Lee (striver) wrote in blog_sociology,

An interesting new study to investigate how the Internet effects developing morals and norms:


“We have a theory that there are processes for building norms on the internet which look different than those which take place in traditional society and that they are moving in a different direction than where the majority of society and legislation are headed,”

A lot will depend on the methodology on this one. Could be quite controversial. Could also be very interesting and useful if done well. What do you think they will find? Is there a different morality online than in 'traditional society'? Will people develop a different morality when raised with the Internet? Did television also make such a change and did we fail to notice?

Love that 'traditional society'...is that the new buzz word for the offline world? I need to log into traditional society for a bit so my RL av can get some sleep. :)
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Well, since what they're looking at specifically is piracy, I'm pretty sure the processes for building norms on the Internet are completely the same as they are IRL: norms are, after all, what most people are doing. The Internet creates self-selecting communities where "most people" can be whoever you want it to be, and therefore is usually people who agree with you, but that happens offline, too.

(If they were talking about socially acceptable modes of behavior, or sexuality, I think the answer might actually be different, but that's just a hypothesis.)
hmmm...good viewpoint on it. We do tend to gravitate to people who agree with us in real life as well, but not quite on such a large scale and it is not quite so easy to avoid opposing viewpoints. Could the ability to easily find several million people who agree with you, and tune out those who don't, change the picture significantly?
I certainly think so.

Also, I think that norm-forming is much, much more dependent on body language and other nonverbals than any other form of communication. Ordinary norm policing is done on a spectrum of responses, the milder end of which is all through expressing disapproval in very subtle ways -- moving one's body slightly away, frowning (or even just ceasing to smile), small shifts in tone of voice and pacing of speech (e.g. the meaningful hesitation). That entire channel of mild disapproval drops away completely. This means that on the internet, disapproval become more grandular. You only learn of other's disapproval of your actions after their disapproval has built to the point it's strong enough to be expressed more explicitly. I can't imagine this wouldn't have an effect on norm building and maintenance. That is a dramatic difference.

Also, you talk about surrounding ourselves with examples who agree with us, but there's another interesting dimension of role modeling behavior on the internet. On the internet, we see much, much less of others' behaviors. Largely, we don't see what others do, we learn from their self-reports. You wouldn't know if I were using Napster unless I told you one way or the other. So you don't know whether any of your regular social groups are engaging in, e.g. "piracy", except to the extent they talk about it.

Role modeling has an enormous impact on norm propagation, and on the internet, there's actually far less of it going on, because we don't actually see very much of what one another are doing.
What do you think they will find?

Heh. What I think they'll find is that norm forming and propagating works in a way online significantly different that they think it does offline, and that eventually, they'll realize a substantial amount of the difference is that they were wrong about how norms are formed and propagated offline. That's where my money is. ;)

Is there a different morality online than in 'traditional society'?

I think there is. Or rather, I think there are different moralities -- plural -- online than there are off. Much of norm-building has to do with shared resources. The shared resources in the offline world have historically been material objects -- a plow, a field, a castle. The shared resources in the online world are typically "IP", so the entirety of the internet culture (if we may posit such a thing for a moment) is wrestling with the question of how you apply norm forming and propagation to non-material assets. Hence the issue of file "piracy".

[* I put piracy in sneer quotes because I find it extremely offensive that a term for a violent interpersonal crime is being used for what is at worst simple, non-confrontational theft of a good. I consider that deliberate propagation of confusion about violent crime an outrage.]

Your comment on the term "piracy" is much like what I mentioned in my most recent post here about the term "scud" missiles. Under the pretext of just reporting the facts, one can use highly negative, inflammatory terms to sway the reader to take sides. I think the term "file sharing" is equally extreme in the other direction. I often struggle in my writing to find neutral terms to talk about such things. I am sure I miss some.

There was a study that came out just a couple weeks ago showing how litter and such in a neighborhood can increase crime. People look for visual clues for acceptable behavior from others. There has been a lot of research into that over the years (as you likely know). So I guess it comes down to the difference in what queues people get differently online and off. I think there are some subtle clues online as well.
Yeah, the Broken Windows theory. Very controversial. I'd like to believe it, but apparently the evidence isn't all that. I haven't looked into it as much as maybe I should.

I've been paying a little attention to the meat level, too: there's a lot of research going on right now about moral judgment and brain activity as observed in fMRIs. What I recall is that what we're seeing suggests that "morality" is pretty much "norm conformity" -- that people abstract moral principles from observed behavior of others, not reason them out from first principles: the part of the brain which lights up when you ask people to solve moral dilemmas while lying in an fMRI is the same part which lights up when observing people. (IIRC.)
This has actually been one of my primary areas of interest. I could easily write a couple hundred pages on it but I will try to restrain myself :)

There have been a lot of non-academic books published on the traits of highly successful people, but there was a good piece of research into it just a few years ago. It showed that most people successful in business have only one thing in common: little concern about what other people think of them. It isn't that they consider it and disregard it. The research found that the concept never even enters their radar screen. It never occurs to them to consider what others think of them any more than one would consider what a chair thinks of them. This produces situations like the recent Citibank exec who stated that "stealing from customers is not a legal decision, it is a business decision."

Much older research shows that the primary concern of many chronically poor and/or homeless is what others think of them. When asked what they want most out of life, the most common answer by far is to contribute something to society. They want to be recognized as worthwhile by those around them. Some are concerned for what others think of them to the point that it is a severe disability. From my own experience in counseling such individuals they spend a great deal of their time helping others and even mild criticism of their behavior can make them suicidal.

This comes about in a developmental stage much like recognition of self – The developmental stage of recognition of others as like self. It produces a bell curve based on the strength of individual development in that area. Most people fall in the middle with a healthy recognition of others as like self balanced with healthy narcissism (read consideration for self). Some people more strongly recognize others as 'thinking feeling humans like myself' while, at the other extreme, people fail totally in recognizing others as human like self. The latter extreme we generally refer to as psychopath. Of course brain damage can also effect this strongly in either direction. Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathy

"Norm conformity' depends on a recognition of others being like you. In the simplest terms it is a need for peer validation. If you recognize no peers, then this effect is significantly reduced. This explains the lack of norm conformity in psychopaths.

This can involve a highly confined group of peers. This is very evident in domestic abuse. Often the perpetrator is basing their actions of a very small family group. A great many first offenders stop instantly when shown the strong objections of wider society.

I recognized most of this nearly 40 years ago. I began making a conscious effort at that time to actually base my morality on thinking things through and deciding for myself what is right and wrong. It is a much more difficult process. I have sometimes even had moderate success at it :)
Here is a link to the recent study I referred to on the 'broken window effect'. It demonstrates that people take clues to proper behavior from things like graffiti, litter, and illegal fireworks. They are more likely to break the rules if they see or hear others doing so.

Oooh! Thanks!
Did television also make such a change and did we fail to notice?

Yes. Read Cities on the Hill by Fitzgerald, particularly the last chapter. Mindblowing. It was published around 1986, and her thesis -- which she takes the entire rest of the book to lay out the evidence for -- is that TV profoundly disrupted American cultures, by dispelling the illusion that all of the US shared one culture. She presents the case that following WWII, the rise of TV brought programming that represented the culture of places like NYC into homes in places like the Midwest. She seats -- in 1986!! -- the cultural war that she was already seeing having started then as being the natural fallout of Americans learning that there were actually multiple American cultures, and being an American didn't mean the same thing to all of us.

Everything she wrote then about cultural conflict is now only 1000 times more true.