Grey Areas and Reality

Previous research has shown that the anonymity of the internet has had a profound effect on the behavior of people online. However, past endeavours have not looked into the fact that this anonymity is not singularly bad, and the effects could be negative or positive. In our web text we seek to explore the consequences of this phenomenon and the moral and ethical implications of an anonymous internet. Through the medium of the web we will be able to deliver our text directly to the audience to which it refers. In doing so we plan to address why people act differently on the internet. Why is it that anonymity changes people? What are the reasons some people see the internet as real life and others distance themselves from the notion? Alongside our discussion of ways the internet changes people we shall explore both why and how many of the actions performed anonymously differ from actions taken with identities tied to them. It has long been known that people may present themselves differently online than in the physical world. How is this contributing to cyber crimes? In addition to this, we endeavour to explore the positive and negative connotations of these identities. Why is this alternate reality viewed in such a negative light? Are there positives that can be associated with having these separate realities? We plan to complicate this idea further than it has been.  Past research points out the negatives of the internet’s impact on morality, but we plan to explore the gray areas of internet morality, for just as the morality of behaviors presented in the physical world are not black and white, neither are the behaviors of the online world. Perhaps they are even more complex.

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Freedom: Good or Bad?

After reading Tori’s most recent Inquiry Blog I noticed that we actually shared our TEDTalk source. This got me thinking harder about the topic because we both took slightly different things away from Reid’s speech. I took it as more of a statement against big companies and their abuse of power through manhandling congress while she saw it as somewhat of a mockery of how big of an issue piracy is currently. To me Reid’s tone was mocking not of the seriousness of piracy, but the silliness of copyright laws and decisions made by congress. I think if we combined our insights from the other research we have done we would find similar differences in opinion. Tori has a more personal connection to piracy as her father is in the music business so for her the statistics revolving around piracy would be interpreted more negatively than for me. When I heard $58 billion lost annually from copyright I was baffled but after some explanation I realized how ludicrous that statement was and honestly felt bad for people who get busted for piracy, the penalties are outrageous. Aside from Reid’s speech I believe Tori has a good grasp of how piracy is impacting the music industry. So if I were to combine my understanding of why with her understanding of how I believe we already could have a strong stance on the subject matter.

For Taylor I connected more to her second Inquiry Blog  where she listened to sources about internet frauds and why people fall for them. Her research filled in a few gaps in my research, I was having trouble seeing ways people behaved differently on a larger scale on the internet. The information on frauds helped me see that not just everyday people feel safe anonymously doing inappropriate things on the internet but companies and organizations do the same thing. Honestly the fact that Nationalreport.net exists drives me crazy, not even the fact that they have another website witscience.org claiming to be a university that does studies for nationalreport! How the hell do these people get away with such insane actions, granted it would take an idiot to fall for most of their stuff but its still crazy that we allow it. This opened my eyes to other problem with the internet, there are no rules. No government organization has ever laid down a set of laws for the internet, they merely add the internet to the jurisdiction of current laws as necessary rarely adding new laws altogether. This is probably the best thing about the internet, but also potentially the worst. For now it means we have a lot more freedom online to be true to our feelings however it can also lead to ruin if people abuse this freedom. Taylor’s research has made me realize maybe anonymity in technology isn’t to blame for people acting out, maybe people are the problem. I believe this will warrant further study on our part and hopefully we can determine the true source of some of the problems with the internet.

Cyber Behavior

So for my inquiry questions I looked into are people able to compartmentalize and become “different people” when working in a digital rather than physical space. As well as in what ways does being anonymous make us feel safe about making ethically questionable decisions. My opinion on both topics are somewhat bland, as I don’t see myself standing strongly for one reason above another. I think that many factors are at work as to how people act in cyberspace but I do unquestionably believe that people act different from physical space. I mainly want to know why, and what it would take for us to treat each space equally because I spend equal times in both and see them as equally valuable. While I haven’t personally had any exceptionally negative or positive experience I am aware that it is a common problem that affects a large population, especially teenagers. The idea that we can become somebody we are not is thrilling but how far is it okay to take acting before it becomes a serious problem? The answer isn’t clear and that’s what I’m really interested in, the psychology behind how people behave online.

