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

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, Team Social Change faces off against Team Reinforcers. In the other blog pane, CyberOptimists square off against CyberSkeptics.

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.

Team Social Change
The Case for Cyberoptimism

By Allison D.

Team members: J. Cahan, M. Holman, A. Murphy, & M. Sauer

"The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow," said Bill Gates, founder and CEO of Microsoft. Gates, like others who have benefited from the ubiquity of information technology and the Internet, anticipates that the Internet will play this role as "town square" by facilitating human interactions and enhancing community. However, many skeptics assert that the Internet is actually harming social exchanges and leaves individuals more isolated and unhappy. This skepticism follows a long history of viewing each new form of technology as a change that will erode society. Since the 1800s, Americans have been longing for a closer, warmer, more harmonious type of community that they vaguely attribute to past generations (Elias 1974).

Despite these sentiments, a thorough examination of specific communities that have emerged online provides us with a more optimistic perspective on the Internet's impact on our society. To view the complexities of how communities are being created and shaped by the Internet, it is helpful to explore specific forms of online communities, including patients' online communities, immigrants' cyber-communities, and the political blogosphere. These three categories reveal how the Internet provides information to community members, facilitates interactive dialogue within communities, enhances civic engagement, and enables the building of relationships across geographic boundaries.

What Do We Mean by Community?

In constructing a framework for analysis, the term community must be defined. Sociologists Rodgers and Chen define community as a group of individuals with common interests or purpose who have persistent and ongoing interactions, often governed by a set of policies (2005). According to Elizabeth Bott's book Family and Social Network written in the late 1950's, the 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). It is appropriate to explore communities forged by common interest in addition to those formed due to common dwelling place. In fact, two people who are neighbors often do not have a strong and positive relationship (Lee and Newby 1983). Interest groups with voluntary membership can be an extremely powerful form of community. It is also important to note that no studies have proven that engagement in online forms of community and face-to-face community interactions are mutually exclusive. Since online interactions are an addition to offline relations, the Internet should not be evaluated in comparison to traditional forms of community but in terms of its positive or negative contribution to these forms.

Online Patient Support Groups

To view the complexities of the impact that the Internet has had on society, it is helpful to examine specific cases. Patient's online communities, for example, provide a window into the positive role of the Internet. A Patients' Online Community is a social space on the Internet where the chronically ill can gather. This form of interest group, according to Josefsson, is a community of unintended interest (2005). Josefsson researched the cultural and structural aspects of POCs in Sweden. She observed that people who become part of a POC do so because they or someone they love has been diagnosed with a chronic illness. These POCs can often help individuals cope by facilitating coping strategies such as gathering information, contacting others and even helping others. In his article "E-health," Hardey explains that through embedded blogs, POCs allow the chronically ill to "weave interpersonal experience with advice" (2001).

For example, the web site was created by Karen Parles and offers access to in-depth information about lung cancer. Her site provides listings of lung cancer specialists, medical centers, clinical trials, access to journals and links to online support groups. Through her site, she has created a powerful tool for those diagnosed with lung cancer (Ferguson 2000)., like many other POCs serves four major functions: to provide specific medical information, to provide the chronically ill with opportunities to help others, to provide a space for health education, and to provide spaces for support (Hardey 2001). This web site has also become a useful tool for doctors as they can direct patients to the site for more in-depth information on their condition and specific treatment options.

The POC cyber-communities have myriad benefits. The fact that these communities function on a geographically dispersed basis is crucial. It would be otherwise impossible to create a community of individuals diagnosed with rare diseases if this community was limited to a single locale. POCs also are beneficial because they provide members with anonymity, according to Josefsson (2005). This is especially important for POCs about infertility, impotence, or mental illness. Using screen names, individuals can create community in a safe space and avoid the stigma of face-to-face interactions. Additionally, POCs can help individuals to overcome economic barriers to getting reliable health information. Before the Internet, it would have been nearly impossible for disadvantaged persons to access to information from leading doctors and medical journals. However, today, this content is accessible and searchable for anyone with access to a computer--free at local libraries. Finally, POCs allow individuals a place to develop relationships through asynchronous (e-mail, blogs) and synchronous (chat) communication (Ferguson 2000 and Josefsson 2005).

Empowering Civil Society

In addition to providing a support network for the chronically ill, the Internet has also provided opportunities for civic engagement and community building among minority communities around the world. For individuals who are part of an ethnic minority within their society, the Internet has proven an effective tool for building community cohesion and promoting discourse. For example, the site is the cyberhome of the non-profit organization Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) which is devoted to the challenges facing low-income South-Asian migrant workers in New York City. In the article "Home, homeland, homepage: belonging and the Indian-American," Mallapragada noted that DRUM uses its online presence to organize South Asian immigrants to advocate just policies for immigrants and unite working-class activists (2007).

DRUM also uses this web site to promote a notion of a shared regional identity, rather than as a Pakistani or as a Sri Lankan. The site's ability to coordinate activities, provide information, and even redefine identification to achieve a collective purpose makes an example of the Internet's ability to affect social change and galvanize people who are linked both through interest and place.

Another cyber network that mobilizes individuals on similar issues is the membership-based South Asian Women's Network. Its web site, uses a discussion-based format, including e-mail, forums, debate, creative writing pieces and more to facilitate discussion about issues relevant to its members, who are South Asian women (Mallapragada 2007). This functions as a marketplace of ideas, an online place to discuss diverse viewpoints and complex issues. Because membership is determined by interest and a connection to a regional identity as South Asian women, this form of community can be especially powerful. functions as an identity construction mechanism as women use the community it creates and the perspectives it delivers as a lens to view their own identity as South Asian women. Because it crosses state and national boundaries, SAWNET illustrates the value of a social network that runs beyond the boundaries of geography.

The Internet can also be a place for minority groups that are traditionally marginalized within the public sphere to build community and forge relationships. For example, research by David Parker and Miri Song examines 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, and, among others, have become "accessible public platforms for the articulation of British Chinese viewpoints" (Parker and Song 2007). These sites, among others offer a new dimension of informal public space and, like patients online communities can provide both a source of information and a network of support. The ability to transcend geographic boundaries is also important for British Chinese young people who are spatially dispersed. British Chinese Online, for example, has over 7 million hits each month and over 8,000 registered members (Parker and Song 2007). The opportunity for ongoing dialogue in the context of a real-time forum makes this web site an extremely powerful tool for building community.

Blogs and a Pluralistic Democracy

The Internet has also proven a powerful tool for civic engagement through the use of web logs (blogs). These blogs have contributed to a multi-dimensional media environment that promotes democratic engagement (Kerbel and Bloom 2005). At a basic level, the emergence of blogging allows numerous voices to be heard on issues. According to former blogger and Washington Post journalist, Emily Messner, blogs have impacted society by providing more voices, more accountability for large news organizations and increased speed to enable real-time dialogue (2007). Because blogs are accessible, searchable, and free, they are extremely easy to monitor. The ability of news organizations, political candidates or even individuals to determine the pulse of a specific issue has been greatly facilitated by the Internet. Rather than performing extensive content analysis of the primary news outlets (print, television and radio), one can simply google or search for specific terms on blogspot, for example. The searchability of blogs enables them to be a powerful tool for galvanizing opinions and amplifying voices.

A blog can function as a "watchdog" of traditional power structures. This role has been seen in numerous political situations where bloggers amplified and exploded current events and key issues. For example, CBS news consultant Dotty Lynch pointed to the effectiveness of conservative bloggers in bringing down Harriet Meyers as a candidate for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (American Forum 2007). According to the campaign director of, Adam Green, the "Internet is tearing down political power structures in our country." His site, with its estimated 3.3 million members is geared toward activating political movement on the left of the political spectrum (American Forum 2007). Another blog, entitled Blog for America features postings that "are a portal to an entirely different world, where people feel engaged in politics and policy, are motivated to take action in the name of a political cause, and believe those actions will make a difference" (Kerbel and Bloom 2005). Unlike traditional news, these and other political blogs rely on comments for their vitality and can be extremely interactive. This enables readers of blogs to be active participants in civic dialogue rather than be passive spectators in a television-centric environment (Bichard 2006).

In addition to providing additional sources for worldview construction, blogs have become hugely important to political campaigns. Especially in the 2004 presidential campaign, blogs were used with incredible intentionality and purpose. According to Shannon Bichard, "blogs have the ability to connect politics with individuals by articulating how and why politics matters to us" (2006). Bichard suggests that blogs were activated to reinforce party frames during the 2004 campaign. Candidates use online avenues to strategically frame themselves on a variety of media platforms (Bichard 2006). The Internet is so essential to both political parties that both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention have created director-level positions to manage the party's online image (American Forum 2007). Many political analysts suggest that the online presence of current candidates will play a crucial role in their efficacy in the election (American Forum 2007).

Beyond these domestic-policy-oriented blogs, other blogs have enhanced Americans' understanding of the world. Messner has observed the value of blogging from war zones and disaster areas. In these instances, individuals can share compelling narratives with the world (2007). These narratives have become even more important as traditional outlets have shrinking budgets for reporting abroad and are steadily decreasing inch space for foreign articles (Hamilton and Jenner 2004). This reflects the ability of blogs to break down walls and enable a global sense of community amid international crises.


These three areas of analysis provide insight into the primary community-enhancing functions of the Internet. First, the Internet has changed the way community members acquire information, by providing free and searchable content. POCs provide in-depth information on a host of medical issues while minority groups' web sites offer information on specific and relevant issues. Similarly, political blogs provide information on political candidates and otherwise ignored political situations. Because this information is free, it breaks down economic barriers to getting medical, legal and political information. Fewer barriers can lead to more integration of individuals from varying socioeconomic backgrounds into communities.

Beyond their function as an information source, these forms of Internet community all facilitate interactive dialogue that is key to maintaining a vibrant community. This reflects the role of the Internet in facilitating "persistent and ongoing interactions" that Rodgers and Chen identify as a component of communities (2005). This interactivity leads to a level of civic discourse that is valuable and necessary to a healthy democracy. The computer mediated synchronous and asynchronous discourse facilitates understanding and involvement. This interaction can also help individuals with chronic illnesses to cope and create support networks.

Additionally, these forms of online interaction enhance democracy. Web sites reflecting the views of immigrants and refugees allow ethnic minority voices to be heard. In the context of political minorities, blogs enable citizens to take on the role of political watchdogs and challenge traditional power structures. Because the Internet has had a powerful impact on presidential politics and foreign policy, it will indirectly shape how both the Internet and community are allowed to function in the future.

Finally, the Internet most significantly enhances community and builds social capital because it allows the development of relationships and interpersonal interactions across geographic boundaries. As stated, this is crucial to the efficacy of POCs, whose members are physically dispersed but can gather in an online space. Minority cyber-communities, such as those for British-Chinese youth and South Asian American women, also function across state boundaries, enabling the development of powerful community-building and identity construction. In the same manner, political blogs can make interaction between Americans from a variety of geographical backgrounds possible.

