaction after using the Internet. Keep in mind that the Internet does not necessarily change a person's value dispositions. If a person is an introvert they'll be more likely to use the technology in a different way than an extrovert. And hey if you've found a way to effectively change a person's values dispositions using the Internet, I'm sure there are many politicians and strategists out there who will be bowing at your feet and showering you with incentives to clue them in.

The main flaw with the argument of the Internet creating more isolation is the endogeneity problem that Allison brought up during our in-class debate. Without controlling for 3rd level variables, one cannot claim that the Internet is the reason for the growing isolation. Aside from innate personality traits, there are a multitude of other external influences that could be accounting for the growing isolation. We must also consider the time-order effect and be able to determine whether people were isolated before using the Internet or if it is the Internet that is creating more isolation. In order to get more accurate answers, this problem must be scientifically approached in a similar manner to how researchers study the effects of shows like Jon Stewart's Daily Show on cynicism and civic engagement.

By Saverio R. (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

Saverio, you mentioned the 34-year-old Mr. Case that Toniann discussed during your presentation. If I remember correctly Mr. Case LIED about his identity on the internet and talked to people pretending to be someone else...isn't this a bad thing? This is a perfect example of a negative consequence of the Internet because it is possible to be anonymous while on the Internet. People manipulate their online identities, pretending to be different people and giving false information to people they communicate with online. This lying only hurts community. In very extreme cases, this anonymity can lead to child predators online, which was something that Kelley touched on in our presentation.

By Brittney M. (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

Ok, I know that I am a Cyber-Skeptic, but I was watching OPRAH today and I heard something very interesting that helps out the Cyber-Optimists case and I want to share it. The show today was about weight loss...people came on who lost from 500 -17 pounds and all shared their stories and secrets. One woman said that she was so overweight that she never left her house because she was embarrassed. One day someone in her family bought her a computer, so she was able to keep herself busy at home by playing around on the internet. She began reading and commenting on blog pages. When she posted comments online people would post back in response. She said that people online thought she was funny and talked to her. In contrast, in the real world people would stare at her and not give her the time of day because of how overweight she was. So, because of the internet and because of friends she made on these blog sites she was able to build her self confidence back up and able to push herself to loose the weight so that she could meet people in real life. You can read the story at
Now, you could also look at this from a Cyber-Skeptic point of view by saying that even though this woman had online friends she was still isolated and lonely and longed for real face-to-face interaction, because online relationships are no substitute for face-to-face ones. She was lonely when she started using the Internet and it did not help her change the fact. Instead she met people that she didn't know and she still felt lonely. Hence the fact that she decided to go out into the real world!

By Brittney M. (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

To back up what Brittany just said, it is true that many people use alternate identities while forming a community and building relationships. In the game Second Life, those who use the game are living through a virtual world and creating fake ties. This game can become addicting, causing millions of people to spend over two hours a day playing it instead of interacting with people face-to-face.

As researched by the psychologists Larose, Lin, and Eastin "Addicted media consumers feel compelled to consume media despite potentially negative consequences that make continued use appear irrational or out of control, even in their own eyes" (2003). If child molesters are utilizing Second Life as an outlet for their temptations, then eventually the content of the game will influence their everyday actions. Their addictions (in this case the Internet) will help them reevaluate their urges. With this game growing in popularity, I think this can be extremely dangerous for the real-life community.

By Kelley R. (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

My post was supposed to back up Brittany's previous post at 8:00 pm. I did not post my comment fast enough :)

By Kelley R. (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

Brittney, I appreciate your ability to keep an open mind about this debate because, after all, it is not about winning but rather arriving at the most accurate assessment of how the Internet is affecting community. That being said, you pose a fair point about the case study, but don't forget that people often misrepresent themselves in face-to-face interaction as well. I don't think anyone is as naive to think that when you meet people in a bar everyone is accurately portraying themselves as they truly are. Granted this may be easier to do on the Internet, but it does not change the fundamental fact that instead of promoting isolation, the Internet provided Mr. Case with the opportunity to do something he never could have done otherwise. Conceivably, he could have tried to portray himself as a woman in face-to-face interaction, but this would be unlikely due to the social stigmas associated with issues like these. Instead, the Internet enabled Mr. Case to explore and deal with his true inner feelings without fear of social disapproval, and he received substantial psychological benefits from it.

There are also other cases in which people do not misrepresent themselves online and build community in the same way. Examples of this are far and wide: online support groups bring people together who share the same experiences and therefore can provide more emotional support than was previously possible; similarly, blogs such as unite an abundance of users who share a similar passion for technology-related issues. In these cases, communities are being forged on a much sturdier foundation than those only established by geographical location. And that foundation consists of shared interests, values, and/or experiences.

And as far as child predators go, before pointing fingers at the Internet, sufficient causality must be demonstrated. Is the Internet creating child predators or are people with those latent tendencies simply using the technology to carry out their fantasies because it is more convenient? I argue that it is the latter.

By Saverio R. (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

You argue Saverio that child predators use the technology to carry out their fantasies since it is more convenient. If these predators have problems, they are not going to be so easy as to halt their fantasies at the computer screen.

"Internet consumption provides the opportunity for a reassessment of the media addiction issue and also basic conceptions of media attendance that involve the interplay between habit and reason" (Larose, Lin, and Eastin, 2003).

The people who are abusing the Internet in this fashion may not stop at fake molestation. The Internet becomes an addiction for them and they are becoming more and more dependent on this virtual world. The researchers claim that whatever media the person consumes, the content is likely to influence their everyday actions to satisfy their conscious need. The Internet is giving those with an addictive personality the chance to becoming media addicts.

By Kelley R. (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

I wanted to bring up this point during our in class debates, but unfortunately we ran out of time. In your argument you make the conclusion that the internet is replacing our face to face interactions and our communities, but what if you don't have any other option besides the internet? Our military men and women who are deployed overseas for sometimes 15 months at a time use the internet to stay in touch with friends and family. I have spoken to people in the army who say that at times they didn't have any other option besides the internet to communicate with people. In this case the internet was the best and the only option for them to stay in touch. As Saverio pointed out earlier, and like we stressed in class, the internet has not replaced forms of community and communication, it is just enhancing them and at times making communication easier. Without the internet soldiers would have to rely on snail mail, which could get lost in the mail and possibly take weeks to arrive. The internet provides them with instant gratification.
To add to the idea of the internet enhancing our communication, the DiMaggio article states that internet users have been found to visit friends more frequently and talk with friends on the phone more frequently than non internet users. The internet is just another way that we can communicate in a quicker manner.

By Juliana S. (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

I think Juliana has brought up an excellent point here. Not only has technology spawned the Internet revolution, but it has also allowed people to travel farther and easier than ever before. While more cost-efficient cars, trains and planes would seem to tear the construction of community apart, technology has provided us a way to stay close with our friends and family, maintaining the social balance of our communities. Just because a person chooses to travel, or is stationed overseas in the military, does not mean that person should have to give up their original "community" simply because they cannot have further face-to-face interactions. The Internet is simply a way for people to maintain their ties when they are unable to facilitate that in person meeting.

By Ashley Kemper (not verified) on 29 Nov 2007 #permalink

I'm responding to Kelley's post from earlier...You said, "If child molesters are utilizing Second Life as an outlet for their temptations, then eventually the content of the game will influence their everyday actions," but has that been proven? I'm just curious if studies have been done about that? It doesn't always mean that someone will follow through with their actions online. There are tons of people that play violent video games online but they don't go out and kill people everyday.
We mentionted this during our in class debates, I think Saverio said it, but if the internet allows that type of person to get out their "frustration" in a virtual manner instead of doing so offline, isn't that better? It's almost like a controlled community. It actually reminds me of this new segment I saw about a month ago. There are hospitals now that are allowing people addicted to drugs to come into the hospital and feed their addiction but in a controlled environment. There is a nurse there to watch them and make sure they do not overdose. People have been skeptical about it, but these are the type of drug users that just cannot seem to quit, so they will continue to use drugs no matter what. Therefore, if they are going to get drugs they might as well do it in a safer environment.
Furthermore, is the problem really the internet or just these specific games like Second Life? Why would someone create a game in which you can rape a virtual person or molest a person? Society has told us that actions like those are incredibly wrong, so why would someone create a game that allows a person to simulate an experience like that?

By Juliana S. (not verified) on 29 Nov 2007 #permalink

Going off what Kelley said about Second Life, I was able to find more information about it. It is not safe!

Prior to June 6, 2006, all Residents were required to verify their identities by providing Linden Lab with a valid credit card or PayPal account number, or by responding to a cell phone SMS text message. (Residents providing information were not charged if their account type cost nothing to create.) After that date, it became possible to create an account with only an e-mail address; even standard verification methods such as e-mail reply verification are not used.

Teen second life was launched in June 2005 and teens from the ages of 13-17 are eligible to participate in this. With the lack of security precautions this is not safe for young people.

Also, there have been several high-profile cases in which users in Second Life were found to have been creating or exchanging child pornography. This includes both real-life photographs and virtual recreations of pornographic scenes involving children which are illegal! This is a huge problem on Second Life because of its substantial size, centralized hosting model, opportunities for private transactions, and strong support for content crossover. Second Life is quite deliberately designed to ensure that content, especially avatar-related content, can be mixed and matched: almost any content can be combined with any other, and restrictions cannot be easily imposed on this, not even by the content creators. Thus there is no way to prevent a pedophile purchasing a child avatar and having it run a sexual animation.

By Brittney M. (not verified) on 29 Nov 2007 #permalink

Juliana brought up an important point about the Internet as a controlled environment for individuals to deal with sexual deviance is very interesting. My Drugs and Behavior class discussed the hospital administration of less-addictive drugs to morphine and heroin addicts in order to allow them to function normally in society.

You're right, the cyberskeptics haven't provided sufficient evidence that the opportunity to engage in sexually deviant behavior online will cause people to commit such acts online. Brittney, your examples are interesting but what is to say these aren't just a few extreme cases. Again, we encounter the problem of endogeneity.Also, it's important to note that people's behavior in "real world" communities are often negative. For example, a community of prostitutes would still be considered a community, even by Putnam. So, even if people are using the Internet for purposes such as trading child porn, this could also happen in an offline community.