I strongly believe that most people act differently in cyberspace, and most scholars agree with me. The only thing I can really think about disputing is the reasons behind this and possibly the importance of it. I started thinking about whether or not acting like somebody you aren’t is actually worth looking into. However as long as cyber bullying is causing teens to take drastic actions I think there is reason to study more about cyber-behavior. I think a “Yeah but…” approach would be most suited to public opinion on piracy. A general definition of piracy according to average web users seems to be “copying material from an open source” which does not shed light on the stealing aspect. This mindset has foundations since technically nothing is being physically “taken” from somebody however I believe we need to move away from this concept of physicality and think instead about potential loss. Another reason for piracy is that one of our founding fathers Thomas Jefferson was against copyright laws which fuel the legal battles involving piracy. Copyright is an artist or companies right to make profit from their work when it is used, which sounds like a great idea however many complications end up occuring and we end up with things like “Happy Birthday” being copyright 90+ years after it was made. The artist has been long dead and in no way benefits from profits from the use of “Happy Birthday” however it still requires permission from the owning company and a fee to be used. That is why restaurants don’t sing a normal “Happy Birthday” to customers. However copyright has thin lines involving private use which is why it isn’t illegal to sing “Happy Birthday” to your kids. So where does online content fall within a copyright war? Currently copyright laws say that piracy is illegal, however many disagree with that which is why I get to debate this. If something like shoplifting was backed by a copyright mentality people wouldn’t argue about whether or not it should be legal, it would just be illegal and people would be punished for doing it. However thanks to the anonymous nature of the internet we get heated debates about piracy constantly and even big news sites chime in from time to time. Lately scholarly research has gone into cyber behavior and people have started taking these issues seriously.

Following with the “Yeah but…” approach I looked at quotes from my sources and found some interesting debatable statements. From my source on how piracy is good there is a quote “The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”. This statement is worded with the intent to protect “authors and inventors” from having their writings/inventions stolen before they had the chance to make money on it. It does not imply a sense of security for musicians, filmmakers and so forth, therein begging the question if copyright should even apply to those categories. While many would agree that it should cover all forms of art, that possibly wasn’t the intention of Congress when copyright law was introduced in 1783. Copyright was formed with the intention of letting inventors sell there work before others could build on it, and was never intended to stop people from enjoying music 95+ years after its release. I can see why people commit piracy when such outrageous limitations exist.

From my source from the academic journal of educational computing research (scholarly research), Tanya Beran takes a “Yeah but..” approach herself stating ” Perhaps bullying begins at school and then extends into the home and community through the use of technology” supporting this with stats from the study conducted showing “More than half (64%) of students who were victims of cyber-harassment, also reported victimization by another type of harassment.” This would mean that technology doesn’t change our actions, instead it becomes a medium for them to continue outside of our usual realm of influence. According to this line of thought people don’t compartmentalize in a digital space, rather they import their psychical selves into the digital context making this a concern about human nature instead of technological influence.

I used an article title “The Online Inhibition Effect” and honestly I can’t find anything to dispute in his paper because it directly addressed my opinions on the matter from a scientific view and backed up what I already assumed. For the sake of the assignment there is a phrase “some people report being more like their “true self” while online” where the idea of “true self” probably needs to be more clearly defined. Why can’t a “true self” be a digital self? Why do we assume physical self to be more true than other selves? Many people would say their spiritual self is closer to their “true self”. Limiting the idea of “true self” to a physical real world self is restricting thoughts on how digital selves should be handled. Is a crime committed by a digital self less or more severe than a similar crime committed by a physical self?

As my last source so far I used an online news article titled “The Psychology of Online Comments” by Maria Konnikova. She states “Anonymity … encouraged incivility.” which is a relatively shorten conclusion of her article as a whole. Here I think it would be best if we redefined Anonymity. She uses it to basically be any form of internet usage since for normal people it is hard to respond to a digital mishap even with a real name linked to the account in question. Since people can always make a new account or change their digital name, Konnikova thinks all actions are anonymous. I believe otherwise. Things posted to sites like Facebook or traceable through Linkedin do not have the same anonymity as actual anonymous posts on websites that allow such. If every website enforced real identification to partake in forums or comments her ideas would be shaken. Why do we allow anonymous posters then? And who is to blame when an anonymous post or comment causes serious problems in a digital community?