These four key positive impacts highlight the way the Internet has been used in recent years to enhance the ideal of community that Bott identified in the 1950s, where individuals are freed from geographic boundaries as they build community and interpersonal ties. In this manner, the Internet can enhance existing social relationships and facilitate new social relationships. Instead of following in the trend of wishing for the glory days of harmonious community, it is beneficial to look for opportunities to use the Internet as a tool to develop a closer and warmer type of community both on and offline. By embracing and expanding upon these forms, we can forge community in the global village of tomorrow.


Bott, E. (1957). Framing and Social Network. London: Routledge.

Bichard, S. (2006). "Building Blogs: A multi-dimensional analysis of the distribution of frames on the 2004 presidential candidate web sites." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. Vol. 83, No. 2, 329-345.

Elias, N. (1974) "Towards a Theory of Communities." The Sociology of Community. ed. Bell, Colin and Howard Newby. London: Routledge. xiii.

Ferguson, T. (2000) "Online patient-helpers and physicians working together: A new partnership" British Medical Journal, 321, 7269: 1129.

Hall, J., moderator. (2007) "From Grassroots to Netroots: The Impact of the Internet and Other Media Technologies on Politics." American Forum. NPR. WAMU, Washington, D.C. 14 November 2007.

Hamilton, J. M. and Jenner, E. (2004). "Redefining Foreign Correspondence." Journalism. Vol. 5.
Hardey, M. (2001) "'E-health': the internet and the transformation of patients into consumers and producers of health knowledge." Information, communication & society 4(3): 388-405.

Josefsson, U. (2005) "Coping with illness online: The case of patients' online communities." Information Society, Vol. 21, No. 2, 143-153.

Kerbel, M. R., and Bloom, J. D. (2005) "Blog for America and civic involvement." The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, Vol. 10, No. 4, 3-27.

Lee, D. and Newby, H. (1983) The Problem of Sociology: an introduction to the discipline, London: Unwin Hyman.

Mallapragada, M. (2006) "Home, homeland, homepage: Belonging and the Indian- American Web." New Media & Society, Vol. 8, No. 2, 207-227.

Messner, E. (2007) Lecture. American University, Washington, D.C. 15 October 2007.

Parker, D. and Song, M. (2007) "Inclusion, Participation and the Emergence of British Chinese Web sites." Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. Vol. 33, No. 7, 1043-1061.

Rodgers, S., & Chen, Q. (2005). Internet community group participation: Psychosocial benefits for women with breast cancer. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10(4), article 5.

Team Reinforcers
Glued To Our Screens: How the Internet Hinders Community

by Anna A.

Team members: E. Feuerbach, A. Geisler, J. Musumeci, & A. Romano

The Internet for today's younger generation is embedded into their lives. The Internet is something expected to be seen in classrooms, homes, and even libraries around the world. With each day, we grow more dependent on the computer. Technology is advancing at rapid speeds, and the world is expected to keep up. Even words like "Google" and "the net" have become common knowledge. Many people may argue that the Internet connects million of people worldwide, which increases community. They say the Internet helps maintain old relationships strong and enhances new relationships. Although the Internet does do those things, it actually harms community more then it helps it. In this paper I will show how the Internet actually hinders community by making people socially isolated and distant.

Using the internet allows a person to spend countless hours in a virtual reality, when they should actually be using that time in their real communities they live in. Studies conducted with youth of this generation have shown that "the line separating real and virtual communities is often fluid and permeable. For these participants 'real' communities were those that existed offline. The internet often helped them to develop, manage, and grow these communities, but the communal experience existed firmly in the offline world" (McMillan, 2006, p. 82). I will argue that community must be fostered with face-to-face contact, not through the internet.

What Is Community?

In order to understand why the Internet is harming the sense of community, community first must be defined. Over time, the definition of community has changed to fit technological advances. But the true definition of community is a set of populations "cohabiting a bounded environment with finite resources" (Kayany & Yelsma, 2000, p.217). Community can be seen as "most conventional approach related to people sharing a geographical area" (Crow, 2007). In this way, communities form relationships where everyone knows everyone else. These relationships therefore are more intimate and close because of the face-to-face contact.

This seems vastly different than the newer definition of the word community. According to a recent Pew report, community is now defined as "oriented around geographically dispersed social network...people communicate and maneuver in these networks rather than being bound up in one solidary community" (Wellman, 2006, p. i). But, this view is not healthy for the close bonds that we get only through the traditional definition of community. In the study conducted by Sally J. Mcmillan entitled "Coming of Age With The Internet," she shows through a series of essays "the potential downside of communities defined by technology and interests, rather than geography and relationships" (McMillan, 2006, p 82). A participant named Lisa commented on the new virtual communities saying, "This type of community should not replace basic social interaction. We cannot become glued to our computers and forgo all other human contact" (McMillan, 2006, p. 82).

The Internet is not like real life. We cannot create virtual communities and say that they are similar to real communities. It is very easy to be anonymous on the Internet, which causes many problems. On the Internet, "even when using one's real name one is relatively anonymous when interacting with people from other cities and countries (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.60). This is a topic that needs to be considered. In traditional communities, people knew each other by their names and faces. This is because there is so much face-to-face contact between cohabitants of the community. However, a person on the Internet can use a hidden identity which can lead to many problems like on social networking sites which I will address later. It also must be noted that on the Internet people can "construct and reconstruct their identity in numerous ways on the Internet--something not possible for the average individual in non-Internet life" (Bargh & Mckenna, 2006, p 60). Thus, people are engaging in behaviors that they would not do in a typical community. They can act in ways that are very different than they would in a real world community.

In the following sections, I will address how the Internet impacts social capital and time spent in communities. I will then show how there is time displacement on the Internet, which leads to social isolation and an absence of social cues. I will also review how cyberbalkanization occurs on the Internet because users can search for like minded people rather than diversifying themselves. I will then show how the Internet hinders community across specific examples using social networking sites, online dating sites, and virtual communities.

Social Capital & The Internet

Social capital is a concept "broadly referring to the ways people connect through their networks, common values within these networks such as trust and reciprocity, and how this constitutes a resource that equates to a kind of capital" (Edwards, 2007). It is also the network and resources people have in their communities to help solve problems. It is comprised of things like trust, knowledge, friendship ties, activity in the community, and so forth.

In Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone, he asks, "whether virtual social capital" is itself a contradiction in terms" (Putnam, 2000, p.170). The Internet is changing the concept of social capital. The truth is that the "internet may be diverting people from true community because online interactions are inherently inferior to face-to-face interactions" (Wellman, 2001, p. 439). Ties online are not as complex as offline relationships and do not provide the same sense of support you can get through face-to-face interactions. The Internet also competes with time for other community activities in a day. The Internet can "draw people's attention away from their immediate physical environment because when they are online they pay less attention to their physical and social surroundings" (Wellman, 2001, p 439). Thus, this is another way in which the Internet detracts from social capital and time spent in a community.

Cyberbalkanization and Time Displacement

The Internet allows people to seek out others who are very similar to them. In this way individuals can "easily find other who share highly specialized interests" (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.66). The Internet therefore is used to just reinforce one's current beliefs and feelings rather them become more diverse through face-to-face encounters in traditional communities. This causes problems because in the real world, people are vastly different than us. We have to be able to deal with different people and situations, and the Internet does not prepare us for those kinds of situations.

Putnam notes that "the internet allows us to confine our communication to people who share precisely our interests" (Putnam, 2000, p. 177). Ultimately this leads to problems in the real world, where diversity has to be dealt with. As Putnam's article states, "In cyberspace we can remake the world out of an unsettled landscape." (Putnam, 2000, p. 178). However, in the real world we are forced to deal with diversity. Increased communication on the Internet therefore will cause less diverse groups and a narrower group of like minded people. Eventually we will only care about certain things that matter to us and we will "[know] and [care] about less and less" (Putnam, 2000, p. 178).

Another issue with the Internet is time displacement. Real life scenarios require immediate responses to a situation. However, on the Internet, an individual "can take as much time as he or she needs to respond to another person on the Internet" (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.66). This causes problems because a person can carefully craft what they want to say on the Internet, whereas in real life they need to be quick and spontaneous. This poses a problem particularly for the youth of this generation, because they use the Internet all the time. They need to be able to learn the proper skills to react in situations rather than just relying on endless response time through the Internet.

Loss Of Social Cues and Social Isolation

Not only does the Internet decrease time spent in community, but it also leads to a loss of social cues and social isolation. Especially in the youth of today's society, if the amount of time having face-to-face interactions in decreasing, "there may be significant consequences for their development of social skills and their presentation of self" (Brignall, 2005, p.337). Also, "individuals who lack the normative communication, cultural, and civility skills in a society would find it difficult to interact with others successfully" (Brignall, 2005, p.337). The Internet allows individuals to spend countless hours by themselves on the Internet, and they have no need to learn the skills to have face-to-face interactions with others. Thus this poses a problem because of the social isolation. Face-to-face interactions require emotions, quick responses, and gestures that cannot be experienced online. Often times, things can be miscommunicated on the Internet. This causes problems because it gives the individuals "little practice on how to maintain stable relationships in the real versus the virtual world" (Brignall, 2005, p.340). A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon concluded that "the Internet leads to significant increases in loneliness and depression" (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.58). The researchers found that online people "behave more bluntly" than they would face-to-face. Thus, this further proves the loss of social cues online.

Since many misunderstandings occur, "greater hostility and aggressive responses, and nonconforming behavior are more likely to occur in computer-mediated interactions than in interactions that take place face to face (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.61). Also, on the Internet since one is basically anonymous, visual cues and appearance are not present like they are in the real world. This therefore will "alter the course of interactions and relationship formation" (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.61). Without these social cues, which can be ignored using the Internet, people can make themselves seem different online as opposed to the real world. The Internet allows individual to construct themselves in different ways. They can do this because people on the Internet "have no prior conceptions or expectations about the kinds of identities or roles which this person should adhere" (Bargh & McKenna, 2000, p.61). However, this may not be good for community because a person can basically mold themselves into someone they aren't which is not good for society.

Putnam notes that "computer mediated communication transmits much less nonverbal information than face-to-face communication" (Putnam, 2000, p. 175). Non-verbal signs of communication like gestures, emotions, are very important aspects to building relationships. Without these visual cues, the strength of relationship weakens. Therefore, the nonverbal communication on the internet lack the nuances of face to face contact like "eye contact, gestures, nods, body language,, a faint furrowing of the brow, even hesitation measured in milliseconds" (Putnam, 2000, 175). This leads to a lack of trust, and a less strong relationship between the two people in a relationship. These aspects must be present in order to "truly understand what others are communicating to them" (Putnam, 2000, p. 177).

Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites are good to look at when studying the Internet, because many of the users are of the younger generation who use the Internet regularly. Social networking sites are ones in which users build person pages of themselves, where they are able to post pictures, communicate with others, and share personal information. 55% of teens ages 12-17 have used social networking sites like Myspace or Facebook, according to the PEW life reports on Social Networking Websites and Teens (Lenhart, 2007, p. 2). The study also concluded that 48% of those teens visits social networking sites daily (Lenhart, 2007, p. 2). However, these sites are used to reinforce one's current beliefs and values. Often times, users can easily seek out others who are very similar to them, or have similar interests. In this way, they are only reinforcing personally held beliefs or values. They create a very narrow set of friends who all are similar to them. Facebook is often used before college to meet new friends, however, most the "new" friends having something in common with the person and is very different than meeting people in the traditional face-to-face method. When meeting people for the first time, you encounter many different kinds of people, but the Internet allows users to seek out others who are similar to them. This detracts from the diversity of groups that occur in real world communities.

Sometimes an individual on a site will mold themselves to fit in better on these sits. Often times, an individual may "misrepresent themselves by feigning a different gender, skin color, sexual orientation, physical condition, or age" (Brignall, 2005, p.337). This proves how one can simply change to fit in on the Internet. However, as already stated people need to learn diversity and differences because that is the way the real world works.

Online Dating

Online dating is another arena to be looked at when seeing how the Internet hinders community. Services such as E-harmony or allow people to put up personal information and upload pictures and then they can search for others they want to meet. In the article "The Truth About Online Dating" by Robert Epstein, he concluded from studies that, "20% of online daters admit to deception" ( 2007). As already stated, being online allows a person to be anonymous, which can lead to deception. In the article, studies suggest that people use screen names instead of their real names, thus their "ramblings are anonymous and hence not subject to social norms" (Epstein, 2007). Also, as mentioned before the lack of social cues allow people to post whatever they want. Online contact has "no visible communication gestured to keep people's behavior in check" (Epstein, 2007). Therefore this leads to people creating their ideal self rather than their real one.

E-harmony claims that it can match people for long term compatibility. However, a team of credible authorities including Philip Zimbardo, former president of the American Psychological Association, said that "there is no evidence that...scientific psychology is able to pair individuals who will enjoy happy, lasting marriages" (Epstein, 2007). Therefore, this shows that this online dating is no better than the traditional meet and greet way of meeting a potential person to date. By having people rely on these websites, it only causes more time spent on the Internet, when people should really be spending their time meeting people in their community.

In the article "How Do I Love Thee?" by Lori Gottlier she talks about the use of Internet dating services. was the first site that appeared in 1995 and people could meet others who shared "their criteria in terms of race, religion, height, weight, even eye color and drinking habits" (Gottlier, 2006, p. 58). These online dating sites "devised special algorithms for relationship-matching, developed sophisticated personality questionnaires, and put into place mechanisms for the long-term tracking of data" (Gottlier, 2006, p. 58). However, this points out how people will just meet people similar to them and not go out and date the old fashioned way. The Internet therefore begins to tailor to their personality types, which is not the way to meet people. Online profiles cannot simply represent what a person is like. The only way to get this is through face-to-face contact.

Virtual Communities

The newest types of communities are "virtual" communities where people can meet others and live a life with them through The Internet. Although there are not many published journal articles on the subject, the current trends in newspapers and other articles suggest that research will be done on the subject soon. These communities however are not good for society. They only take away time spent in the community and the relationships are virtual and not as strong as traditional community relationships.

According to Time Magazine's article "Internet Dating 2.0", a new company iDATE has users "meet, court, virtual date and even marry without ever leaving home or taking to trouble to actually meet your intended" (Gates, 2007). The conference coordinator from iDATE Mark Lesnick said, "people don't have time, do they date online" (Gates, 2007). Another similar company called OmniDate, allows individuals to go to a virtual restaurant with an animated date. "Both parties work keyboards and save thousands of calories on the five-course Italian dinner" (Gates, 2007). You can do everything you would on a date from your home "without abandoning the comfort of your pajamas" (Gates, 2007). However, this service is not good for community. There is no face-to-face contact, and the individuals never even meet. As I have already mentioned, you cannot build strong relationships without social cues and face-to-face contact.


Community was traditionally a place where people interacted face-to-face on a daily basis. In this way, there was a lot of social capital and time spent in the communities. However, when the Internet developed the concept of the community changed. Time spent in community has decreased, and face-to-face interaction is less frequent. Due to this, social capital has decreased over time. Since there is less face-to-face interaction in communities, there is a loss of social cues and people are socially isolated. This puts people on the Internet at risk for acting in ways they normally wouldn't in real communities, and also for being lonely and isolated. The Internet also causes people to seek out others who are like them, and reinforce current beliefs in values. In this way, they are not diversifying themselves but rather they are forming a more like minded group.

Time spent on the Internet takes away from the time spent in real communities. No matter what way it is looked at, interacting on the Internet and in real communities is completely different. Traditional communities are full of diversity, and social capital. On the Internet however, an individual can stay online for hours in their own world never experiencing diversity or much social capital. This can be seen through social networking sites, online dating sites, and in virtual communities. The current research on social networking sites, online dating sites, and virtual communities all point to the detrimental effects that the Internet has on community.

Although the Internet increases communication worldwide, it is not good for society as a whole. If we keep using the Internet as we are, we will slowly turn into a society where there is virtually no face-to-face communication and everyone is socially isolated. It is important to note that face-to-face communication is what strengthens and builds relationships. As a society, we should rely less on the Internet and spend more time in our communities. In this way, we will be able to foster old relationships, diversify ourselves, and create social capital.


Bargh, J.A., & McKenna, K. (2000). Plan 9 from Cyberspace: The Implications of the Internet for Personality and Social Psychology. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4(1), 57-72

Brignall, T.W. & Van Valey, T. (2005). The Impact of Internet Communications on Social Interaction. Sociological Spectrum, 25: 335-348.

Crow, G. (2007). Community. Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology.

Edwards, R (2007). Social Capital. Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology.

Epstein, R (2007). The Truth About Online Dating. Scientific American Magazine.

Gates, V. (2007, January 19). Internet Dating 2.0. Time Magazine.

Gottlieb, L. (2006, March). How Do I Love Thee? The Atlantic Monthly, pp.58-70.

Kayany, J.M. & Yelsam, P. (2000). Displacement effects of online media in the socio-technical context of households. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 44 (2), 215 - 229.

McMillan, S.J., & Morrison, M. (2006). Coming of age with the internet: A qualitative exploration of how the internet has become an integral part of young people's lives. New Media & Society, 73 - 92.

Pew Internet and American Life Project (2007). Social Networking Sites: An Overview. 1-10.

Putnam, R. D. (2000). Against the Tide? Small Groups, Social Movements, and the Net. Bowling Alone: The Collapse d Revival of American Community (pp. 148-180). New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Wellman, B (2001). Does the Internet Increase, Decrease, or Supplement Social Capital?: Social Networks, Participation, and Community Commitment. American Behavioral Scientist, 45. 436-455


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To start things off, Team Social Change makes the point that blogs are the "'watchdog' of traditional power structures." If this generalization is true, are blogs not overly negative and critical? To what extent does this negativity and criticism help strengthen communities? Because it appears these characteristics would actually hurt communities in a traditional sense.

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

Team Social Change says the definition of community is, 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. However, in an article by Bargh and Mckenna which talks about the impact the Internet has on personality and social psychology, they stated that people can construct and reconstruct their identities in order to fit in better in their virtual community. In this way, there is less diversity on the Internet because people can construct themselves in a way to fit in with like minded people and are not finding ways to fit in with a diverse group that they would come across with in a real community. For example, Team Social Change points out that in a community two people who are neighbors often do not have a strong and positive relationship. Although this may be true, it also leads to diversity, which can be avoided on the Internet, and thus hinders community in the traditional sense.

That is an interesting comment, Anna, but I can't agree that it's 100% accurate. As we stated in our presentation, nearly all references from Social Science dictionaries to Webster's to even include some a notation of "shared interests" or "common characteristics" or just an "interacting population" without specifically qualifying location in order to account for internet communities.

In addition, I would argue that, as a community, the internet fosters the most diverse interaction in the world. This is proven, in my view, by the recent debate over net neutrality. Bloggers from all over the world on the political left and right are uniting to make sure their internet access isn't restricted by third parties. In fact, a recent article in The Daily Cardinal (of the University of Wisconsin) is entitled, "Network Neutrality Vital for Diversity of Internet." The article is here if anyone is interested .

Anna A. made a point that the diversity that occurs in geographic neighborhoods does not occur in online communities because people only communicate with like minded others. However, if you look at the geographic neighborhoods around us, you will notice that within each neighborhood, the houses are of similar size and often even style, signifying that the community members are of the same socioeconomic bracket and thus not diverse.

In order to truly break those like minded geographic bubbles, the Internet has become a positive resource and communication tool for people to socialize with others who may have similar interests but who are from different socioeconomic classes, therefore making the conversations and community more diverse. Internet communities are enhancing and expanding overall community and social capital because of how they diffuse social strata and de-emphasizes characteristics of race, age and class and yet still facilitates interaction among these diverse groups of people (Quan-Hasse & Wellman, 2002, p. 3).

By Mollie Jo H. (not verified) on 27 Nov 2007 #permalink

On the topic of online diversity, it is true that many different types of people have Internet access and participate in different types of activities online. However, when you take into consideration the Digital Divide, your argument of socioeconomic diversity is weakened. Those of a lower income and education level have significantly less Internet access than those with a higher income and more advanced education. Younger people also dominate the online world. 84% of Americans age 18-29 go online, compared to 26% of Americans age 65+, according to a Pew Internet Study. Worldwide, the digital divide shows a huge gap between those that are online and those that aren't.

I just thought of another point.

Along with the digital divide, diversity online is diminished in other ways. As Anna said, people participate in groups with values and interests that are very close to their own. While I agree that a community does include people with similar interests, the Internet can heighten this aspect in an unhealthy way. As Allison points out, anonymity online is a factor that makes people feel more comfortable in POC's. However, computer-mediated communication research also shows that this feeling of anonymity leads to a loss of inhibitions and self-identity. Without common social inhibitions, verbal aggression occurs four times as much in online communication as in face-to-face communication. There is also increased polarization because individuals are more inclined to go even further out on a limb when they know theyre not alone in their view(Lengel 2004).

By Anonymous (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

Sorry, those last two posts are mine. I forgot to put in my name.

Team Social Change makes the arguement that blogs are helpful for communities. However I disagree with this statement. As we showed in our presentation, there is no limiting to what is real and what is fake on blogs. People can be following a blog very seriously only to find out later on that all the information on the blogs were false. There are no regulations on blogs. is like a giant blog of information, but there is no control over it. Anyone can change the information written on this website giving it no credability. There is no way people can trust what is written on blogs, like political blogs, and it is easy for people to confuse what is real when reading the information that is posted.

Is anyone else having trouble viewing this blog in IE? On the home page, this article scoots way down on the page to fit under the left-most column. Looks fine in Firefox and looks fine in IE when I went to add this comment.

By Nathan Parker (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

Working on correcting a bug in the html that might be creating the problem in IE. For those having trouble, switch over to Firefox in the short term.