As discussed by Saverio, the anonymity that the Internet offers is also key to enabling participation without the stigmas associated with face-to-face contact, especially for support groups (Joseffson 2005). This anonymity is actually core to their success and is a way the Internet has been used to help those who struggle with sexual deviance find support groups.

It's interesting to me that the Internet has been the main facilitator for interpersonal dialog about issues of internet predators. The fact that people are concerned and discussing these issues shows the complexity of the Internet and it's ability to contribute to civic engagement.

By allison.d (not verified) on 29 Nov 2007 #permalink

Allison makes a good point that negative and harmful acts can happen in the offline world as well. I think we all need to remember that. Even though I don't want to live in a cynical world, sometimes that is the truth. Not everyone can be trusted all the time. That is a little extreme. At the same time though, some of these cases, like with Second Life, are the extreme cases. This is how our media is operated today. No one wants to hear about the good news, they want to hear the dirt and the most interesting and compelling stories.
Its similar to ads about online dating. They aren't going to advertise the people that weren't able to find a match, they are only going to talk about "the thousands that have been helped by e-harmony" (I think that is straight out of the commercial!) Keep in mind, (I think I can speak for all the cyber-optimits on this) we are not saying Second Life isn't dangerous. What we are saying is that there are bad parts about everything in life. You can find a negative or dangerous act in almost anything you do. In a face to face interaction at a bar you could meet a man who ends up giving you the date rape drug gHB, or a kid could take candy from a stranger and wind up being kidnapped. There is danger in almost anything we do, but that doesn't mean we should stop doing it because there is a possible risk of being injured, etc.
We're trying to say that the internet offers many good things and it does enhance our community and essentially make our lives a little easier.

By Juliana S. (not verified) on 29 Nov 2007 #permalink

Juliana has hit the proverbial nail on its head with her comments about the ever-present dangers that exist in the offline environment. In regards to Second Life, it is not the technology that is dangerous but rather the people who use it "to abuse the system and behave in an offensive manner." That quote is taken directly from this official statement regarding the child pornography issue that Linden Labs issued through its public relations handler, LewisPR. The company also maintains that "All Residents using Second Life MUST assert that they are over 18 years of age and that they will abide by our Terms of Service which prohibit illegal activity and by our Community Standards which prevent broadly offensive behavior." Furthermore, the company has pledged to remove any offensive content if it comes across it. As is the case with the posting of YouTube videos, the creator of the technology can only do so much. It is clear then that Linden Labs is monitoring the situation and trying to do the best it can to adjust for the small percentage of negative behavior that is associated with the issue of anonymity on the Internet.

Now, does this mean that Second Life should be canned because it is promoting negative psychological or community effects? No, in fact quite the contrary is true. Should we do away with the telephone because some people make crank calls? I don't think anyone would seriously be advocating for that. The key distinction to make is that instead of promoting negative effects, Second Life is promoting positive effects on community, but is being used by a select few for inappropriate purposes. Besides, for the few examples of child pornography you can cite, you can also find a multitude of other examples of the positive effects on community that the virtual world of Second Life has enabled to take place. I wish we lived in a world where people didn't have these sorts of perverse notions about what constitutes a good time, but unfortunately this is not the case. The responsibility of Linden Labs, YouTube, or other similar entities is to moderate the technology that they have created and remove any offensive or dangerous content they find. And this is a responsibility that is being fulfilled.

By Saverio R. (not verified) on 29 Nov 2007 #permalink

Juliana and Saverio have done an excellent job expanding on the concept of the Internet's reflection of the complexities of how people act in offline communities.

As Brittney's paper states, "The Internet has knocked down traditional barriers to participation and community" according to Sosnick. This quote from the cyberskeptics' paper is on the mark. Barriers such as physical appearance (see the Oprah example above) or socially stigmatized diseases are broken down enabling people to connect. Another example is the blog called Baghdad Burning at where a citizen in a conflict zone has been able to transcend geographic barriers and educate people around the world. The ability to break down geographic barriers to community formation is one of the Internet's most significant contribution to community.

By allison.d (not verified) on 29 Nov 2007 #permalink

In my paper by quoting, "the Internet has knocked down traditional barriers to participation and community" (Sosnik, 2006, p. 150)I was showing how the internet has hurt community. Community is a set of social relationships among individuals based on a common interest. Strong communities feature relationships that have high degree of support, emotional depth, personal intimacy, and moral commitment that remain relatively constant or reliable across time. These traditional forms of community are gone now and the Internet does not allow us to have strong communities based on the above terms because face-to-face relationships are lacking.

I would like to comment on the Cyber-optimists ideas on blogs. While you guys argue that blogs increase two way flow of information and enhance community, I will disagree and say that blogs instead strengthen existing information gaps. According to a Scheufele and Nisbet article, the information rich get richer. People that do not have access to the Internet are missing out and cannot advance in society, also known as the digital divide. This gap between people who can use blogs because they have internet access and those who cannot leads to unequal distribution of news exposure and political knowledge.

By Brittney M. (not verified) on 29 Nov 2007 #permalink

To comment on what was just written. I find that the only thing lacking out of your defention of a strong community that may not take place in the online community is personal intimacy. For example, in cyber-optimist presentation we saw that there can be a high degree of support when dealing with those who find each other based on illness. There is emotional depth when there are people who confinde in other online allow for problems elsewhere to be solved. Finally, moral commitments in the idea of online dating sites, finding others that make freindships and bond with each other.

Furthermore, in response to the digital divide, which can be said to becoming smaller. Blogs and the Internet may be helping those that it is availbe to however I do not believe that others with out this the Internet can not advance in society. Blogs enhance two way flow with all that participate. So if a person that does have the Internet availbe chooses not to interact with blogs does this mean that they too are, "missing out and cannot advance in society"?

By ToniAnn C. (not verified) on 29 Nov 2007 #permalink

Since I got in this a little late I have some catching up to do...first and foremost I would like to echo what Julianna said on the 29th. Let's face it, the bad things that happen on the internet i.e. child pedophilia is going to happen (and did happen) whether or not the Internet existed.

To the comments made about time displacement one need only look at the Wellman et al too see that in fact those that use the Internet are more likely to attend more art and music shows all of which, last time I checked, other people also attended. Furhthermore, as Dutta-Bergmann points out the Internet has been shown to be a great social calender where people can see where social events are taking place. Thus the Internet is not hampering social interactions but rather helping it occur.

Interesting point, Amir. There are numerous ways that the Internet facilitates social interactions, both on and offline. As Saverio mentioned earlier, Skype has made a significant contribution to social interactions. First, since Skype is a free application, it provides an opportunity for global digital "face-to-face" without the prohibitive costs of traditional international phone calls. Second, Skype can be used to strengthen core ties. I personally have used Skype to keep up with my family (strengthening core ties) and with one of my best friends who lives in Australia. According to an article in Business Week, "offers video-calling and messaging functions that lend themselves well to social networks, as evidenced by Skype's new integration deal with MySpace." Skype is especially powerful because it delivers so many social cues to users. Since this technology has emerged since Putnam's publications, it effectively disproves his conclusions of a loss of social cues and weakening of core ties.

By allison.d (not verified) on 29 Nov 2007 #permalink

In response to Saverio's claim that my definition of community and social capital is archaic, I say that I wasn't defining community and social capital, I was discussing the emotional and psychological significance of face-to-face interaction, a form of communicating not facilitated by the Internet.
You cannot experience the same gratification in front of a machine that you experience in front of your spouse, partner, or pet. We have been conditioned as human beings over the course of mankind's history to value physical contact with one another. The Internet is a great tool, but it's not going to make babies and wipe your tears away. It could provide the resources to meet new people who you could make babies with, but you will need to rely on your interpersonal skills and social cues to foster any type of relationship with someone who, as we've seen with the transexual example, could be anything but honest about who they really are.

By Everett B -pimp- (not verified) on 30 Nov 2007 #permalink

Saverio wrote: "Is the Internet creating child predators or are people with those latent tendencies simply using the technology to carry out their fantasies because it is more convenient? I argue that it is the latter."

Your argument has made it much easier for me to describe how the Internet is negatively impacting community. If the Internet is providing a way for child molesters to carry out their fantasies with more convenience than in society, then the blatant inconsistency of your argument is that facilitating cyber-sexual assaults for child predators builds community. I believe that providing psychologically unstable individuals with a resource that engages their immoral sexual fixations can severly harm community. Teasing child molesters with cybersex in Second Life can perpetuate their desires and possibly cause them to act out these fantasies in real life; this study has yet to be done. Nevertheless, this is definitely a form of pathological internet use which negatively affects individuals using the web in this manner (Niemz et al. 2005).

By Everett B. -baller- (not verified) on 30 Nov 2007 #permalink

In the Cyber-Optimist paper, the positive impacts of social networking sites like Facebook were mentioned. While some good points were argued, Facebook still hurts community. It takes people away from face-to-face relationships with them spending time online. People on Facebook are more likely to have loose-tie relationships and feel lonely then strong ties. For example, when it is someone's birthday they might get 200 posts on their wall saying "happy birthday" but do they really see and interact with these 200 people? The answer is no!

In the Washington Post today there was an interesting article on Facebook on the cover page entitled, "Feeling Betrayed, Facebook Users Force Site to Honor Their Privacy." That is another negative impact of Facebook and social networking sites...people's privacy are not respected on online. The article was about how Sean Lane was suposed to surprise his wife for Christmas with a ring, but the news of the purchase appeared as a news headline on Facebook reading "Sean Lane bought 14k White Gold 1/5 ct Diamond Eternity Flower Ring from" This was visible to everyone on his networking, including his wife. This happened because of the new advertising feature on Facebook called Beacon. The idea of Beacon is to turn users into word-of-mouth promoters. Lance was quoted in saying "Christmas was ruined." And this is all thanks to the INTERNET! These sites do not protect peoples privacy. Sites like Facebook are giving personal profile data to advertisers. Lanes Christmas was not the only one that was ruined...Tasha Valdez from Michigan was quoted saying that "Oh my gosh, my cousin's entire Christmas shopping list this week was displayed on the Facebook News Feed. That's so messed up. This has to stop!"

What happens if a kid in on a football team and he buys a ticket to 'Brokeback Mountain' and it shows up on Facebook's News Feed? This kid is going to be outed and harassed as a result. The Internet is hurting privacy!

