Teens fail to consider ethics online
According to an ongoing study from Harvard researcher Carrie James and her colleagues at the GoodPlay Project, today's Internet-savvy "digital youth" lack moral and ethical judgment as well as consideration for others when surfing the Web. James presented her findings Monday at Mashable's Social Good Summit in New York City.
While any parents who have stumbled upon their children's Facebook pages or witnessed them cheating at video games (you wouldn't cheat at Monopoly, would you?) probably won't consider the claim that children on the Internet lack judgment abilities as groundbreaking, James sees the ethical lapse as an untapped opportunity for social change.
James hopes to enable adults to facilitate an understanding of social media as not exclusively for fun and help children reconsider what she calls a "lack of efficacy" to change what they experience on the Internet.
You can watch her presentation here:
Two key factors James describes among the "digital youth" are a prevalence of "consequence thinking" -- thinking about one's behavior as individualistic -- and, simply put, a "scarcity of ethical thinking."
Cyberbullying causes big problems in real life
No surprise then that a rise in cyberbullies would be the focus of a recent article in Live Science, which describes the online misfits as those who "spread hostility and scorn using cell phones or computers."
Furthermore, unlike real-world bullying, which has been found to correlate with nearly equal levels of depression among both the bullied and the bullies, cyberbullying seems to have a much greater effect on the victims. One reason could be because cyberbullying can occur much faster (with just a keystroke), more frequently and entirely anonymously. At the same time, the potential audience for said humiliation is nearly limitless.
Just take a look at what the notoriously anarchistic, anonymous online image-board community 4chan did to an 11-year-old girl (who perhaps shared too much of her identity online) earlier this year.
Online commentary remains a double-edged sword
It's also no secret that anonymous online commentary platforms and social media create conditions that yield not-safe-for-work reactions from faceless critics (go ahead, scroll down and leave a critical comment yourself). The digital youth may be getting an early start, but adults are also setting a guilty example of hiding behind the anonymity provided by the Internet. All of which is exactly why our sister website, Politics Daily, paved the way for a new style of more responsible commenting we call a "civilogue."
A recent New York Times article discussed the issue of anonymous commentary on news sites, acknowledging the value of the user's ability to comment freely but criticizing what appears to be an inevitable breakdown of discourse into hateful "barroom brawls."
"Anonymity is just the way things are done. It's an accepted part of the Internet, but there's no question that people hide behind anonymity to make vile or controversial comments," Arianna Huffington, a founder of The Huffington Post, told the Times.
But the times they are a-changing' ...
Nevertheless, Huffington does predict a shift that may support James and the GoodPlay Project cause.
"I feel that this is almost like an education process," Huffington said. "As the rules of the road are changing and the Internet is growing up, the trend is away from anonymity."
Indeed, government officials, the law and private enterprise seem to be moving in the same direction as well. And despite apparent ethical lapses, teens may be helping to shift the culture away from anonymous online commenting, thanks to their own newfangled notions of online identity and information sharing. As the Times reported:
Several industry executives cited a more fundamental force working in favor of identifying commenters. Through blogging and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, millions of people have grown accustomed to posting their opinions -- to say nothing of personal details -- with their names attached, for all to see. Adapting the Facebook model, some news sites allow readers to post a picture along with a comment, another step away from anonymity.
"There is a younger generation that doesn't feel the same need for privacy," Ms. Huffington said. "Many people, when you give them other choices, they choose not to be anonymous."