In Joshs post, he mentioned that the Internet fosters the most diverse interaction in the world. Although I agree with his point that sometimes blogs may bring people together as in the article Network Neutrality Vital for Diversity of Internet, blogs also can make people much less diverse as well. In our presentation, we noted that people go on blogs that reinforce their current beliefs and blog with people who share like minded ideas. This therefore will reinforce existing biases they already have. This poses a particular problem for hate groups because people can easily find people who have very strong ideas on a subject/group. Although people in traditional communities can still search out like minded people with the same interests/ideas, the Internet makes it much easier to search out people who are just like them.

After reading Alyssa G's post which claims that anonymity in Patient online communities, people lose common social inhibitions, causing individuals to be more aggressive and go out "on a limb when they know they're not alone in their view," I feel that that argument pertains more towards anonymity of blogs, not of patient online communities. Patient online communities "provide help and support to people in difficult life situations caused by illness or injury" (Josefsson, 2005, p. 147). People who participate in patient online communities are those who are searching for social support and personal experience stories from which they can learn how to manage their own everyday lives.

Those who decide to post anonymous comments often times simply do not feel comfortable publicizing who they are, especially if others do not know of their illness, and so the purpose of allowing anonymous posts is to make everybody feel included in this online community of support. If the point of patient online communities is to create support groups for those who otherwise feel isolated, how does the anonymity factor result in aggressive comments that people would not have said to someone face-to-face? Or in other words, why would there be aggressive comments in the first place in a patient online community?

By Mollie Jo H. (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

In response to Team Reinforcer's statement that social networking sites "only take away time spent in the community and the relationships are virtual and not as strong as traditional community relationships," a survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project determined that "91% of all social networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently" (Lenhart & Madden, 2007, p. 2). Since people most commonly communicate through social networking sites with people they see regularly, the statistic proves that the internet helps to enhance rather than hinder real-world communities because it facilitates further socialization of existing ties, which strengthens those existing loose ties. People use social networking sites as a tool to get to better know people who they have just met. This strengthening of existing real-world relationships is frequently made by conversations ignited over common interests or even opposing interests such as particular bands they like, politicians they support, issues they feel strongly about, or events they plan on attending. Social networking sites can also be used as a way to communicate with friends to schedule a meeting time or coordinate an event so that people can physically meet up more often. Overall, team social change argues that social networking sites are not used to replace real world relationships, but instead are a tool by which people can enhance existing relationships in order to build stronger relationships with their geographic community members.

By Mollie Jo H. (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

In response to the posts about social networking, a key factor to look at is the loss of social cues. Time spent in real communities is important because social cues are things that foster relationships. Putnam defines social cues as factors of face to face communication such as expressions, gestures, timing, and tone of voice (Putnam 2001). It is very easy to sense what someone is feeling when you are face to face, but it is hard to express those emotions online. The feelings expressed online arent as strong as they would be if the people were talking face-to-face because you its hard to convey sarcasm or excitement, and often times online people can misunderstand or misinterpret what someone is saying to them. In our presentation, we brought up the Reduced Social Cues model that stated that the reduction in social cues makes interactions between people much more difficult to manage (Lengel). Therefore the conversation becomes more task focused, less fluid, and less regulated, rather than just being a friendly conversation. Although I see how social networking sites can be a springboard for real world interaction, wouldnt it be better to just have face-to-face contact all the time so we could not have miscommunication and the loss of social cues?

With regards to social networking sites, I see somewhat of a contradiction in what Mollie Jo said. Firstly, she mentions "people most commonly communicate through social networking sites with people they see regularly." Then she makes the point that the social networking sites "strengthen existing loose ties" and are a "tool to get to better know people who [you] have just met."
If the main use of such sites is to communicate with others who people already frequently see, then how can the main use also be to strengthen loose ties between people who have just met? It cannot go both ways.

I would also argue that people often use networking sites to replace phone calls which leads to a loss of social cues, which thus hurts, and does not strengthen, relationship.

On the contrary, Justin, it can go both ways. And it DOES. The Pew Internet & American Life Project discovered the following about how exactly teens use social networking sites:

91% to stay in touch with friends they see a lot
82% to stay in touch with friends they rarely see in person
72% to make plans with friends
49% to make new friends

As you can see, people are using sites like Myspace and Facebook to both enhance AND extend their social networks. They are reinforcing established relationships and discovering new friends, all without the geographical limitations of the past. The internet is revolutionizing the world, and it's doing so for the better.

And for those of you who are thinking that the internet is only revolutionizing the wealthy because of the so-called "digital divide," take a look at this statistic from the same Pew study:

55% of teens with household incomes of less than $50,000 have an online profile, while
56% of teens with household incomes of more than $50,000 have an online profile

Adolescents represent the future of our society. And, based on this study, the future is telling us that the digital divide is soon behind us.

In response to Anna's post, while the internet certainly makes searching out like-minded people easier and could potentially enforce biases, that can be beneficial. We referenced the power of bringing together like-minded people in the in-class debate with regard to political blogs. Ron Paul's website this year brought in a record-breaking $4 million in one day from supporters on the site. These people were drawn into a new community through their political preference and were able to make an impact because of that. Similarly, Howard Dean's Blog for America brought together Dean supporters during his run for the White House nomination. After Dean left the group to serve on the DNC, his blog remained active run solely by its members. The fact that these people were brought together by their common interest clearly demonstrates community.

I can see why in certain situations it can be beneficial to search out like-minded people, but my concern is when searching out like minded people is used for the wrong reasons. People can have extremely polarized and extreme views, and even more so because people can be anonymous when interacting with people from other cities and countries (Bargh & Mckenna, 2000). The problem of anonymity is a huge issue because people can seek out others who share views that are not socially acceptable. Also, if people then spend more time online, this leads to time displacement. They lose the time spent outside in their community on the Internet.

When talking about social networking sites, again we can address the issue of privacy. Because of information posted on sites such as Facebook and MySpace many people have lost jobs, been removed from athletic teams, or have had unwanted information reach people of authority. An example, Eddie Kenney and Matt Coenen were kicked off the Loyola University swim team after officials at the Chicago school found they belonged to a group that posted disapproving remarks about their coaches on Facebook (Brady and Libit 2006). These websites have features that allow members to put up their own photographs. The pictures can be found by anyone in their networks which can be a problem when looking for jobs. Interviewers now go on these sites and look through pictures to see what their future employees are really like. In Matthew Werlein's interview with the director of Career Services at the University of Wisconsin, Jeanne Skoug, she said that she began to hear that employers were looking on Facebook to do research on students who apply for internships and jobs. "It can have an affect on job prospects if there is something inappropriate on (your profile)," Skoug said (Werlein 2006). Although these sites have strong settings that control who can view your profile, people can pretend to be someone they are not, resulting in becoming "friends" with people who you don't really know. It is easy for employers to create fake profiles enabling them to view their employees information.

Josh, those are interesting statistics you posted on the digital divide. To my surprise when reading them, I realized they actually support the divide, not refute it, as you claim.

Showing that teens whose families make both more, and less, than 50,000/yr have [almost] identical access to the internet (56 and 55 percent respectably) made me think there must be a third variable skewing the statistics. After some research, I realized the third variable was teens, based on the following PEW data collected very recently (March, 2007):

Percentage of Internet Users in Various Household Incomes

Less than $30,000/yr, 55%

$30,000-$49,999, 69%

$50,000-$74,999, 82%

$75,000+, 93%.

There are clearly great differences in the internet access of users in different income brackets. These results show in the first study, the teens were online because they were teens, not because of any income differences.

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

I would like to bring up a new topic that Team Reinforcer has not addressed. E-mail. I suppose it was not addressed because every single one of us use e-mail on a daily basis in order to find out what is happening on campus, contact professors and peers, and to keep in touch with family and friends who live far away. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, "e-mail is a tool of 'glocalization.' It connects distant friends and relatives, yet it also connects those who live nearby" (Boase, Horrigan, Wellman & Rainie, 2006, p. iv). The advantages of e-mail are that a large community of people can be contact easily, such as Today@AU, that it can act as a follow up for weekly club meetings, and that it provides a way for people to carry on conversations at different times and at their leisure. E-mail serves as an important medium because of how it assists organization of physical community events, can be used to correspond with weekly face-to-face meetings, and helps to maintain existing social ties at one's own convenience. Since we all use e-mail as our lines of life support as active members in the AU community, it is clear that e-mail helps to enhance community participation, strengthen existing community ties, and uphold past geographic communities.

By Mollie Jo H. (not verified) on 30 Nov 2007 #permalink

Justin, while your data certainly shows that there is a digital divide, I honestly am not suprised. I would expect there to be one, especially in today's world with such dramatic income disparity. The fact that we are trying to prove is that the digital divide is closing, not that it is closed completely. Of course it isn't at zero; I doubt it ever will be. But it is closing rapidly. We can look at past technological examples to prove it. When the telephone was invented and introduced in the late 1800's, hardly anyone used them. In fact, according to the American Journal of Sociology, the telephone took much longer to spread than our more modern technology. In 1900--twenty years after its introduction--less than 2% of homes used the telephone. By 1930--fifty years after introduction--that number was at 41%(Fischer and Carroll, 2). Still, it took fifty years to reach less than 1/2 the population. The internet, conversely, had a much quicker, more complete spread. According to a Pew study, 48% of Americans had internet access in 2000. That's only about decade after the internet's introduction. The internet took 10 years to do what the telephone did in 50. I'd say the divide is closing much faster than it has in the past.

In our presentation, we did bring up how email hurts communities. Through email, there is a loss of social cues which can lead to a weakened relationship. It is stated that the "internet may be diverting people from true community because online interactions are inherently inferior to face-to-face interactions" (Wellman, 2001, p. 439). As I mentioned in my post above, it is difficult to convey expressions like sarcasm, happiness, or disappointment via email. However, in face-to-face contact humans have a remarkable skill of being able to use subtle cues about the presence of others to govern their interactions (Erickson, 2002). Although email may connect people, it is not a good way to strengthen and build relationships.

Anna, consider the blogging boom post-9/11 - on a global level, the world was and continues to connect with people from different backgrounds, countries, religions and viewpoints. We have Americans, Christians, Muslims and Arabs combined, each telling a story that is absent from the mainstream. The flexibility of blogging has enabled the everyday person with the opportunity to be an active participant on a specific issue, often citing sources to disapprove or prove a particular point.

I agree that without the regulation imposed upon blogs it is often difficult to decipher what is fact. However, cites like Wikipedia have begun a strong campaign to incorporate citations and scholarly research into their information rich posts. While skeptics hold no hesitation to criticize blogging as a hub for false information, I would like to point out that the inaccuracies of mainstream media, often considered as the guardians of truthful and unbiased news. Where was the mainstream media when the United States entered the Iraq War? What about the Burma protest? Jena Six? All these cases were broken news stories not by the "regulated" news sources, but by blogs.