The online disinhibition effect

On a quest to find out how the technologies we use change and shape our character and values, I stumbled across an interesting theory. It is known as the online disinhibition effect and it involves the social restrictions we have in a normal face-to-face environment and how they can tend to get thrown out the window online. It is a known cause of many problems with the internet such as cyber bullying and trolling, but I believe it also relates deeply to other aspects such as piracy and fraud. I was looking into whether or not people able to compartmentalize and become “different people” when working in a digital rather than physical space and I believe the online disinhibition effect gave me exactly what I was looking for. The idea that we have a form of  dissociative anonymity on the web means that people don’t feel threatened with the consequences of their actions . This points mainly to trolling on message boards but also can be applied to our more questionable decisions. Can I really be punished if nobody knows I did it? This question applies to real life as well as the internet and my thought is no. An unnoticed crime wouldn’t be punished in real life unless you turned yourself in from guilt and many believe this attributes to why people feel comfortable doing illegal things online. Apparently a lot of people don’t realize how easy it is to track you down over the internet thus they feel comfortable behind their screens saying and doing whatever they please. John Suler speaks to this in his article “The Online Disinhibition Effect” where he goes into great detail about the many aspects of what being anonymous does to people from a psychological standpoint. In fact his article does a great job of linking my two inquiry questions: Are people able to compartmentalize and become “different people” when working in a digital rather than physical space, and in what ways does being anonymous make us feel safe about making ethically questionable decisions that I feel I need to search for a new question. For the time being however I want to delve deeper into how anonymity affects us.

It doesn’t seem to be a topic of debate that being anonymous changes the way we behave. The psychology community appears to unanimously agree that something changes when we get the freedom to not be ourselves. Popular theories relating to group dynamics such as Group Polarization relate partly to our ability to de-individualize ourselves in large groups. When you apply this to the internet and see groups as message boards or communities it makes sense that people are able to say things beyond normal logic. Add to that the fact that many feel completely anonymous and its no wonder there is such a trolling problem online. Trolling, for those who do not know, is making a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them. As it so happens trolls are prime examples of decent people compartmentalizing themselves in an online space. Maria Konnikova addresses anonymous commenting in her article for the Newyorker “The Psychology of Online Comments” where she notes that the internet isn’t the first time we see these actions but it increased the rate of them alarmingly. I think there is a lot to be said about the “freedom” the internet offers and with that freedom come great responsibility and it will take a lot more scientific studies before a definite conclusion is reached. In the mean time I will collect the current information we have and try to make sense of what is happening in the society that is the internet.

Internet Morality

Over the past few decades the internet has risen in popularity. In this modern era of constant internet availability it isn’t uncommon for young people to do things via the internet that they would never do in person. I’d like to address some issues involving internet piracy. In a study done by University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers, 200 college students were asked to respond to scenarios involving shoplifting a music record or pirating the record online. A majority of the students were against shoplifting and questioned why legal means weren’t pursued, yet almost nobody had an issue with pirating the CD. This raises concerns to me about how we view internet laws. To the eyes of the music producer there isn’t a difference between stealing a physical or digital copy, but to a large amount of people digital theft isn’t even a crime. I believe this is an issue of great importance considering how prevalent the internet is in our daily lives.

Intrinsic value is a key factor in how I believe people see piracy. The value of a file of music is technically only the value of the amount of data it takes to store it, which has no set price. Many consider data space to have no intrinsic value, this would mean that the pirated file wouldn’t have any value and basically wouldn’t be stealing right? I suppose that is one argument for why we see piracy differently but the effects of piracy on the media industry are the same if not worse than shoplifting. I say worse because when it isn’t seen as a problem it will happen more frequently and have a greater impact than a socially unacceptable action like shoplifting would have. The action of piracy hurts the people who produce media, which in turn means they will produce less media which will hurt consumers who enjoy their products. A reason why I’m so interested in this is that I spend a lot of my time reading Manga online, which is a form of piracy, and my favorite manga got axed early because the piracy rate in its native country was too high for the author to continue writing it. I admit I am guilty of a form of piracy, however I do not have access to what I read since most of it isn’t in English so it gets translated online then posted for non-native speakers to read. The fact that I do not think that is wrong is proof of the seriousness of piracy in our society.

I’d like to focus my inquiry in three main directions. The first being what would it take for us as a society to see the internet as an extension of reality and not an alternate realm. Followed by why do we see piracy and shoplifting as different things altogether. And finally why we feel safe breaking laws online compared to in reality.  Another possible topic since the overall goal is to improve internet morality would be why we tolerate cyber-bullying more so than physical bullying. There are many problems with ethics on the internet that need to be addressed before it reaches its full potential and I believe these are the most visible issues.