By Brittney M. (not verified) on 30 Nov 2007 #permalink

This is in response to Brittney's post on the 29th in which she responded to Allison's comments about Brittney's paper (hopefully that's not too confusing). You said, "In my paper by quoting, "the Internet has knocked down traditional barriers to participation and community" (Sosnik, 2006, p. 150) I was showing how the internet has hurt community. Community is a set of social relationships among individuals based on a common interest. Strong communities feature relationships that have high degree of support, emotional depth, personal intimacy, and moral commitment that remain relatively constant or reliable across time."
Toni Ann made an important comment about this earlier as well. She said the only thing lacking from a virtual community is maybe the personal intimacy, and sometimes that is not even true.
When looking at the example of Patient Online Communities, they offer all of those elements that you define as a community. POC's definitely offer high degree of support. They offer patients with debilitating diseases support from other patients with the same disease. In the offline world those patients might not be able to find the same emotional support that they could with the POC's. In fact, these sites offer more of a community and a social bond than the offline world could offer. It would be rare to find a group of people in your area that have the same disease as you.
The patients describe the opportunity to lurk and to silently follow a debate or read someones personal story of illness as a good way to get informed and to learn about the disease as well as to get their personal experiences confirmed (Josefsson 2005).
These patients have benefitted from these online communities. It's examples like these that make me believe the internet is doing the exact opposite of hurting community; it is actually enhancing and helping it.

By Juliana S. (not verified) on 30 Nov 2007 #permalink

Allison, I totally agree with what you said about Skype. In a recent article much was said about internet and the various Diaspora's that exist in the United States. Once upon a time people who emigrated to this country found it very hard to keep in touch with their relatives back home. Families (a cornerstone of 'society') were often unable to keep their ties strong and subsequent generations didn't keep in touch at all. With the advent of the Internet this was no longer the case. What is more important is that these new immigrants to the U.S. were able to share all the new knowledge they acquired in their new homeland. Take the case of Iran. The Islamic Republic has accused Iranian bloggers of encouraging dissension within the country. There is much debate about whether or not this is true, but it is telling that even the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran realizes the power of the Internet as a tool for change.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 30 Nov 2007 #permalink

The anonymous post on Iran was from me, Amir R. I forgot to post my name...

By Anonymous (not verified) on 30 Nov 2007 #permalink

Oh yea, and this is in response to Brittney's comment on the 30th...Obviously you read the article in the Washington Post, "Feeling Betrayed, Facebook Users Force Site to Honor Their Privacy," but you are ommitting one fact: Facebook has announced that the Beacon feature wouldn't be active unless the user pressed an "OK" button(Washington Post, November 30, 2007). So yes, maybe for those few users that didn't have that option at first had their Christmas' "ruined" when their gifts for others were revealed, but it won't be an issue anymore because Facebook has respected the privacy of their users and changed the application. It was like a trial and error application. They thought it might be a good idea, but in actuality it wasn't, so they changed it. Of course, at the same time you run the same risk of "Christmas being ruined" (how extreme) if you tell a friend or two what you got for others. They could do the same thing that Facebook did and tell other people what gifts you got and for whom.

By Juliana S. (not verified) on 30 Nov 2007 #permalink

Everett, allow me to explain my argument in a different way. Maybe this way it will make things more clear to you. My statement about you relying on archaic definitions of community and interpersonal communication was primarily in response to your comment: "But the computer offers none of the interpersonal, emotional affiliations correlated with face-to-face interaction." This claim is fundamentally incorrect because, as the Cyber-optimists have been showing throughout this debate, the Internet does in fact offer much of the same emotional and psychological gratification associated with face-to-face interaction, in some cases offering even more than would otherwise be possible (i.e. online support groups that bring people together with shared experiences or expertise). Moreover, while the Internet may not be able to "make babies," it can aid in facilitating the process of meeting or communicating with a future spouse with which to undertake that goal. This adds further support to the fact that the Internet has added on to other forms of technology and made life more efficient and convenient in a time when it seems like the lives of Americans are getting increasingly more hectic.

Also, in response to Brittney's statement about not being able to see and interact with the people who posted those 200 birthday posts on your Facebook wall, this is often because seeing each other face-to-face is not possible due to being separated by geographic boundaries or some other mitigating factor. Therefore, Facebook is enhancing community by allowing these people to keep in touch despite any circumstances that might be making this difficult to do. If leaving a quick message wishing you the best on your birthday is the most convenient way for those people to communicate their message, then at least they are making an effort to do this and maintain the amount of social capital that has been accumulated throughout the relationship. Besides, maybe a good portion of those people can't or don't want to pay the money to make a long-distance phone call or have the time to engage in a lengthy conversation on the telephone. Furthermore, Facebook also provides a way for you to keep in touch with loose ties without the awkwardness associated with trying to make conversation with someone you really don't have too much in common with. Keep in mind Professor Nisbet's parallel between loose ties and the collection of business cards. In this case, the Internet is enhancing community by providing a more convenient, cost-effective, and comfortable way of building/maintaining social capital when face-to-face interaction is not possible.

By Saverio R. (not verified) on 30 Nov 2007 #permalink

I think Saverio has brought up two very good points. I'd just like to add another brief comment about the fact that the Cyber Skeptics keep relying on the traditional defintion of community. You all seem to keep implying that our definition of community is wrong because it is not the traditional defintion. However, why should we rely on the traditional definition when we are living in an ever changing world? Everyday things need to be updated and changed because that is how the world works. We need to keep up with our definitions of things as much as we keep up with technology. I just don't understand why relying on the traditional definition of community is the right way to go? Why shouldn't we update our definition of community and our views of community?
The other point Saverio made about distance being a factor is another great point. The distance issue becomes a definite problem when we go away to school, and not only is it hard to keep in contact with our friends, but our family as well. Between going to classes, homework, extracurriculars and sleep it would be nearly impossible to keep in contact with all your friends and family via the phone. I know when I talk to my closest frietnds the conversations can last up to an hour, sometimes more, and the same goes with my family. However, I can send out an email to all my family members and friends at the same time letting them know what is new in my life, how I am, etc. It just isn't feasible to have a face to face interaction with my family and friends now that I am in Washington, DC. Therefore, the Internet is the perfect solution to helping me maintain my ties, both strong and loose.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 30 Nov 2007 #permalink

I forgot to put my name in that last post. Woops!

By Juliana S. (not verified) on 30 Nov 2007 #permalink

Juliana, by your last post commenting on Saverio's point about distance, you make people sound lazy. You said "Between going to classes, homework, extracurriculars and sleep it would be nearly impossible to keep in contact with all your friends and family via the phone." I disagree with this. I am able to do this just fine and I know others who do this as well. Sending one mas e-mail to your family and friends might be convenient, but are you thinking of your family and friends? Wouldn't they rather hear your voice on the telephone or if you can see them in person? As Professor Nisbet mentioned in class, sometimes by sending out a mass e-mail, the people receiving it do not appreciate it. They might see the send-to line and upon realizing that it was an impersonal mass e-mail they might feel hurt or not loved. By picking up the telephone or talking to people face-to-face you are able to enhance relationships. On a personal note, my boyfriend is abroad right now and typing to him via igoogle or e-mailing is never the same as hearing his voice over the phone.

By Brittney M. (not verified) on 01 Dec 2007 #permalink

Brittney, let me clarify. I mean that it would be nearly impossible to talk to all of my friends and family (which is nearly 40 people in my immediate family) on the phone everyday. Of course I talk to them on the phone, I even said that I talk to them on the phone because it is the best way to have a personal conversation. However, if I want to keep in touch with everyone on a regular basis, almost everyday, the internet allows me to do that when I couldn't do that on the phone, there literally wouldn't be enough hours in the day. Also, I don't mean that I am having personal in depth conversations over email. I mean people can send emails that are brief and ones that keep everyone up-to-date. I wouldn't ever think about emailing someone when a family member has died. Email wouldn't replace a phone or face to face interaction there.
Furthermore, when my mom sends me an email or I send her an email, we usually call each other to talk about the email later in the night, but she knows that I'm in classes for most of the day so she can't call me. In addition, the DiMaggio article found that people who use the internet call others on the phone and see them more frequently in person than those who don't use the internet. I find this to be very true. When I see that my mom or a friend has emailed me, I call them. Not to beat the dead horse, but the internet isn't replacing other means of communication it just enhances it. I hope that clarified what I meant.

By Juliana S. (not verified) on 01 Dec 2007 #permalink

To back up what Brittney said, skype can be effective if you are reinforcing those core ties if both members are far away. I use a webcam to keep in contact with my best friend who just moved to California and my boyfriend who is in Pittsburgh. It is not the same as seeing them face to face. Social cues are lost, regardless of skype/webcam use. I can testify that since I use it. In Brittneys paper, she writes about Putnams loss of social cues theory and makes a great point. More extreme language can be used online since the person is not right in front of you and this takes away from social trust. Putnam is right, people misrepresent themselves online. It seems like it is a lot easier to create a fight via Internet than build social trust.

By Kelley R. (not verified) on 01 Dec 2007 #permalink

In regards to the discussion on new v. traditional definitions of community, it's important to know that the so-called "new" definition has actually been around since the 50s. In her book Family and Social Network written in 1957, Elizabeth Bott defined community of American families can be seen "not as the local area in which they live, but rather a network of actual social relationships they maintain regardless of whether these are confined to the local area or run beyond its boundaries" (Bott 1957). She explored communities forged by common interest in addition to those formed because people live close by. Lee and Newby's research in 1983 showed that two people who are neighbors often do not have a strong and positive relationship. A college example: two roommates who hate eachother.

The cyberskeptic paper decries "decoupling community and geographic propinquity" but we see from Bott's work that this trend has been evident for decades. And the Internet is enhancing and facilitating these forms of community. Kelley is a perfect example- she uses the Internet to strengthen ties with her boyfriend in Pittsburgh and friend in CA. The Internet is allowing her to decouple community and geographic propinquityâº

By allison.d (not verified) on 01 Dec 2007 #permalink

sorry-- ignore the âº

By allison.d (not verified) on 01 Dec 2007 #permalink

I am not saying that webcams/skype are all bad things, I am trying to explain how these forms for communicating are not as strong as face to face contact because there is loss of social cues.

I read a study by Susannah R Stern and how she researched how young women who made homepages. She found that are doing so for "self-disclosure, especially self-clarification and self-expression" (2002). Stern finds that women are using the Internet more personally than utilizing it to gain more connections to the greater society. Women are using the freedom of virtual space and anonymity to share personal anecdotes including intimate encounters and revealing personality.