We are in an evolutionary state, Citizen Journalists, commonly referred to CJ's are now asking the difficult questions that mainstream media are often afraid to ask. You argue that blogging is portraying false and unregulated information; I argue that mainstream media is doing worse. Blogs provide people the opportunity to enhance their existing sense of community, not because they are reinforcing current beliefs but because it is allowing them to become active participants in numerous diverse networks, often working off the ideas of each other to collectively tell the real stories.

Blogs are continuing to evolve, and make no mistake that it will eventually work side-by-side with traditional media to share information, contest hegemony and enhance existing and new communities.

Ladies and Gentlemen:
Take a breath. While you're probably juggling a few open windows on your desktop right now, so take a look and see what's open? If you're an avid instant messenger you're like the 53 million American adults that use instant messaging as a form to enhance your existing forms of communication (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2004).

Instant messaging frequently referred to as IM has provides a popular avenue for immediate and effective means to develop interpersonal relationships with others. The features of IM is giving millions the ability to talk over the internet, video-chat and even present projects in a real-time setting without the limitation of geographic boundaries. So while you are reading this post, ask yourself how would I be able to speak to someone if they weren't nearby? What if you couldn't afford a long-distance phone call? Staying in contact is important, so what do you do? (IM :-D)

In response to the argument that e-mail hurts community because of the loss of social cues with online interactions, I would like to reiterate that I am not suggesting that e-mail replaces face-to-face interactions not a substitute for offline interactions with those who live near by, but simply that e-mails accompanies face-to-face interaction (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007, p. 6). It also extends to quickly notify a large network of important information, such as if a teacher cancels class that morning, e-mailing the class is the only way for them to know before they get to class, since it would be impossible to call all 50 students. In addition, if you want to notify say group members of a class project about when you all can meet, the information is not urgent and therefore it is unnecessary to call them which would interrupt whatever they are doing. With an e-mail, it allows your group members look through their schedule to find a time, and respond at a time when it is convenient for them to write back. If people use e-mail to accompany offline interactions with those in their geographic community rather than as a substitute, then e-mail is helping to facilitate communication between community members and thus enhancing network ties.

By Mollie Jo H. (not verified) on 01 Dec 2007 #permalink

One topic that has not been brought up is online dating. The problem with these sites is that people can be anonymous, and can lie about their age/weight/etc. on these sites. 20 % of online daters admit to deception (Epstein, 2007). This leads to a lack of social trust because people lie about their personal attributes and when the truth is revealed an individuals trust in the relationship decreases (Lithwick 2007). Also, as we stated in our presentation, individuals in an unhappy marriage can easily seek out new partners online, whereas in a traditional community they would work out the problems. In a traditional community where people meet face-to-face, they cannot lie about their personal attributes, and for the most part people know if the person is married or not. These are issues that must be considered since online dating has become increasingly popular in the past few years.

But Anna, couldn't any of those things occur in face-to-face interaction as well? People go to bars to meet people and are often dishonest about their age, background, lifestyles, and interests.

In his book "The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life" Ralph Keyes cites statistics based on the 2000 Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He finds that 100% of dating couples surveyed lied to each other in at least 1/3 their interactions. Now this could be as simple as saying, "You look great in that dress," but it's still lying. The renowned self-help website hired a company to do their own survey of honesty on dates. They found that 78% of people don't think their companion is being honest with them on a date. (And that's a regular date, not an online date).

The point I'm trying to make here is that, it's not the internet that makes people dishonest; it's the people themselves.

Additionally, I have a big problem with this statement:

"Also, as we stated in our presentation, individuals in an unhappy marriage can easily seek out new partners online, WHEREAS IN A TRADITIONAL COMMUNITY THEY WOULD WORK OUT THE PROBLEMS" (emphasis added).

I don't believe there is any evidence in your paper or out there at all to prove the statement I emphasized. Who is to say that people wouldn't look to cheat in person just as easily? Who said that traditional communities make people more likely to work out bad marriages? So people would cheat less without the internet? That's a huge claim to make without a citation, in my view. I don't deny that people in unhappy marriages can find new partners online (and also in person), but that statement is an unsubstantiated extrapolation of that point.

Alex, I happen to be an avid instant messenger myself, and I agree that it can be fun to use. In fact I have 5 conversation windows open right now, but every time I try to type a word in this post, another IM notification pops up and I have to stop typing to reply to the IM. A post that should be taking me 20 minutes at most to write is taking much longer because of instant messaging. According to blogger Derek Semmler, instant messaging may be impacting your work life balance by reducing your productivity therefore causing you to work longer (Semmlar). Instant messaging often makes things take longer, detracts from other aspects of life, and hurts community.

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

Josh, I dont think anyone would disagree that people make themselves dishonest, not the internet, although I would like to clarify the point Anna made by offering a different perspective on the argument.
No one is to say people won't look to cheat in person just as easily, or that traditional communities make people more likely to work out bad marriages (necessarily). I think the relevant point is that both the internet and dating sites provide a new and easier method for being able to lie and cheat. To offer a comparison, guns do not make people into killers, but they do make it easier to kill. The internet does not make people dishonest, but it definitely makes it easier to be dishonest.
And to provide you with some interesting, Dr. James Houran, Ph.D., a compatibility testing expert and a feature columnist and spokesperson for Online Dating Magazine said:
Some online dating sites actively encourage the particular mindset that happiness is only defined by a marriage, and I believe this promotes premature marriages in an already divorce-saturated society. The one question never answered by online dating sites is How many divorces are associated with your site?
Dating sites measure their success in the amount of marriages they helped create. Therefore it is obviously in their best interests to encourage marriages, which are often premature, as Dr. Houran said. Common sense then explains the rest; premature marriages are probably more likely to end in divorce than well-planned ones.

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

You make a good point, Justin, but consider this: The Boston Globe reported on May 12 of this year that the divorce rate is declining significantly. The article says, "The [divorce] rate, which measures the number of divorces against the total population, peaked at 5.3 per 1,000 people in 1981 and settled at 3.6 in the 12 months prior to September 2006, the most recent data available, according to a May 4 report by US health officials." The article reported that the marriage rate has also declined, though much more subtly "to 7.3 in 2005 from 7.6 the year earlier and 7.7 in 2004" (Lopatto). Now obviously you can point to a million reasons for these two statistics; however, the article specifically talks about people "marrying smarter." They point to people waiting longer to marry, but I also contend that "marrying smarter" can mean using dating sites which match up people with similar interests.

I wouldn't argue that these sites community (you can't always measure chemistry online), but they certainly do EXPAND it. Membership on these sites grows daily, with more people looking to either expand their dating beyond a geographic area, or look for locals online as an alternative to the bar scene (B. Stone, A. Rogers, K. Platt). Indeed, it's tough to argue that online dating ENHANCES community, but it certainly EXPANDS it, thus increasing social capital.

Going back a little bit, I wanted to say that I did not imply anonymity in POC's fostered more aggressive behavior, but anonymity online general does. While it is understandable that this may not come out in POC's, it does in other places online. Putnam notes this, and the common phrase is "flaming." Without social norms to direct them, online users are more likely to resort to extreme language.

Josh, you make a good point that social capital can be expanded through online dating sites. It is simply a fact that there are more people on those sites than you can ever meet in a bar or another social setting.

Looking at the definition of "social capital," found in the Encyclopedia of Sociology, we can see that social capital is "an elegant term to call attention to the possible individual and family benefits of sociability." (Karner)

I would argue that in smaller towns where there might only be a few thousand people, internet dating sites CANNOT and DO NOT expand social capital. In places where it seems like everyone already knows everyone else, these sites probably do not help "add sociability" to an individual because there is no possible sociability to add.

The same holds true for very large cities, such as my home in New York City. With 8 million people no further than a short train ride away, New York presents the most social atmosphere possible. Dating sites could possibly help you find people you have not met yet, or if you are looking for a specific type of person not commonly found in your neighborhood(like an Orthodox Jew or Muslim) specific sites can help (like With unlimited social possibilities in New York City, it is hard to imagine dating sites can add much.

I find dating sites probably work best in mid-sized towns, or as mentioned above, where people are looking for specific characteristics in a partner.

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

In addition to the Internet leading to anonymity online, it also poses a problem for our generation who are basically hooked to the Internet. As I stated in my paper if the amount of time spent having face-to-face interactions is decreasing then there may be significant consequences for the youths development of social skills and presentation of their self identity (Brignall, 2005). I think we can all agree that our world is increasingly fast paced, and the Internet allows for more time to be spent working, talking to friends, or just playing an interactive video game. Although people may say this is a good thing, our team is pointing out that this in fact will have consequences in the future. Although the consequences may not be apparent right now, if we keep going at the rate we are going, how will an individual learn to balance and maintain stable relationships in the real world and the virtual world? (Brignall, 2005).

Justin made the point that often times instant messaging may reduce your productivity at work, and makes things take longer. I couldnt agree more. I stopped using instant messenger a while ago because I started to realize that I would call my friends from home less and just instant message them. Also, Im sure at least a few of you have seen or heard of roommates who are in the same room and talk on instant messenger instead of conversing when they are in the same room. I cant really see how anyone can make the point that helps to strengthen a relationship. Also, there is a social engagement theory that states that individuals, may be drawn to mediated interactions because of their ease, lack of risk, and immediate gratification, but that these interactions may be less rewarding over the long term (Green and Brock 2003). In a study conducted by these researchers they concluded that, IM use was associated with feeling that one used the Internet too much, and reduced life satisfaction (Green and Brock 2003). The use of IM therefore decreases time spent in community, and takes away from face-to-face interaction which is important for fostering and maintaining relationships.

Justin, could you elaborate on how online dating sites would not work in a small town? I think I understand what you're trying to say--that small town residents have made every connection there is to make and have likely met everyone already--but I'm not sure it supports your argument. From my understanding, this is just another facet of socializing that these sites enable. Small town residents are able to seek out people in other areas, perhaps the next town over or the nearest bigger city, and have the choice of pursuing these relationships. Whereas a person may otherwise resort to staying in an unstable relationship simply because they feel restricted by their local boundaries, online dating sites enable them to explore a little more and perhaps find another potential relationship that may serve them far better. I'm certainly not saying that this is how it always works, but I do think that online dating sites facilitate further interaction rather than hindering it.

Based on Anna's paper, Team Reinforcers seems to agree that social capital explains how people connect through their networks and the benefits that people gain from their relationships with others in their community. These benefits include emotional support, interpersonal trust, norms of reciprocity, knowledge, and social networking which can result in resources for life. These aspects of social capital become exceedingly important when looking for a job. I know of all the bartending jobs I applied for this summer, the only place that actually responded to my resume and hired me was a place where I knew someone because they were able to recommend me to the manager. One way in which people can activate or re-activate existing linkages with people in order to expand one's social network and create a larger community of resources is through social networking sites (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007, p. 4).