If using the Internet is the only way some women can be themselves, would the Internet have a negative effect of women in the real world? In other words, if women can be themselves more online, won't it make them lonelier and in result cause them to spend more time on the Internet? I do not think that this time displacement is the healthiest way to become a community.

By Kelley R. (not verified) on 01 Dec 2007 #permalink

According to Brignall III and Valey (2005), Internet communication provides an outlet for youth to engage in socially unacceptable conversations under the guise of another gender, age, sexuality, or race. �Where such misrepresentations occur, and are discovered, they give the individual little practice on how to maintain stable relationships in the real versus the virtual world�.

I believe this form of communication will degrade community for future generations as we find more and more children growing up with the Internet as a staple in their lives. If the Internet becomes a primary form of social networking for youth, the amount of time spent in face-to-face interactions will shrink as a result; As Brignall III and Valey have proposed, this will cause significant consequences for their development of social skills and their presentation of self.

While we have had the benefit of growing up with outdoor activities, community involvement, and interpersonal relationships as kids, the wide-spread infusion of the Internet into every home in developed countries around the world can cause children to spend more time online and less time engaging in physical recreation. The obesity epidemic in the United States provides another example of why it is more important now than ever that children play their games outdoors rather than on a computer. Convenience in American society has already proven deadly, and for parents who choose to monitor their children's play habits this could be just as harmful.

correction: "and for parents who [fail] to monitor their children's play habits, this could be just as harmful."

mille grazie

The article "The Impact of Home Computer Use on Children;s Activities and Developement from the Journal Children and Computer Technology states that because of children and teenagers knowing so much about the Internet there will be less acceptance of parental authority. The article exlains that children are having to explain how to use the Internet to their parents so there is a switch in roles. There are several concerns about children that have electronic friendships rather than face to face peers because it could effect their development of interpersonal skills.
"More than one-fifth of all children between ages 8 and 18 report having a computer in their bedroom,11 suggesting that the computer often may be used in solitude, robbing children of time for other social activities and interfering with the development and maintenance of friendships. Indeed, one recent survey found that, among junior high and high school students, more than 60% of all their computer time is spent alone."

By Katie Licht (not verified) on 01 Dec 2007 #permalink

A good portion of Cyber-skeptic reasoning is hinging on the claim that excessive use of or reliance on the Internet is detracting from community and will have negative effects on future generations. I feel that by arguing strictly along these lines, you are missing or ignoring the point that the Cyber-optimists have been successfully making throughout this debate. We are not arguing that the Internet should become the primary form of communication and interaction. We are not arguing that children should stop playing sports outside and start playing sports online. Instead, we have been providing a multitude of examples of how the Internet is enhancing community and adding on to other forms of communication technology. It is important to keep in mind that excessive use of anything will likely have overall negative effects; this is not exclusive to the Internet. Think back to the telegraph. If people only used that to communicate with each other, then sure there would have been negative effects on community. But this is not the exact question up for debate.

While there are cases when the Internet makes things possible that weren't before, in other areas it has simply accented face-to-face communication and provided a better way of keeping in touch with core and loose ties when separated by physical space or time (Wellman, Haase, Witte, & Hampton, 2001). Instead of being socially handicapped by growing up with the Internet, future generations will be further empowered and increasingly have one leg up on past generations who did not grow up being able to experience the wide-ranging benefits of the Internet. Since the future of our economy will be rooted in technology, the more accustomed and proficient people become at using it, the more prosperous and successful they stand to be.

And in regards to the claim that increased use of the Internet will lead to "less acceptance of parental authority," I don't think there's been widespread, general acceptance of parental authority since the 1950s. The whole "parents just don't understand" mentality is more a feature of adolescence than an attitude implanted by the Internet.

By Saverio R. (not verified) on 01 Dec 2007 #permalink

To add on to the previous Cyber-skeptic posts, it is difficult for individuals to accurately communicate the intent behind the words they type online without the use of social cues. So, if problems do arise, people just leave chat rooms or turn off the computer instead of trying to work things out. Fights are so much worse online because there are no social cues and face-to-face interaction to see the other person's body language to understand what they are trying to say. Individuals online are more likely to respond in a quick and spontaneous manner and say things that they would never say face-to-face, hence the flaming effect.

By Brittney M. (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

One more point to reiterate our position. Studies show that "Classrooms with computers hooked up to the Internet predispose students to work as individuals rather than as members of any social group." This directly impacts future generations. Right now there are computers in almost all classrooms in the U.S. and while some do not have Internet access I am sure that almost all of them will in the future. If children are being predisposed to the Internet that means that they are being told "it is better to work by yourself than in a group." Now while working by yourself is not always a bad thing, this will just decrease face-to-face interaction that is needed. The Duke study shows that people are lonely due to life in front of a computer screen and if children are being shown that that is the way things are, then we are also predisposing them to a lonely life as they grow up. Hence another example of how the Internet is hurting future generations and how we need to be careful!

By Brittney M. (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

When you argue that having Internet-capable computers in classrooms creates students who only work as individuals, you are forgetting one main component of the Internet, which is communication. Students who are taught from early ages to utilize the Internet and explore its vast capabilities will be able to get in touch with future colleagues around the world to tackle global issues. Though the students may initially work on their own with their computer, what really allows any project to be successful is its implementation on a wide-reaching scale. Thus, a person who is able to come up with a solution for, say, global warming, is only going to be able to put that solution into use if he can communicate it to people worldwide. The Internet allows this communication to take place on a real-time basis. Even so, students are still to this day being taught to work in groups on projects and in clubs. The Internet simply allows this teamwork to be translated onto a global scale.

By Ashley K. (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

I agree with the post above. Yes, initially the Internet may pose as a way for students to work on their individual thought however, by working online they are increasing their knowledge. Even though the Duke study may show people are lacking community over the Internet, there are many reasons why so many individuals are on the Internet. Learning from each other, what others have written increasing knowledge and who they know by expanding their intellect and social capita with those that are more experienced in most cases. The children are not hindered by the Internet placed in front of them in class rooms, for they still are involved in classroom activities and interactions everyday.

By ToniAnn C. (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

Furthermore, one could argue that using the Internet in classrooms in fact increases students' abilities to work in a group because it widens their network of ties and allows them to collaborate with others in ways that have never before been possible. With today's technology, it is possible for elementary school kids to not just have pen pals in other countries, but to have video conferences to foreign countries to better allow the students to understand their cultural differences. While the baby boomers who are currently running most of our nation's top businesses have learned just enough about emerging technology to survive in competitive fields, students growing up with these high tech capabilities will be able to seamlessly implement them once they reach positions of power in the future.

By Ashley K. (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

I personally have taken a course online and I found it very unpredictible. Not everyone could get on the site that the class was in and one could not tell who the teacher was and what they were saying since there were a variety of messages. All the work I had due in this class was due at the end of the semester and I along with the other students in my class waited till the last minute to do all the busy work. I do not think classes on the Internet are a good thing because one does not learn as much and it is harder to create relationships and network with other students and the teacher because there is no face to face interaction. Assignments can be misunderstood and it is easy to just blow off the class.

By Katie Licht (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

The differenece between allowing the internet in the classroom can not be compared to the use of the Internet at home by children. I can understand the arguement of perhaps, at home the Internet can take away from face to face interaction as of now becuase of how there are so many children that stay in their rooms glued to their Internet identies. However, in the classroom this is not the same issue. Without the Internet capabilities in the US classroom for example,not only will they lose chances in the competivtive field as was stated above. But also, it would take away from all levels of students to learn from each other. A high school student can connect and interact with those college students that may have been through the trials of what they are going through. With services such as StudentsHelpingStudents there is a way for students to find and get help from a community online.

By ToniAnn C, (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

To comment on a post by Brittney earlier. I am pretty sure fights no matter where they are, online, face to face, are problematic. Yes, on the Internet it may seem easier to back out, however in fact to face ineraction it is just as easy to walk away. In dealing with the ability to just leave a chat room or turn off the computer. The social network and community has already been built online obviously, if a person is participating in the chats or communication with others. Thus, showing that like the Duke study the Internet is not taking away from face to face but just reinforcing and supporting it. Whether it be in allowing good relationships to flourish or allowing bad relationships to end.

By ToniAnn C. (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

In response to Brittney's and Katie's comments, it's helpful to look at how the Internet has been used in a variety of educational situations. For example, CIDA City Campus is a university in South Africa that provides free education in a variety of fields including Internet technology. IT training has enabled these students to effectively work in the finance and technology industries in their country. Thanks to sponsorships by companies like Microsoft, the college has received computers to remain at the cutting edge of technology. This component of their education has enabled the students, who are from impoverished villages, to be successful and give back to their communities. Teaching students to be effective technology-users has the potential to break down class barriers and stop cycles of poverty and racism in places around the world.

By allison.d (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

As Katie Licht just pointed out, there are significant problems with using the Internet to communicate.
Using her example, online classes do not offer the same type of non-verbal cues from teachers or other students as in a real classroom. This can make it difficult to understand more complex facets of assignments or get any kind of sincere connection with fellow classsmates or the teacher. I know personally i have had many instances where my good standing with the professor through interpersonal communication helped me understand what was expected of me and reduced my stress levels. Reading a syllabus can be somewhat anxiety-inducing if you don't have the teacher there to run down the list and make things clear for you. Online classrooms are much more rigid and can make the learning experience more challenging for those who don't have any bonds with classmates or teachers.

To reiterate my point about the problematic nature of the Internet, I'll refer again to Brignall III and Valey's article on the detrimental effects of Internet use on youth.
Social cues such as posture, hand gestures, tone of voice, movement in a conversation, eye contact, and levels of social formality are intricate aspects of face-to-face interaction that are absent from online communications (Brignall III & Valey 2005). The development and maturation of these social abilities is imperative for youth to get along with others. If the strength of the Internet of the future is the fact that individuals can choose with whom they want to interact, then it may also be one of the Internets weaknesses when it comes to the development of social interaction skills

To respond to Juliana's claim that we, the superbad Cyber Skeptics, are relying on the traditional definition of community I say shame on you Juliana.

We are not fixated on a prehistoric ideal of what community should be, but we are pointing out the fundamental differences between what interpersonal relations, the use of social cues, and face-to-face interaction provide and what facilities the Internet offers for communicating.

There is a significant difference between acknowledging how the Internet fosters communication and defining how the Internet hurts community.
Enabling more communication does not make you a stronger member of the community. As we've seen with the telephone, giving people a phone isn't going to make them reach out to their neighbors. But face-to-face interaction with your community strengthen bonds with others, it provides longer lasting ties and it helps develop your social skills.

Everett, you said "enabling more communication does not make you a stronger member of the community." However, a look at the powerful and complex online communities of minority groups around the world shows the opposite. For example, David Parker and Miri Song examine the emergence of Internet discussion sites produced by British-born Chinese youth (2007). This online space has been used to facilitate forms of self-expression, produce collective identity, and act on key social and political issues. The two most trafficked web sites, BritishChineseOnline and Dimsum, among others, have become "accessible public platforms for the articulation of British Chinese viewpoints" (Parker and Song 2007). This is a perfect example of how the Internet can enhance community by providing communication between members of a traditionally marginalized group.

By allison.d (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

To further respond to Everett's comment, according to Hollenbeck, C. R., Peters, C. and Zinkhan, G. M. (2006), "members of such on-line communities share not only network ties, but also information, emotions, communion, identity, and a sense of belonging." You claim that not all communication fosters the growth of community. While you may be true in some circumstances, it is clear that frequent communication is the foremost building block of any kind of community. Because of this, the Internet is an ideal forum for creating new communities because of the ease and convenience of communication.

By Ashley K. (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

In response to Everett's comment about face-to-face communication, I would just like to point out that the Internet facilitates face-to-face interaction. I think we tend to forget that we use the Internet, email's, aim, etc., to meet people face-to-face. I am not arguing that face-to-face interaction is not the building blocks to a successful society. On the contrary, I totally agree. And what has made it easier for us to make plans to meet? THE many of us have emailed friends, left Facebook messages, etc. to get a bite to eat or get some coffee?

I also find interesting that we are calling a 'communicative ' hurtful...

The Internet is also important in connecting communities themselves to a larger community. My friend worked on an initiative this past summer to bring Internet access to a rural area in Nigeria. He said this enabled the two area hospitals to store and share hospital records. This would improve medical treatment for locals and benefit the entire community. Banking was also enhanced: now local banks could access their online database of customers. This would facilitate growth in business and personal finance. Because of his project, new Internet cafes were started in the town- facilitating new relationships with people in the community and with others through the web, in the myriad ways the cyberoptimists have described. Eventually, the local university hoped to take advantage of this wireless service. This Nigerian community reflects the numerous possibilities of the Internet to promote social capital and enhance the quality of life.

By allison.d (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

Allison's comment reminded me of One Laptop Per Child, which is a project aiming to bring inexpensive laptops to all children in underdeveloped countries. Through this project, the group is aiming to bridge what is left of the digital divide. By giving these children access to technology and the internet, the children learn about a world outside of their own and begin to see their potential. Children growing up in third world countries usually cannot see a future other than what their parents did. However, when they are given laptops and taught to use them, they can connect with other young people from around the globe and can see everything else the world has to offer. In this way, the Internet spawns community by allowing disadvantaged youth to find other people outside of their current surroundings who can help and inspire them.

By Ashley K. (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

Wellman states that,"Most cross-sectional studies show that those frequently online are more invovled in community." Everett states above that,"Enabling more communication does not make you a stronger member of the community." I think many would disagree. By allowing for many outlets to participate and interact with other, how ever could this not be stregth your communication skills. Thus, furthering ones participation and interaction with their community both online and in the "real world".

By ToniAnn C. (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

Another place to look for the positive effects the Internet has had on community would be the rise of citizen journalism and the enthusiasm and optimism it is restoring to ordinary people. Case in point, OhmyNews, a website originally started in South Korea with the motto: "Every Citizen is a Reporter." Not only are websites like these reversing the decline of efficacy and civic engagement by giving every individual an option to voice their opinions, they are bringing together a community of individuals with shared interests. Anybody can write an article that can be posted on the website, and it doesn't stop there. Other users can then comment on the article and a debate of a variety of issues can be triggered as a result (much like the example I provided in my paper) (Poor, 2005).

The Internet provides unprecedented transparency and opportunities for individuals who are fed up with the monopoly institutions have on the media to take matters into their own hands. Surely a great majority of the population has been fed up at one point or another with the media or "politics as usual," but until the rise of the Internet, people did not have a cost-effective, extensive, and empowering way of voicing dissent and substantially trying to change the system. Take, for example, this article written by a regular citizen, Peter Hinchliffe, in which he asserts that "Citizen journalism is rapidly becoming the main bulwark supporting a democratic world." Even in places like China where censorship is commonplace under President Hu Jintao, individuals can get on proxy servers and vastly expand their knowledge base, find out about the world around them and then translate this into building healthier communities. Even more, citizen journalism is contributing to the building of community by helping diminish the general amount of cynicism and distrust of institutions that has been compounding ever since the tipping point event of Watergate in the 1970s.

By Saverio R. (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

Another place to look for the positive effects the Internet has had on community would be the rise of citizen journalism and the enthusiasm and optimism it is restoring to ordinary people. Case in point, OhmyNews, a website originally started in South Korea with the motto: "Every Citizen is a Reporter." Not only are websites like these reversing the decline of efficacy and civic engagement by giving every individual an option to voice their opinions, they are bringing together a community of individuals with shared interests. Anybody can write an article that can be posted on the website, and it doesn't stop there. Other users can then comment on the article and a debate of a variety of issues can be triggered as a result (much like the example I provided in my paper) (Poor, 2005).

The Internet provides unprecedented transparency and opportunities for individuals who are fed up with the monopoly institutions have on the media to take matters into their own hands. Surely a great majority of the population has been fed up at one point or another with the media or "politics as usual," but until the rise of the Internet, people did not have a cost-effective, extensive, and empowering way of voicing dissent and substantially trying to change the system. Take, for example, this article written by a regular citizen, Peter Hinchliffe, in which he asserts that "Citizen journalism is rapidly becoming the main bulwark supporting a democratic world." Even in places like China where censorship is commonplace under President Hu Jintao, individuals can get on proxy servers and vastly expand their knowledge base, find out about the world around them and then translate this into building healthier communities. Even more, citizen journalism is contributing to the building of community by helping diminish the general amount of cynicism and distrust of institutions that has been compounding ever since the tipping point event of Watergate in the 1970s.

By Saverio R. (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

There will always be a right and wrong way for people to communicate. However, in a earlier post it was said that online class rooms are not a suffient way for students to learn or interact. This may be true for some individuals, however using myself as an example. I am not as social in the class room setting however that does not reflect to me being an introvert in any way. I just perfer not to be confrontational in the class room. By participating in this blog and starting to communicate with you all as my fellow class mates I am much more comfortalbe in speaking up. Thus strength my ties with you all and this class.

By ToniAnn C. (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

ToniAnn, I believe Everett's exact words were "Enabling more communication does not make you a stronger member of the community. As we've seen with the telephone, giving people a phone isn't going to make them reach out to their neighbors. But face-to-face interaction with your community strengthen bonds with others, it provides longer lasting ties and it helps develop your social skills." And I totally agree with him. Just because we have use of the Internet does not mean that we will be better members of a community. All of the Cyber-Skeptic argues from the digital divide to time displacement reiterate this fact. What examples did Wellman give to show that people online are more involved in community? What study? I find this hard to believe.

By Brittney M. (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

In Sciences Magazine Vol.293 Wellman has a write up about the community and social networks. The above quote a few post above was from this. Also from the same aricle another example was a case study of "Netville".Where a neighborhood linked in high speed Internet service. And, those that used this helped bring together three times as many neighbors as those that were not invovled in unwired and visited 1.6 times as many.
Now before cyber skeptics respond for this was single experiement the idea of Internet reinforcementin a traditional community was shown in studies in Michigan and Los Angeles.

By ToniAnn C (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

Amir: Calling a comunicative hurtful is possible when one medium can negatively impact a more fundamental medium, and as we all can agree, the Internet is not as important in life as face-to-face interaction with people on emotional, psychological, and physical terms.

If you want to get into media, look at the multi-million dollar Matrix series.
The premise of these films exemplify the philosophical relevance of defining what one describes as constituting a "reality"; a future where people live through machine-simulated worlds, facilitated through technological advancement.
Who is to say that with all the "technological future" rhetoric Saverio was claiming that mankind may not end up at some level of digitally simulated existence.

This extreme visual paints a clearer picture of what the difference between a virtual world existing on a screen of a machine is in comparison to a palpable, physical realm of interpersonal communication... and the significant differences of those communities.

Amir: technological advancement enabling more face-to-face interaction, ie. facebook posts for coffee.
This is good. We like this.
The issue is that future generations may not use one to hop to the other, that the Internet will be an indivisible part of the lives of youth because of it's availability in developed countries for the entirety of kids' lifespans, and that particular individuals (introverts, pathological Internet users, low self-esteem people) will become dependent on it for socializing.

no bueno.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 02 Dec 2007 #permalink

Last anonymous post = me

I wanted to say to allison that your point about Nigerian hospitals is sincerely compelling as evidence of the significance of Internet in helping form stronger communities.
I think that the major concerns for community and the Internet come not from areas in undeveloped countries suffering from substandard health care services but developed nations like the United States.

Everett: if you are focusing only on the virtues of the Internet within the United States, you are completely missing the point of the World Wide Web. As its name blatantly explains, the Internet is meant to bring together our global community and allow communication that was never possible before. Even author Robert Putnam, who tends to argue against the advantages of community on the Internet, said that �social capital is about networks, and the net is the network to end all networks� (2001). The people living in "developed nations" who share all the wealth controlled by our country already have access to other modes of communication and community building tools. What the Internet is able to do like no other medium is to bring together people from all corners of the world, people who have common interests, goals and dreams. Having a truly global network also allows people living in more financially stable countries to reach out to those in disadvantaged nations and offer support.

By Ashley K. (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Furthermore, the Internet not only links people with common goals, but also those sharing a common heritage or identity. Specifically, one area of the Internet known as the �Indian-American� web is an example of how the Internet is capable of bringing together a geographically sparse group of people who all have a shared identity through their mutual culture. This collection of web sites supporting various facets of Indian culture and identity creates a �space of belonging� for the members who identify with the Indian way of life Mallapragada, M. (2006). This is, without a doubt, a strong community who shares a common set of beliefs and values, it just so happens that they have been scattered in different countries. Through the Internet, they are able to sustain this community in a way that would not be possible without it.