Social networking sites, in particular Linked provides working professionals with a way to find colleagues, co-workers, and acquaintances by creating networks of fellow business professionals in order to expand their resources. Even Facebook has a section where you can list where you work, which is a valuable resource for you and your friends because if one of your friends is looking to work say with the same organization you were at last summer, you can advise them or put in a recommendation for them. This being said, social capital is clearly being created within social networking sites, and so the internet is providing another means for people to create communities of resources, which shows how the internet helps to expand and make use of our existing communities.

By Mollie Jo H. (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

I also agree that social capital explains how people connect through their networks and the benefits that communities gain from individual effort. While doing research for my paper I found strong evidence SUPPORTING the use of internet to strengthen social capital. A Pew study compared online community participants with non-participants in the context of face-to-face community participation, (Dutta-Bergman). Of those who participated in the online community postings of thoughts, 34.1% attended meetings regarding the attacks and the aftermath where as of those who do not participate in the online community of postings only 12.6% attended meetings. Of those who participated in posting, 48.8% volunteered in some way to help the relief where only 18.6% of those who did not post volunteered. Those who posted had written the newspaper, given blood and signed petitions more than those who did not post online. Those who posted online and contributed to the online community were more likely and did go out into their actual communities to support and volunteer. In this case the internet is helping create social capital that carries out into the physical community.

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

What about people who are using this information on social networking sites for negative purposes. Parents and law-enforcement agencies worry that predators can use the information to contact vulnerable teens. 1 in 5 children have been approached sexually on the Internet (Fitzpatrick 2006). It is easy for sexual predators to access websites such as MySpace and discover information about young girls and boys. Even if the victims are not putting their real information on their profiles it is easy for predators to look at their friends profiles and find the the real information. The Internet makes it very easy for sexual predators to achieve their goals and to go unnoticed because they can create fake names and information on the Internet.

No online community can support human bonding the way real-world communities do (Clifford 1996). Clifford said that what's missing from an Internet community is "a feeling of permanence, a sense of location, a warmth from the local history. Gone is the very essence of a neighborhood: friendly relations and a sense of being in it together. Some studies have found that Internet usage pulls people away from their real-world friends and family and isolates the user. Research by Stanford University's Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society (SIQSS), for example, finds that Internet use directly relates to social isolation. Based on survey findings, for every hour a person spends online, their face-to-face time with family and friends decreases by 23.5 minutes (Hanson 2005).

I want to agree with the other Alyssa. The increase of social isolation because of the Intenet is a pretty strong argument for the reinforcers. In fact I found survey results that suggest 41 minutes an hour were lost with family and friends when teens were on social networking sites. A majority believe that they spend too much time personally online (Lenhart).

Alyssa I do agree with your reference to Clifford that internet does not have the same bonding effect to replace a physical community. We as team social change do not believe internet should replace community rather it should enhance it. I believe my previous argument regarding involvement online and in the community after 9/11 is still valid in demonstrating that a large amount of people who posted on an online community did not participate solely in the virtual community. After posting online many people went out into the physical community to aide one another. People who were involved in the online community participated more than those who did not participate online.

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

As Wellman argues in "Community: From Neighborhood to Network" the computerization of community (CMC) makes it easy to contact neighbors, and is the media by which people arrange things and fill in the gaps between meetings (2005). Frequently, we use IM, social networking sites, email and other Internet driven mediums to communicate with friends, family or relatives. We establish meetings, coordinate group projects and discuss our daily events in a medium that provides both the greatest utility, while enhancing our existing relationship(s). It is important to recognize the limitations of face-to-face communication, while accepting the advantages of the Internet, not only as a communication tool, but also as a resource to our time-pressured lives. We live in an era that is operating at hyper-speed, given such demands meeting face-to-face is sometimes impossible given geographic location, time and resources, not to mention financial restraints. Given these circumstances, the Internet supplies mediums that serve as appropriate substitutes and enhancers to the traditional forms in which we communicate.

I agree with Alyssa R's post about social networking sites. 49% of teens on social networking sites say they use social networking sites to meet new people (Smith, 2007). Sometimes people can fake their identities and this causes a problem for sexual predators. It has been noted that those who have posted photos of themselves and created profiles on social networking sites are more likely to have been contacted online by people they do not know (Smith, 2007). Although people may say that strangers can talk to others in face-to-face contact and be anonymous and therefore, it is very easy to talk to strangers through social networking sites.

Alyssa, you make the argument that "for every hour a person spends online, their face-to-face time with family and friends decreases by 23.5 minutes" (Hanson 2005). But doesn't the Internet serve as an excellent planning tool to enhance existing social ties? According, to an Internet Pew Research Study in 2007, 72% of all social networking teens use the sites to make plans with friends and 49% use the sites to make new friends. In both of these instances we have the Internet serving as an enhancer to face-to-face communication, something that arguably could never have been planned without the efficiency and convenience provided through the Internet. While a fair majority, (72%) of teens use their time to plan face-to-face meetings then isn't the Internet actually enhancing the time we spend with our friends? After all, if we didn't have the Internet to make plans with friends than meeting would simply be out of the question.

I agree with your data that 72% of teens use social networking sites to plan face-to-face meetings. However, I don't think you've proven this is an ENHANCEMENT of community. Isn't it rather a reinforcement? Teens use social networking sites to plan meetings with an existing community, reinforcing the physical community in the subsequent social activity. If we are on the same page, the community already exists, and without the Internet it would use other means of planning social interaction. It seems to me the Internet does not enhance their ability to meet in person, but rather reinforces their existing community with just another way to coordinate a meeting. With this in mind I'm not sure I understand your final comment.

I wanted to bring up a point from Team Social Change's paper that I've been thinking about. Allison says medical web sites have "become a useful tool for doctors as they can direct patients to the site for more in-depth information on their condition and specific treatment options." This doesn't relate to community as much as medical ethics, but do you really think it is either a good idea or necessary for doctors to direct their patients online for the information they need about their condition?

I also agree that 72% of teens use social networking sites to plan meeting in person. But, Alexs final comment was if we didn't have the Internet to make plans with friends than meeting would simply be out of the question. What did people do before there was the Internet? I feel that that comment shows how the sense of traditional community is being lost, and that the Internet is only isolating us more from the people in our community. Also Alex, 49% of people may use the Internet to meet new people, but what about people who are lying about their true identities? I dont believe that enhances community.

What about shopping online? This tool that is thought to be a convience has more dangers than benefits. According to Gartner(2000), U.S. e-commerce fraud losses in 2001 exceeded $700 million, constituting about 1.14 percent of the $61.8 billion in total online sales. That ratio was 19 times higher than the fraud rate for traditional in-store transactions, which hovered at less than one-tenth of 1 percent during the same time period, Gartner said. Since the e-commerce era began in the mid-1990s, Gartner estimates that one in every six online consumers has been victimized by credit-card fraud, and one in 12 has been hit with identity theft.

Alyssa, I think you misunderstood my position, so let me clarify. My argument is the Internet is allowing us to enhance existing ties, obviously reinforcing relationships that were established prior. We are on the same page that the community already existed before this particular Internet contact; however, I do not agree that "without the Internet (we) would use other means of planning social interaction," considering the circumstances that those options are not available. The high cost of long distance phone calls, or even traveling in person can put a severe economic hardship on a relationship. Therefore, our social ties can loosen or fail as a result.

If we are on the same page, a) our social ties are being reinforced with a pre-established network b) such ties are being enhanced because we are meeting more frequently given the opportunities provided under the Internet and c) such relationships are translating to a face-to-face setting. These arguments point in one direction: the Internet is enhancing our existing community, not replacing it.

My teammates have done a great job talking about ways the internet (and people who are using the internet) can do great damage and hurt communities through time displacement, credit card fraud, and sexual predators online. Another way the internet is hurting communities is actually through viruses and other spyware. Over the last two years, consumers have paid as much as 7.8 BILLION dollars to repair and replace computers infected with viruses and spyware (Hart).
Phishing scams, which are fake emails and websites prompting people to enter their passwords or credit card numbers, increased five-fold between 2004 and 2005, costing people an average of $850 per incident. (Hart)
As internet criminals get more advanced and sophisticated, there will only be newer and worse problems afflicting internet users, stealing their time, their money, and their social trust, and hurting the communities as a whole that we live in.

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

Molly, I dont think dating sites are as effective in small towns because in those types of towns, it seems like everyone knows everyone else already. If you already know (or know of) everyone, then why use a dating site to meet them [again].

I would also like to draw everyone's attention to the following website. It shows the problems with dating sites are growing very quickly:

The Mission of the Dating Association is "to drive greater protection for all users of online dating sites against any form of harm, fraud or misrepresentation and to highlight online dating sites that fall short of the industry standards."

Apparently, the problems with lying, cheating, and fraud online are so great that they needed to start an internet "watchdog" to look after the industry. Clearly dating sites are very, very problematic.

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

I wanted to add another statistic for Justin's post. 20% of people on online dating sites ADMIT to lying in some way. That is a very substantial number, and when taken into consideration with those who do not admit to lying on dating sites the number could be significantly larger. Maybe some people meet their one matches on dating sites, but other people are hurt and made even more cynical (think Miranda in Sex in the City, but in real life). Are aspects of community and social capital enhanced while simultaneously being harmed?

I'm still not sure if I understand what you are saying, Alex. Does the 72% statistic refer to people planning get togethers across long distances? Locally, it seems there are still plenty of way to coordinate meeting face-to-face.

I agree that our preexisting community is reinforced online - that is, traditional social ties are being supported in a new way, on the Internet. However, I don't believed they are enhanced or strengthened online. It's true that the Internet is a great way to organize face-to-face meetings, but other factors such as time displacement and social isolation can take away from the Internet's benefits at the same time.

The internet can be a great way to organize face to face meetings, but it isn't always. For someone without high-speed internet, it can be tedious and time-consuming to have to constantly sign online (which takes forever with dialup) and check for messages to reply back and forth. I would argue that without high speed internet, the process is inefficient unrealistic. The number of US subscribers to broadband and high-speed Internet service was just 32.3 percent in 2006 (Internet World Stats, 2007). This is significant because high-speed users have many more capabilities on the Internet than dialup users. The difference between high-speed and dialup is creating a drastic divide.

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

Alex M., the arguement that you're making is that the Internet helps enhance community ties. But now that we have the Internet, the new generations are going to the Internet FIRST, not face to face contanct, for community support. If we continue on this track, the idea of community that we beleive in will be diminished. The Internet is helping the community relations from older generations, but what about the up and coming generations?

I would like to share some information from Jonathan Gershuny, a sociologist at the University of Essex that will help support our argument. After conducting a survey which examined Internet use with social activity, Gershuny determined that online access to friends, theaters, group discussions in so-called chat rooms and so on makes it easier to arrange social get-togethers of all sorts. He also concluded his argument stating, the Internet makes going out more efficient, and so we might be tempted to do more of it (Bower, 2002). Its important to note the large collection of data and scholars that support the positive effects the Internet has in shaping both our on and off-line environment.