By Ashley K. (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Another place to look for the positive effects the Internet has had on community would be the rise of citizen journalism and the enthusiasm and optimism it is restoring to ordinary people. Case in point, OhmyNews, a website originally started in South Korea with the motto: "Every Citizen is a Reporter." Not only are websites like these reversing the decline of efficacy and civic engagement by giving every individual an option to voice their opinions, they are bringing together a community of individuals with shared interests. Anybody can write an article that can be posted on the website, and it doesn't stop there. Other users can then comment on the article and a debate of a variety of issues can be triggered as a result (much like the example I provided in my paper) (Poor, 2005).

The Internet provides unprecedented transparency and opportunities for individuals who are fed up with the monopoly institutions have on the media to take matters into their own hands. Surely a great majority of the population has been fed up at one point or another with the media or "politics as usual," but until the rise of the Internet, people did not have a cost-effective, extensive, and empowering way of voicing dissent and substantially trying to change the system. Take, for example, this article written by a regular citizen, Peter Hinchliffe, in which he asserts that "Citizen journalism is rapidly becoming the main bulwark supporting a democratic world." Even in places like China where censorship is commonplace under President Hu Jintao, individuals can get on proxy servers and vastly expand their knowledge base, find out about the world around them and then translate this into building healthier communities. Even more, citizen journalism is contributing to the building of community by helping diminish the general amount of cynicism and distrust of institutions that has been compounding ever since the tipping point event of Watergate in the 1970s.

By Saverio R. (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Another issue which I don't believe has been brought up is how the Internet has the unique capability to impart a sense of community and safety to a group of people in the midst of a crisis. In a stressful time such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack, the Internet is one place people can turn to feel secure and in touch with the events taking place around them. While phone lines and mail routes can be destroyed and neighborhoods dispersed in an emergency, the Internet is always available and can offer the stability greatly needed in a crisis situation.
Displaced storm victims were able to count on one tool to receive information about their city and contact loved ones: the Internet. According to a study of internet usage by Hurricane Katrina victims, "those from highly damaged areas valued the Internet's information-gathering capacity to a greater extent than did those from other areas." This fact reinforces how community is based more upon interactions and relationships in general than on face-to-face contact. The people displaced by Katrina did not immediately attempt to seek out the physical community that had previously occupied downtown New Orleans. Instead the people who were forced to flee their city sought out community on the Internet through local news sites, blogs and message boards addressing the situation (Procopio, C. H. and Procopio, S.T. 2007).

By Ashley K. (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

New Orleans media outlets affected by the storm also showed how the Internet could completely facilitate a community online. Television news stations that were forced to evacuate their filming studios relocated to other cities or to universities where they were able to continue providing news coverage by streaming video online. Local newspapers abandoned their printing presses and went to solely online coverage of the emergency. These media organizations did not simply give up reporting because they could not have the more traditional and personal interaction with their subscribers. Instead, they embraced the possibility of the Internet and realized that at the time, it was the best way to reach the people who were counting on a stable source of information. According to author Jan Fernback (2007), "symbolic communication (online community) can be used as a form of purposeful social action." These news outlets that were broadcasting up-to-the-minute portrayals of the disaster surely encouraged "social action" by mobilizing millions of Americans to begin cleaning up and rebuilding the flooded city in a way only mass media could. During this tragedy, the Internet allowed a group of people who had been scattered across the country to stay in touch with each other and to have access to the information they were seeking.

By Ashley K. (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Ashley, while you made some good points about the Internet helping during crisis, I would like to argue that not all people have access to the Internet. You said that during Hurricane Katrina people went to just online Internet coverage, which is totally fine, but what happens to people who do not have access to the Internet? If news coverage goes to internet only, millions of people over the world will miss out.

Putnam argues the digital divide of the Internet, referring to the social inequality of access to cyberspace. Access to the Internet is limited and those with no access will not be able to get ahead in society. From your example, they will not be able to do a simple thing as get the news. A study by the Census Bureau found that the least connected groups in the US are the rural poor, racial minority, and young femaled headed households. Directly related to this is that gaps in education, income, race, and family structure are growing.

This is also a global issue in which the DiMaggio article wrote that "only 5% of the world's population has Internet access." 5%!!!! He also said "97% of Internet host computers are located in developed countries making a great divide between developed and less developed nations."

By Brittney M. (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Everett: I 100% agree that we should concerned about future generations and there 'expertise' on social cues and the lack of face-to-face interaction. However, these future kids are not going to live in a huge bubble with just themselves and a computer. The vast majority of children will have contact with other children their age, or at least their parents. Furthermore, no matter how much technology advances most if not all children will have to be in a classroom environment with OTHER human beings. As I said it earlier, I totally agree with you that limiting the amount of time that people spend with other people detremental to buidling a successful community oriented society. However, and the DiMaggio article, as well at the Pew Study, show that the Internet is simply not doing this...

I am sorry to post twice in a row, but I just read one of the posts and I wanted to chime in. One way that people in Burma (Myanmar) were able to get togehter to protest the repressive Junta was by way of emailing. This is a perfect example of how technology is being used for the greater good, in this case it is helping (or at least trying) to bring down one of the world's worst human rights abusers...

Amir just made a great point. Unfortunately, even today we are still dealing with repressive governments around the world. Though these dictators and juntas are able to physically silence their opposition, they cannot shut down the Internet. Because of this, the common people are still able to have a voice and organize themselves for protests and demonstrations. In an article from 2000 on, an activist working to free the Burmese people said, "The Internet has been irreplaceable in helping us come together and communicate as a group. The fact that information moves faster online enables us to always have someone on the ground, whether in Ireland or San Jose or Japan." In this way, people outside of Burma were able to stay in communication with other activists or residents inside of the country.

By Ashley K. (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Great insights Amir and Ashley.

Brittney, I hear what you're saying about the digital divide and how that prevents some people from accessing the benefits of the Internet that Ashley was describing. However, the research you are sighting by DiMaggio and Putnam is from articles written in 2001. This is six years old! Right now, the fast-paced developments in Internet technology means that 2001 was ages ago. Many changes have occurred since then, including the development of the One Laptop Per Child program that Ashley mentioned and projects like the Nigerian Internet initiative that my friend was involved in. The good news is that the global digital divide is shrinking. Also, as research by Beisser and colleagues shows, individuals who are part of bridging the digital divide can actually increase social capital. Beisser's study involved college students who helped elderly community members improve their Internet skills. Both the students and the elderly derived positive benefits from the project, including enhanced social trust. This shows that even the act of breaking down what remains of the digital divide can enhance communities.

By allison.d (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Two points to make here...

1) When we talk abou the digital divide we have to take into consideration that although people do not have computers in their home, in this country at least one can easily get access at school, the public library, or a friend's house. I realize that this is not ideal, but its certainly something. Also when we speak about the Third World and the digital divide one has to take into consideration that these countries are lagging behind on many things not just the Internet. Interstingly, however, both the State Department and the CIA note that most countries are jumping leaps and bounds when it comes to Internet access. Its intersting to me that the Cyber Skeptics argue the digital divide argument becuase by doing so you inadvertantly prove our point that the Internet and its offshoots are important and the wave of the future.

2) My second point is about people and raised confidence on the Internet. Jane Kenway in her study points out that people feel like they can be themselves. They can feel free to express their views, likes and dislikes without having to deal with peoples stares and whispers. This in turn raised their self-esteem in the so called real world and thus enhances their ability to speak and interact with others.

Cyber-optimists are making some very compelling arguments for why the Internet is having positive effects on community. It is clear through all of these examples that when the Internet is introduced to the equation, there are many positive effects on community and society at-large. The Internet is a tool that used to its true potential can yield unparalleled benefits to communities all over the world. Just as is the case with virtually any other communication technology, some people simply won't use it for beneficial purposes, but this is a fact built into human nature that unfortunately cannot be changed. Again I reiterate, how a person uses the Internet often depends on the type of person they are to begin with; introverts will tend to use the Internet in a different way than extroverts. And there is nothing inherently wrong with this model.

To cite further evidence of the shrinking digital divide, more specifically the shrinking of the so-called broadband divide in America (those with high-speed Internet access), check out this recent PEW report that details the fast paced adoption of broadband Internet use. Whereas "It took 18 years for the personal computer to reach 50% of Americans, 18 years for color TV, 15 years for the cell phone, 14 years for the video cassette recorder, and 10 and one half years for the compact disc player. It has taken about 10 years for broadband to reach 50% of adults in their homes." Granted, at first glance 50% may not seem like an altogether impressive figure, but this does not change the fact that the broadband divide is shrinking at a pace faster than any other communication technology in history. In addition, unlike television or a compact disc player, increased adoption of broadband Internet use means that people will be able to build and maintain social capital on an even higher level than was previously possible with dial-up connections. Similarly, the global digital divide is shrinking due to the variety of efforts being made by various companies and organizations (we Cyber-optimists have done an excellent job of providing these examples). All the evidence suggests that while there is certainly still a digital divide (both in regards to the Internet in general and those with high-speed Internet access), that said divide is shrinking at a rapid pace, a pace unprecedented in human history.

By Saverio R. (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Ok Everett (I loved your post by the way! haha!)
I think we can all agree that a face to face interaction is the best way to communicate and strengthen ties. But again, how do I arrange a face to face meeting with my family and friends that are 500 miles away? I would love to, and as I told Brittney, I'd love to try and talk to each of them everyday on the phone, but it just doesn't seem possible.
And I have to disagree when you say that "Enabling more communication does not make you a stronger member of the community". I think when you communicate more you almost automatically become more involved and a stronger member of a community. For instance, say I'm a member of some group, but I never talk while at group meetings, never call other group members, never participate in online discussions...well then I am not really a member of that community at all. Technically I am a member, but I am a non-particapatory member. So what good does that do me or the other members of my group? At the same time, what if I am in an online group or community and I participate in conversations frequently, and provide support and help to others. Wouldn't that make me a strong member of that community because I am more involved and communicate with the other members more frequently?

By Juliana S. <3 eb! (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Today I was watching Dr. Phil and the subject of the the show was how the Internet was a dangerous place for children and teenagers. He claimed that surfing the net can lead to dangerous consequences. Dr. Phil used the example of Donna Jou who disappeared five months ago. She was a straight A student and was last seen with John Burgess a convicted sex offender she met on craigslist. The Internet is a scary place because anyone could be lying about who they are and no one can know their real intentions. When you meet someone face to face at least you can tell what gender they are and there real age. The Internet needs to have major adjustments to fix this problem.

By Katie Licht (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

To comment the first point by Amir, the Internet is more readily available and important to many. I said this during our presentation, however for example after Hurricane Katrina there were barely any forms of communication between freinds and even family members. Cell phones were not working in the Louisiana area. Internet became the main form of communication and community for many.

Even after cell phones started to work again and my family and I moved into a two bed room apartment with six individuals the importance of a computer and internet were an nessecity. We did not have much, however we had a computer and Internet to keep us linked to our community. It also allowed for us to branch out to others online and form new connections in our new city.

By ToniAnn C (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

PS I support Ashley's comment.

By ToniAnn C (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Katie, that is a very good point. However, one of the issues that the Cyber Optimists brought up to the class is that there is danger in the offline world as well.
It is true that in a face to face interaction you will be able to see the person and be able to tell their age and gender, but there is nothing stopping a man or woman from luring a child over to his/her car one day after school and kidnapping them. Another issue we looked at was online dating. There are dangers in online dating, but there are similar dangers in offline dating. How do you know that the person you are talking to is being truthful about who they really are? Most people lie about their age anyways, but he/she could be lying about something more serious. There is no way for you to know for sure that the person you are talking to is being completely honest. How do you know he/she is a convicted felon, a rapist, wanted for murder in another country? These are extreme cases, but the point is that there are the same dangers online and offline. It is starting to come down to people's trust in each other. Will we stop allowing children and teens from going on the internet because there is the possiblity of potential danger? Does that mean we should lock ourselves in our houses because of all the potential dangers in the world?

By Juliana S. (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Can you really tell someones real age in person. Not very many people are striaght forward in bars and such places where they may be searching for a new community. The Internet may not be a safe place for children to be on alone. Yet, where is it completely safe for a child to be with out supervision. When used appropriatly the Internet can be safe. Just like a neighborhood, knowing what your children are doing and who they are around can either protect or endanger them. This is on the Internet and in the public.

With the Sherry Turkle's case study of "Case", the young man who posed as a strong female online, may could see this as a huge problem. Yes, he is not telling the truth online however the outcome did not hurt any. It did however, allow him to speak more freely outside the Internet. Case became for invovled in his outside community due to his interactions with the online community.

By ToniAnn C. (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

I am sorry but I have a huge problem with the Cyber-Optimists using the case study of "Case." You are being very hypocritical when you reference that. How can you say the Internet is safe and then keep referencing a man who LIED on the Internet and posed himself as a girl when in reality he is a man? This is a prime example of how people get hurt. Now, I know you said that nothing bad happened from this, but this does not mean that there are more cases like this out there where bad things have happened. This just goes to back up Katie's comments on Dr. Phil. The Internet is a dangerous place where people can pretend to be whoever they what because there are no restrictions. This is dangerous for children and for future generations to come.

By Brittney M. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

The Internet needs to have more regulations and monitoring of usage. "The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has estimated that online crime will cost $45bn in the US this year and that 25 million identities have been stolen. The commission has also warned that the internet is making it easier for criminals to exploit stolen identities. " from
There are also sites on the Internet that have bomb recipes and it is easy for a child to type something simple into a search engine and come up with pornagraphy sites.

By katie Licht (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

Brittney, using the Mr. Case example is not hypocritical at all and I'll tell you why. You are implying that Mr. Case lied about his gender for nefarious purposes, but this is simply not what happened. Case's posing as a strong woman online was a way for him to explore "his sense of national identity in virtual reality" because doing so in face-to-face communication would not be as comfortable or as revealing due to the social stigmas associated with mixed gender roles (Bruckman, 1993). By focusing on the fact that Case lied (people lie face-to-face all the time), you are missing the point that this was the only way he could explore his own identity to the point of reaching a conclusion. And it was the Internet that enabled him to experience these positive psychological effects.

Even from 14 years ago there were authors like Bruckman who noted the positive effects that gender swapping on the Internet can have on the psyches of certain individuals. Bruckman gives another example of a man named Peter who posed online in MUDs (multi-user dungeons) as a woman in order to explore his true identity. To quote directly, she says: "The experience of gender swapping in MUDs defamiliarized Peter's real life gender role. He was able to reflect on his gender role in new ways: what does it mean to be a man? He has new tools and new data with which to think about a question which has been an issue of concern for him." It is clear that both Mr. Case and Peter benefited substantially from their experiences posing online as women, something they very well may not have been able to do in face-to-face interaction.

Furthermore, Bruckman also brings up the point in her introduction that certain applications online allow people to be gender-neutral and shed the associations connected to gender roles altogether. This is something that cannot be replicated in face-to-face communication effectively. If they so choose, the Internet allows people to portray themselves as human beings and not as a man or a woman. Once you get past the surface of "Mr. Case lied, he's bad!" you will realize that by portraying himself in a different light on the Internet, Mr. Case and the many others like him are exploring their true identity and experiencing positive psychological and emotional effects from doing so.

By Saverio R. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

Juliana, i think you just made a beautiful argument. It was compelling, raw, and vicious, and i loved it.

But, a strong point i have made that i will make again because i don't want u to have to scroll up into the endless pit of posts is that by enabling impersonal communication and providing society with a resource devoid of social cues, the Internet is causing the degradation of interpersonal abilities for many individuals who find themselves dependent on the Web for friendship and love.
What we find is that "people differing in extraversion and social support may use the Internet in different ways they are likely to have different social resources available in their off-line lives, which could change the benefits they might gain from social resources they acquire on-line", according to Kraut et al. (2002).
Not everyone is going to have issues because of the Internet in the future, but it is very possible that certain personality types will inevitably become dependent as they shy away from face-to-face relations, weakening their interpersonal abilities that need to be strengthened in order to become more social and make lasting relations with others.

By Everett brothe… (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

saying you're a woman when you are a man, regardless of gender and specifically focusing on the aspect of sex, you are not exposing your true identity.
You are, in fact, a woman "trapped in a man's body".
If he wanted to expose his "true identity", Saverio, he would expose that.

There are many transgendered individuals that use the Internet; he could use this medium to be honest and meet people facing the same sexual identity struggles as him.

Cyber Skeptics have already proven that the Internet facilitates a transcendence of body constraints (Kang 2007).
Where such misrepresentations occur, and are discovered, they give the individual little practice on how to maintain stable relationships in the real versus the virtual world (Brignall III and Valey 2005).
good night, and good luck.

Everertt, you again make a great point. It is true that you lose social cues online, especially when you talk to strangers, but I've been thinking about social cues when talking to someone you know. I don't really even have any evidence to back this up other than personal experiences, but when a friend or family that I am very close to writes me a message online, IM's me or emails me I can almost hear them talking. I am a very sarcastic person by nature, and my friends know that about me. So when we talk online via AIM they don't even question whether or not I'm being sarcastic. And because I know that there is a loss of social cues, if I say something that can be conveyed as sarcastic when thats not what I'm trying to convey, I will tell my friends that I'm not being sarcastic so there is no confusion.
And when you talk about these peopole that will becaome "dependent on the Web for friendship and love" I'm just not sure if we can measure that yet. Again, these people might be extreme cases and not the majority. I feel like most of us have had the internet from a pretty young age, but we still communicate with people offline and aren't secluded in our rooms. I mean, just going to school forces us to interact with others and meet people, then when you factor in those kids that like to play sports, take dance classes, are in the band, drama, student council, etc. they all interact with people offline all the time. They aren't dependent on the web for friendship and love, and it doesn't mean that everyone is the same as those types of students...but at the same time it doesn't mean that those people who become dependent on the internet are the majority of people.

By Juliana S. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

I agree with you Juliana. When talking online to people that you know very well, it makes picking up social cues a lot easier. In order to make it clear that I am being sarcastic, I have to throw in a "lol." Something that bothers me though is when people have full-fledged conversations via text message. What a pointless act. It would be so much more effective to just call someone at the least. People are getting really caught up in technology and they are relying more and more on their cell phones and Internet to reinforce relationships. When people are first meeting online through social networking sites it is found in a study by Whitty and Gavin that online relationships are more shallow than personal (2001). When searching for a partner on an online dating site, you may go for the person who "appears" hot, rather than the person who describes themselves as having a great personality.

By Kelley R. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

I remember what Brittany said towards the beginning of this debate and it was about the woman who lost 500 lbs by using the Internet because she found people that did not judge her on appearance. I say good for her and if anyone can lose that much weight is quite an accomplishment. However, I can't help but look back at the Mr. Case study who pretended that he was a woman. I don't mean for this to sound mean, but realistically, most people would not give her the time of day because of her appearance. It is not her fault, it is society's fault. People are shallow, and they can't help it. This woman who lost all that weight had all of these friends on the Internet, I wonder how many of those people will go meet up with her and have coffee.

By Kelley R. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

I agree with you both, Juliana and Kelley, you can tell how people are saying things if you are in close contact with them, but it is difficult to look past the serious loss of connectedness that comes with face-to-face contact.
As far as the "entire text conversation" goes, I have definitely thought of how much simpler it would have been to call the person, after completing one of these conversations. It not only extends the entire conversation to how long it takes to type on the cell phone, but it leads to less actual words spoken. And if we get to the point where we write papers with emoticons to express feelings as opposed to words, then the society will really be in jeopardy.

By Heather A. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

The FBI and industry experts came up with a list of the 20 most dangerous security holes in the Internet:Client-side Vulnerabilities in:
C1. Web Browsers
C2. Office Software
C3. Email Clients
C4. Media Players
Server-side Vulnerabilities in:
S1. Web Applications
S2. Windows Services
S3. Unix and Mac OS Services
S4. Backup Software
S5. Anti-virus Software
S6. Management Servers
S7. Database Software
Security Policy and Personnel:
H1. Excessive User Rights and Unauthorized Devices
H2. Phishing/Spear Phishing
H3. Unencrypted Laptops and Removable Media
Application Abuse:
A1. Instant Messaging
A2. Peer-to-Peer Programs
Network Devices:
N1. VoIP Servers and Phones
Zero Day Attacks:
Z1. Zero Day Attacks

By Katie Licht (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

Children and teenagers do become victims of Internet crimes everyday. Predators contact teenagers and children over the Internet and lie to them in ordr to victimize them. Predators entice children and teenagers to engage in sexual acts, they can use the Internet for production, manufaturing and distributing child pornography,
encouraging children to enchange pornography, and enticing and exploiting them for sexual tourism, traveling to engage in sexual behavior and gaining personal gratification.