In response to Alyssa R., when people look for community support, the internet and face-to-face contact go hand in hand with one another. Although face-to-face contact is ideal, especially for emotional support, often times the people who we are closest with do not live nearby. With the boom of the internet, geographic boundaries no longer result in community isolation from friends and family. By sending IMs, Facebook messages, and e-mails, I know I am able to keep close connections with my friends and family who live far away. A Pew Internet and American Life Project study found that "people who e-mail the vast majority (80-100%) of their core ties weekly are in phone contact with 25% more of their core ties than non-emailers" (Boase, Horrigan, Wellman & Rainie, 2006, p. iv). This proves how e-mail and the use of the e-mail is enhancing and encouraging other forms of communication rather than replacing it, and future generations will continue to use the internet as a supplemental form of communication in addition to face-to-face community support.

By Mollie Jo H. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

Extending more of what I posted earlier regarding cyber-crime and fraud, more than 90 percent of the corporations and government agencies responding to a survey reported computer-security breaches in 2001(Hansen 2002). Hackers and con-artists commit many cyber-crimes like using the Web to perpetrate auction fraud, identity theft and other scams. Credit-card users are only liable for the first $50 of fraudulent charges, but financial institutions get hit hard. Identity thefts cost them $2.4 billion in losses and expenses in 2000. (Hansen 2002) The Internet is making these crimes more accessible to the wrong kind of people.

With the definition of community transforming from the previous spatially defined neighborhoods to now encompass the online social networks of people as well, Team Social Change declares that: "Communities are networks of interpersonalities that provide sociability, support, information, a sense of belonging, and social identity" (Wellman, 2005, p. 53). With the addition of online networked communities to the existing face-to-face communities, people are now able to easily bond with others who share certain interests, rather than just with their neighbors and colleagues. Having conversations with neighbors can sometimes be awkward because you may have nothing in common; however, if you were to go on say a music blog, you would be able to find a network of people who share the same passion for a particular band, and so you would immediately have something to talk about with them. By creating this community of common interests, in constructs stronger ties then those you would have with a neighbor of whom you have nothing in common with and you only wave and say "hi" to every once in a while. Therefore, online communities are a valued addition to the original definition of community because it allows people to expand their network of friends as well as develop deeper relationships with those who they enjoy talking to.

By Mollie Jo H. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

Regarding online dating, one important issue to look at is safety. According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project report in 2005, 66% of Internet users beleive that online dating is a dangerous activity beause it puts personal information on the Internet. Only 6% percent of the people using online dating sites feel that the websites do an excellent job of protecting people's information compared to 45% who say that the websites do a fair or poor job. When you meet someone in a bar or another social setting you don't immediately give them all your information. You feel them out, get to know them first. Using online dating websites provide at the information before you get to even know the person.

Going off what Mollie said, the definition of community is changing. We can focus on the traditional, location-based definition, but only if we ignore the fact that the world is expanding every day. If we go by that definition, how can we define such common terms as the "academic community" or the "science community" both of which span the nation and indeed the world. They are comprised of people with similar interests and expertise, but who may not live even remotely near eachother. The traditional definition simply doesn't hold up to these new communities.

One of the attractions of the Internet is the anonymity of the user, and this is why it can be so dangerous. A child doesn't always know with whom he or she is interacting. Sexual predators can use the Internet, with no precautions, to exchange names and addresses of other pedophiles and of potential child victims. The most common means by which sexual predators contact children over the Internet is through chat rooms, instant messages and email. 89% of sexual solicitations were made in either chat rooms or instant messages and 1 in 5 youth (ages 10-17 years) has been sexually solicited online (JAMA 2001)

An issue that hasn't really been brought up yet is pornography. Social networking sites like MySpace have been used to enhance the amount of pornography found on the website. MySpace acts as a forum for many people, especially youth, to advertise obscene behavior, pornography, and child pornography. Although MySpace has dedicated 1/3 of its entire staff to insuring safety (Smith 2006), it remains questionable whether the site which includes porn star web profiles among its changing and growing 76 million profiles can ever adequately protect youth from crime or limit obscenity. Team Social Change argues that these sites are used to help enhance social ties, so are we enhancing social ties between children and pornstars and sexual predators?

Molly, while the Earth is indeed expanding, I do not understand how you can say there is no territorial criteria to the definition.

In a 1955 content analysis of nearly 100 various definitions of community, George Hillary discovered basic consensus on only three definitional elements: social interaction between people, one or more shared ties, and an area of context (Gunnar).

How can I be in the same community as a band of Eskimos in Alaska? or a nomadic tribe in Africa? when we share no common traits or bonds. The world cannot be a whole community.

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

Another point on the idea of communities spanning the whole world, only 18.9% of the world has internet access (PEW). Therefore, if we are counting the whole world as a community, then the "digital divide" Putnam mentions is even more pertinent to our argument.

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

Justin, I did not say the entire world was a community. If you read the post again, I said that people with the same interests are not necessarily located in the same area. Your statement about being in the same community as "a band of Eskimos in Alaska or a nomadic tribe in Africa when we share no common traits or bonds" supports that. I would not consider you to share a community with them if you did not share interests, common traits, etc. That's exactly what I was stating. Team Social Change has defined community in several comments above, emphasizing that shared interests, not simply location, are criteria for community.

With regard to the digital divide, I think we've made it clear that we're not arguing that there is no digital divide. Your statistic supports this, and I agree that the majority of the world lacks internet access, certainly to the level we enjoy here. Our argument is that it is closing rapidly relative to other forms of technology. And, on a side note, I don't think anyone would argue that the whole world is a community in the sense we have discussed. I think it is reasonable to say that a community of individuals with common interests (as per our definition) could potentially have members from around the world.

In Bowling Alone, Harvard Professor Robert Putnam defines social capital. The central idea, according to Putnam (2000), is that "social networks have value." Just as a construction tool is physical capital and education is human capital, so too can relationships act as social capital in society. Social capital increases civic engagement, or "individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern" (American Psychological Association, 2007). This civic engagement directly corresponds with the health of democracy in America (Putnam, 2000).

This begs the question, is the internet democratic? Does it promote democracy? The answer is an overwhelming YES. A 2004 Pew study says it better than I can in its conclusion:

"As wired Americans increasingly go online for political news and commentary, we find that the internet is contributing to a wider awareness of political views during this year's campaign season. This is significant because prominent commentators have expressed concern that growing use of the internet would be harmful to democratic deliberation. They worried that citizens would use the internet to seek information that reinforces their political preferences and avoid material that challenges their views. That would hurt citizens' chances of contributing to informed debates. The new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the University of Michigan School of Information survey belies those worries. It shows that internet users have greater overall exposure political arguments, including those that challenge their candidate preferences and their positions on some key issues."

Putting Putnam's theories (on which the whole of the other side's argument is originally based, might I add) together with Pew's surveys produces quite the persuasive argument in my view. Putnam says that a distinctive feature of social capital is that it makes society more democratic, and Pew shows with statistical significance that the internet makes society more democratic. Therefore, the internet MUST increase social capital.

To further strengthen my argument above, let's look deeper into this 2004 Pew Internet Study which can be found here:

The study concludes that more than 40 percent of those who use the internet have acquired political material via the web during the 2004 campaign, which is a more than 50 percent increase since the 2000 campaign. Perhaps most persuasive is the fact that those surveyed who were staunch supporters of either President Bush or Senator Kerry were MORE likely to have heard MANY arguments about the race, both favoring and opposing their candidate, than those who did not yet strongly support either candidate.

In a recent post, Anna said "In our presentation, we noted that people go on blogs that reinforce their current beliefs and blog with people who share like minded ideas. This therefore will reinforce existing biases they already have." However, there are many scholars who disagree, and much data that DIRECTLY contradicts this statement. This 2004 Pew explicitly shows that the people with the most narrow-minded views, in fact, do NOT simply log onto sites that they agree with. Pew found that the most partisan users are CLEARLY paying attention to all of "the back-and-forth of the campaign," not reinforcing their own views.

And it's simply rational. Why would the people who are most sure of their beliefs need to reinforce their own views? That's just common sense.

The Cyber-Optimists' paper states that "Since online interactions are an addition to offline relations, the Internet should not be evaluated in comparison to traditional forms of community but in terms of its positive or negative contribution to these forms". If we are to think of the debate in that way, it can still be strongly argued that community is hurt by the internet. Take, for example, one study found that �the more time they sit in front of a computer screen, the less time they have for interacting directly with family and friends� (Hillygus & Nie, 2002, p. 2). Clearly face-to-face interactions, an important part of a "traditional" community, are becoming less common.

By Elizabeth F. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

Social capital is developed through community involvement, trust between community members, and each individual's satisfaction of being part of the community. According to the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, social capital "is referring to the ways people connect through social networks, common values within these networks such as trust and reciprocity, and how this constitutes a resource that equates to a kind of capital" (Edwards, 2007). In other words, social capital explains the benefits that people gain from their relationships with others in their community.

In order to break the dependence on one's geographic location for community, the internet has provided sources which help create new communities over shared interests, maintain existing social ties with those who live far away, and provide a support system for people who otherwise feel isolated. Social capital is an important measurement of community, and with the development of online social networks social capital is expanding faster then ever.

By Mollie Jo H. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

I'd like to bring up another example of internet's value for community. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the surrounding area, many forms of communication were cut off. Telephone wires and cell towers were knocked down, which disabled any phone contact for displaced residents. The internet provided a means to communicate with family members and friends during the crisis, and to find out about the situation at home. According to a study done in New Orleans in late 2005, 72% of respondents rated the internet as important or very important to gather specific information on the likely property damage to their homes. 64% rated the internet as important or very important as a means of getting word out to friends of their status. 61% rated the internet as important or very important for gathering specific information on friends. (Procopio & Procopio, 78)

That's a great point, Molly Y. On a separate note, however, I want to bring up again what I believe was the most compelling aspect of Team Social Change's in-class presentation: e-mail.

Michael B. Duggan, of Suffolk University, studied the effects of e-mail on first year college students in 2004. He concluded that "e-mail is a form of social capital that exhibits both bonding and bridging aspects" (p. 5). He says that for transitioning adolescents, e-mail is a perfect way to hold onto past relationships (bond) as well as follow up with new acquaintances that are easily forgotten without the amazing-ness that is the internet (bridge) (p. 13). In our presentation, we talked about enhancing and expanding relationships, which I believe to be exactly what Duggan is touching on here. Though we used different terminology, the meaning is essentially the same.

Furthermore, to show how e-mail can reinforce those already established "traditional relationships" which Putnam (2000) holds so dear, a 2006 Pew study on social ties found that people who e-mail those in their network weekly are in phone contact with 25 percent MORE of those people than non-emailers. Additionally, those who e-mail people in their network weekly see a whopping 50 PERCENT more of those people IN PERSON weekly than non-emailers (p. 5).

This study continues to pile on evidence to show that the internet is ENHANCING our communities, not replacing them. And with enhanced community, comes increased social capital, more civic action, and finally a more secure democracy, which Putnam gushes about in "Bowling Alone."