-Internet Crimes Against Children

By katie Licht (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

A new survey from the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, The National Poll on Children's Health, has found that US parents rate Internet Safety as being a more serious health threat to children than school violence, sexually transmitted diseases, abuse and neglect.
Something must be done about this. The Internet is suppose to be enhancing society and helping us grow as a community. If this is such a dangerous medium what is the future to bring. Parents consider this to be the most dangerous thing for their children today. What answers can you pose to fix this problem?

By Katie Licht (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

I was a little shocked by Katie's post about Internet safety being ranked as a more dangerous threat than school violence, sexually transmitted diseases, abuse and neglect. In many cases, a child's internet access should be way easier to control than such things as a child getting beaten up at school.
I suppose that would be the suggestion i would offer as a solution, make more focused security and have parents who fear this set stronger parental controls, which is becoming easier.

By Heather A. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

Katie has brought up a very interesting point. The way children and teenagers utilize the web is definitely something that parents should be concerned about. Katie, you also brought up how predators contact children through the Internet to engage in sexual acts. The clip that the cyber-skeptics referred to in the presentation about the show Dateline concerning child molestation really ties together the psychological struggles the predators have. They use the Internet as an outlet which leads to confrontation and eventual arrest. This proves how dangerous the Internet can be. Those types of meetings occur without Chris Hansen being there to save the day.

By Kelley R. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

The fact that the internet has become a "safe place" for sexual predators is definitely a terrifying thought. Because of the slowing of "feedback speed" and "depth" as noted by Nohria and Eccles, it allows predators more time to craft their stories to appeal to helpless, sometimes troubled kids. This isn't the case for all children on the internet, but enough for it to cause a concern.

By Heather A. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink
This website shows stories of sexual predators and their victims. The Internet has made it so much easier for predators to find victims. It is a scaring world on the Net. People can easily find information on you. Our generation easily gives up person information now. It is easy to find out personal things about people, find pictures, and find them. Facebook and Myspace are perfect examples of this. Like the girl at Virginia Common Wealth University in 2005, she met a man on myspace, they met up and he ended up murdering her. There needs to be more security.

By Katie Licht (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

While I do not deny that the Internet can be used for purposes that hurt children, I think it's important to remember that abuse doesn't just occur because of the Internet. It's possible that focusing too much on the dangers in the digital realm may draw our attention away from sexual abuse in offline situations, particularly sexual abuse that occurs within famiilies. In these relationships which Putnam describes as core ties, face-to-face contact is used for evil purposes. Sociology researchers Wilson and Silverman say that the public debate "is shaped by exaggerated fears of 'stranger-danger' at the expense of the epidemic of intra-familial sexual abuse" (2002). This applies to the Internet as well. While internet predators can be tracked and tricked (see Chris Hansen's show), sexual predators in families are much harder to pinpoint and prosecute.

In regards to content, it's important to note that parents can monitor or filter their children's internet use. This enables parents to block chats, inappropriate content, etc. on an individual level. Parents can also use the Internet as a way to teach kids about how to deal wisely with many choices.

By allison.d (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

In addition to the physical safety of children on the internet, another major concern is the development of children. For our generation computers came in late enough so that it did not play such a major role in our lives as young children as the children who know nothing of a world without internet. At risk of sounding like an old lady, if kids today stay on this route of high amounts of computer screen time instead of fresh air, they could potentially turn out with a lack of social capital and social skills.

By Heather A. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

I dont really know how sexual predators in families relates to this debate but maybe there can be a website set up for children or other families to report about the abuse they are receiving at home.
Not all parents know about the differnet ways of pretecting their children on the Internet. A lot of parents work and are not home when their children return from school. How are the parents going to monitor what kind of spam they receive or if pornography or violense shows up. And if they are in child chats there can easily be a predator in there convincing a child to engage in sexual acts with out parents even knowing.

By Katie Licht (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

"Chat rooms are an offshoot of electronic bulletin boards, which are offshoots of traditional bulletin boards. At first, people posted messages, ads, and queries. When the bulletin boards went electronic, you could post responses to a posting. In chat rooms, postings and responses can be done in real time.

All chat rooms have one characteristic. They are areas of the Internet where you can exchange messages with a large number of people at one time; and where there is the option to join a group chat where everyone in the chat room can view every comment.

Chatting in the room itself is not the preferred method of a predator. Predators use chat rooms as a hunting ground to locate their victim. They look at what is being said. Is there a child of the sex and age they are looking for in the chat rooms? Is that child having a good time online, are others chatting with the child, or are the other members of the chat room picking on the child?

The predator checks the child's profile to gain further intelligence information about how to approach the child. If there is sufficient information, the predator has an opening to begin a conversation with the child. The conversation most likely will not begin in a chat room, but in a private conversation.

A private chat room is somewhat like an instant message. It creates a private space for "conversation" where both sides of the chat are displayed. However, the private chat room can be enjoyed by more than two people at a time. In fact up to twenty-three people can be in an AOL private chat room.

Every private chat room is given a name by its creator. To enter the room, you have to know the name. Although the public chat rooms on AOL are always listed in a live public directory showing the title of the room and how many people are currently chatting there, private rooms are not listed. But it is possible to accidentally stumble into a private room."
This is just an example of how easy it is for predators to find victims on the Internet.

By Katie Licht (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

I agree with Katie in that lack of parental presence accounts for much of the issue. Unfortunately, the absence of parents and how it correlates with the development of their children has been around long before the internet. This is a cry for even stronger online monitoring, which becomes tricky with privacy laws. Because the internet has such a massive presence in today's culture, we should focus less on getting children off the internet and directing children in using the internet as the rapid and beneficial resource it was intended to be.

By Heather A. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

Sorry that was confusing Katie. Let me clarify a bit. I brought up the presence of sexual abuse within families for four reasons:
1) To demonstrate that the dangers of sexual abuse are also present offline and even in homes
2) To show that even the strong ties that the cyberskeptics have been pointing to are susceptible to abuse in relationships
3) To caution us that the abuse that occurs within families is more rampant (Wilson and Silverman)
4) To remind us that the show "To Catch a Predator" and others show how the Internet is being policed and is much easier to track and prosecute than intra-familial abuse

What Heather said about redirecting kids' use of the internet is very insightful. In fact, the Internet has numerous positive outlets for kids- from educational websites to research materials to fun games and even ways to connect to their teachers (through Tichon and Shapiro's research shows that children can and do use the internet for social support (2003). While there may be dangers for kids, there are also many positive, community enhancing benefits.

By allison.d (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

I'd just like to briefly address one issue that seems to keep coming up...I know the Cyber Skeptics have a big problem with the Robert Case study, and I honestly don't blame you at all. It is rather odd that this man would say he is a woman, but for some reason that makes him more comfortable and able to speak freely, which he can't in real life for some reason. So we as Cyber Optimists like to look at the positve outcome of Case's study. He was shy and timid in real life, but with the help of the internet and its anonymity he was able to break out of his shell. It's important not to fixate on the fact that he pretended to be a woman, it is important to realize that because of the internet this man was able to become more outspoken online and more importantly, offline. The anonymity the internet allows people, like Case, to become more comfortable with themselves, which then translates into their personalities offline.
Just to add another example of why anonymity is a good thing...Anonymity in Patient Online Communities is a key factor. If someone has an embarrassing or unacceptable disease such as impotence or AIDS they do not have to have a face to face interaction with a friend or family member who just might not understand. Patient online communities allow them to still receive the information they are looking for and receive the social support they might not have otherwise received offline because sometimes people aren't as understanding in the offline world as we might like. Therefore, the internet is able to enhance some peoples lives on and offline.

By Juliana S. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

To comment waaaay back to what Katie said about how the FCC says that the Internet makes it easier both for pedophiles to conduct crimes and for people to steal identities I have two things to say. I have said this once and I will it again the Internet did not cause these people to become pedophiles, furthermore, the Internet did not invent sexual exploitation of children. These people were going to do what they are doing regardless of the Internet. Secondly, about identity theft, its actually the Internet that has made it, in my opinion, harder for people to steal your identity. Identity theft became a huge problems with the advent of credit cards. People have used and other website to monitor their credit reports which in effect monitors that their identity is not stolen for financial purposes. I realize that identity theft is a huge problems and there are many issues concerning privacy issues on the Internet but the Internet is still young and its only a matter of time before we come up with measures that will lessen these threats.

I forgot to mention that the Internet is used by law enforcement to warn people about child predators. It is interesting to me that the cyber-skeptics never mention the fact that, by federal law, the police department is required to notify neighborhoods if a convicted child molester moves in. The Internet is one of those places that people can go and look at the list of predators. This is yet another way that the Internet benefits society. A parent need only log on the website, type in their zip code and see who lives where. This not only helps parents keep watch over their children's safety it keeps them up to date if anyone new (a predator) moves in to their area. I believe that, for this reason, the Internet actually makes it harder for predators to conduct their crimes because everyone knows where they are...

Juliana makes a very good point about people being able to reach other people with the specific health issues that they too have, however, it still doesn't reach a wide enough audience because so many of the people do not have internet access. "It reinforces gaps between the resource rich and resource poor (Scheufele & Nisbet)." Many impoverished people who are suffering from certain diseases are unable to converse with others about it because they do not have internet access. And while they are attending meetings face-to-face, they are losing the valuable opinions of the people who remain online. The digital divide makes all the statements pertain to the small number of the population with internet access.

By Heather A. (not verified) on 05 Dec 2007 #permalink

Concerning what Amir said about the location of sex offenders being public knowledge is true and beneficial. However, the internet has no physical boundaries. Speaking with a sex offender and child predator outside the neighborhood and surrounding areas is very possible and as seen on "To Catch a Predator" these people will travel far to meet up with the underage child they have been talking too. A parent cannot look up all the sex offenders in an entire state and be aware of them, the internet is vast and allows many people to reach many people.

By Heather A. (not verified) on 05 Dec 2007 #permalink