Right back at you, Josh. And to build on your post, the internet provides a mechanism for creating and maintaining weak ties. Putnam discusses the value of weak ties (he calls them "bridging" ties)--those between people who are more than acquaintances but would not share important information or look to for advice--and Wellman (1992) explains how these ties are more instrumental than core (bonding) ties because they provide information rather than support. The dispersion of information allows individuals to make informed decisions and thus increases social capital. These are the ties that bridge different social groups, unlike core ties which generally are restricted.
According to Kavanaugh, et al. (2005), the internet helps to increase the number of weak ties across social groups in communities with high penetration of the internet.
Beyond serving as information conduits and bridging social gaps, the value of weak ties lies in their ability to be activated into stronger ties. The internet--in the form of social networking sites, email, and instant messaging, to name a few--allows for maintenance of these ties.

To add to my last post, weak ties aren't the only aspect of community and social capital being enhanced through the internet. Alex and Josh both hinted at this. According to a Pew study (2006), core ties are also being activated and maintained. The study concluded that internet users have the same number of core ties as non-internet users, but have a greater number of weak ties than non-users (18 as opposed to 15). Furthermore, they are using the internet to interact with both groups. The Pew study also stated that, as Alex said, people are using the internet as an ADDITION not a replacement to other contact: "the more close friends and family are seen in person, the more they are contacted by email."
The study went on to explain how those who have weekly email contact with a high percentage of their core and weak ties are in weekly contact via phone with those same ties 25% more than those who don't engage in email contact. The internet, then, is clearly not replacing traditional communication media; it is expanding it.

Another way in which e-mail expands community is when friends forward messages on to third parties. My dad constantly receives funny online articles, comics, holiday greetings cards, and YouTube video from his friends; and every so often he forwards them on to me because he thinks I will appreciate them. My dad forwarding me those e-mails is a perfect example of third party forwarding. Wellman explains how third party forwarding "provides indirect contact between unconnected people who can then make direct contact" (Wellman, 2005). Since the forwarding of those e-mails makes me a part of my dad's social network, I can now potentially make direct connections with any of the other people within his e-mail network and use them as resources since I am now within their extended network. This example functions similarly to how the social networking site LinkedIn works, where you can use your friends as resources to find potential employers or employees by seeing where your friend's friends work. This expansion of online communities is just another way in which the internet is enhancing community as a whole.

By Mollie Jo H. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

Justin, I would like to comment in response to your post at 10:04 PM on December 4. I applaud you for finding a very academic definition of community, nonetheless, wouldn't you say that a concept from 1955 is a bit...outdated?

You say, "In a 1955 content analysis of nearly 100 various definitions of community, George Hillary 'discovered basic consensus on only three definitional elements: social interaction between people, one or more shared ties, and an area of context' (Gunnar)." Now the first two criteria are already taken care of in internet interaction, so let's address the third component. See, the World Wide Web was invented in the late 1980s to early 1990s by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (also known as CERN). In 1955, there was no internet, so how can this definition be relevant in this discussion?

Besides that point, if you wanted to use this dated definition, can't you adapt it to the 21st Century and argue that "an area of context" could include a certain blog, chat room, or social networking site?

Finally, you say, "How can I be in the same community as a band of Eskimos in Alaska? or a nomadic tribe in Africa? when we share no common traits or bonds. The world cannot be a whole community."

In fact, on June 19, 2007, the USA Today published a story detailing how a group of Eskimos raised money from non-Eskimos through the internet to be able to move their small island community back to mainland Alaska. What was the common interest? Global warming. That's right, in 2004, BBC News reported that their island was "the most extreme example of global warming on the planet." People, most of whom were not Eskimos, showed their support by donating money and raising awareness through the internet. Because of the internet support (as well as State and Federal Government assistance), the small community raised the $180 million required for the move.

If I had more time, I might be able to find a story about a nomadic tribe in Africa as well, haha.

I would like to end my postings with this last anecdote.

According to Manuel Castells, "the Internet's integration of print, oral, and audiovisual modalities into a single system promises an impact on society comparable to that of the alphabet, creating new forms of identity and inequality, submerging power in decentered flows, and establishing new forms of social organization" (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman& Robinson, 2001, p. 309). Based on this powerful comparison, the internet has made a huge impact on the way our society forms relationships.

The internet has changed the way people perceive communities, and has become a resource for people to form social bonds with those who share similar interests, rather than being limited to those who live in your geographic location. The internet has also developed systems of trust and reciprocity within larger social networks of people, and has made it so that people enhance their existing face-to-face relationships with increased daily contact with friends. Overall, the internet has become a revolutionary tool for the expansion of community.

By Mollie Jo H. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

Anna, I would like to respond to your post from 1:05 PM on November 27. In it, you say, "For example, Team Social Change points out that in a community 'two people who are neighbors often do not have a strong and positive relationship.' Although this may be true, it also leads to diversity, which can be avoided on the Internet, and thus hinders community in the traditional sense."

I would just like to note that you make a deductive leap in your argument. Two neighbors who do not have a positive relationship, as stated in our paper, are not going to "create diversity" in the absence of the internet. Instead, they'll simply not talk to each other. Just because someone will make a friend due to common interests over the internet, doesn't mean that they will make friends with their neighbors with whom they have nothing in common in the absence of the internet.

Your teammate, Justin, actually refutes your argument quite well himself in his post at 10:04 PM on December 4. He says, "How can I be in the same community as a band of Eskimos in Alaska? or a nomadic tribe in Africa? when we share no common traits or bonds." He is absolutely correct. Those who "share no common traits or bonds" (such as our example neighbors) cannot be in the same community. Therefore, they can only gain from searching the internet to expand their community.

I found a great argument that really provides a neat perspective on this debate.

Scholar and internet community skeptic J. Snyder argues this:

"A community is more than a bunch of people distributed in all 24 time zones, sitting in their dens and pounding away on keyboards about the latest news in That's not a community; it's a fan club. Newsgroups, mailing lists, chat rooms - call them what you will - the Internet's virtual communities are not communities in almost any sense of the word. A community is people who have greater things in common than a fascination with a narrowly defined topic."

This is similar to the argument that both the Cyber-Skeptics and Reinforcers made in their papers and presentations.

However, William A. Galston of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland (1999) notes that "this objection revolves around the SUBSTANCE of what members of groups have in common, not the nature of the communication among them." Galston says that by this standard, stamp clubs or book clubs meeting face-to-face would not qualify as communities. (Remember that Putnam used book clubs specifically as an example of traditional communities in "Bowling Alone.") On the other hand, he says Jews in the diaspora would comprise a community, even if the majority of them never meet one another in person, because they have something more in common than a single interest (heritage, religion, nationality, etc.).

So you cannot attack internet communities for being based on single issues, as Snyder does. Many "traditional communities" are organized around single issues, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or book clubs. Therefore, Snyder's characterization is simply not valid, as it totally contradicts Putnam's original concept of the traditional community.

I would like to touch upon social networking websites. Social trust, an important component of what makes a community, is lost on social networking websites like Myspace. Social networking websites allow anonymous communication. As a result, they have had a negative impact on community. Chris Hansen of "To Catch A Predator" wrote: Think of MySpace as a cyber bulletin board that kids decorate with favorite music that they've downloaded and pictures of themselves. That's for them. For predators, think of it as a shopping mall(2007, p. 135). The internet has made it easier for deviants such as child predators to target children. As a result, trust is lost between children and their parents. In fact, out of the 63% or teens who report being contacted by a stranger online, most of them do not report it (Lenhart, Lewis & Rainie, 2001, 23).
A study also found, to the surprise of the researchers, that there is a "significant correlation between online socializing and loneliness" as well as conclude that the negative aspects of the internet outweigh the bad" (Coget et. al, 2002. p. 196).

By Elizabeth F. (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

Some food for thought after reading the debate at the top about whether or not the internet reinforces beliefs or diversifies one's mind: If you consider a community to have some sort of geographical boundary, which we argue, then it is easy to see how most people will encounter views outside of their own because they are bound together because of proximity, not interests. On the internet there is nothing there to force someone toward being open-minded. Logically, internet users would gravitate toward what they are familiar with as to not feel alone.

By Elizabeth F (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink

E-mail and online communication is allowing us to enhance our social ties unlike anytime before. People use the Internet to communicate and coordinate with friends, relatives and organizations near and far- then it is a tool for building and maintaining social capital (Wellman 2001). No longer restricted by geographical boundaries we can communicate with people around the world in an efficient and extremely cost effective way. Our ties are becoming stronger because we are increasing the frequency in which we converse with our strong ties and our networks are extending because we are meeting new people because of the Internet.

Lindsey Rock, author of Off Our Backs tells a personal narrative of how she was able to meet like-minded mothers via the Internet. She, like millions others were able to form a sense of community online that has translated to a physical setting. Her relationships that begin blossoming on the message board make their way to the land of instant messages. There in the house after our children are asleep, we talk away like we are the best of friends (Rock, 64). After conversing online with people across the United States, Rock is able to meet up with her mama network and spend a week of bonding, sharing intimate conversations and building social relationships in a face-to-face setting. Rock, like millions before her, have used the Internet as a medium to extend their relationships across the globe with only a simple keystrokes.

While it is difficult and nearly impossible for us to completely replace face-to-face communication as an adequate alternative to online conversations, the features from the Internet are making it more interactive than ever. Whether we are setting up a videoconference, or even delivering a real-time presentation (which we could have done for our in-class presentation), sharing our lives and opinions on blogs or expanding on topics and ideas through forums, the Internet is revolutionizing the way we define community.

"The Computerization of Community (CMC) has increased the frequency and intensity of overall contact. Rather than replacing face-to-face contact, CMC adds to it, filling gaps between the fuller range of information and emotion in interpersonal encounters" (Wellman 2005). People around the world are using technological advancements to enhance their relationships - we see this everywhere, even in our libraries.

Consider American University's Bender Library, which offers an instant messaging service to use as an interactive form to get students to ask brief questions when travel, or time is out of the question. An increased awareness of the benefits the Internet provides such as the enhancement and extension of social ties is vital to providing any form of interactivity in the online market, especially when face-to-face communication is not an option.

In our presentation, we did bring up how email hurts communities. Through email, there is a loss of social cues which can lead to a weakened relationship. It is stated that the "internet may be diverting people from true community because online interactions are inherently inferior to face-to-face interactions" (Wellman, 2001, p. 439). As I mentioned in my post above, it is difficult to convey expressions like sarcasm, happiness, or disappointment via email. However, in face-to-face contact humans have a remarkable skill of being able to use subtle cues about the presence of others to govern their interactions (Erickson, 2002). Although email may connect people, it is not a good way to strengthen and build relationships.

If we are to think of the debate in that way, it can still be strongly argued that community is hurt by the internet. Take, for example, one study found that �the more time they sit in front of a computer screen, the less time they have for interacting directly with family and friends� (Hillygus & Nie, 2002, p. 2). Clearly face-to-face interactions, an important part of a "traditional" community, are becoming less common.