The Internet’s Split Personality

The Internet has been good for education but bad for morality, according to a study recently released by the Pew Research Center.

Researchers conducted face-to-face surveys with 36,619 people in 32 developing countries.

A median of 64 percent of respondents said the Internet has had a good influence on education. On the other hand, a median of 42 percent said the Internet has had a bad influence on morality.

Those polled were divided over the impact of the Net on politics — 36 percent said it was good; 30 percent said it was bad — but they believed the Net has had a positive impact on personal relationships (53 percent) and the economy (52 percent).

Personal relationships are particularly important to cybersurfers in developing nations, noted Pew Research Associate Jacob Poushter.

“Social networking is the primary use of the Internet in these countries,” he told TechNewsWorld.

In fact, Internet users in developing countries use social media sites more than their counterparts in some developed nations.

In the survey countries, a median of 82 percent of the respondents used social media sites, Poushter noted, compared to 74 percent in the United States.

Wealth = Access

Access to the Internet varies within and across countries.

Within countries, the young and well educated, as well as people who can read or speak English, are more likely to access the Net, the study found.

“That was surprising because we hadn’t seen that demographic determining Internet access in these countries,” Poushter said.

National wealth also influences Internet access.

“Countries like Russia and Chile, which have GDP per capita of $23,000 to $25,000 per person, had much more Internet access than people in Bangladesh and Senegal,” Poushter explained.

Regardless of income, median Internet access in the nations included in the survey — 44 percent — was found to be well below that of some developed nations, such as the United States, where it was 87 percent.

Population also influences access in the survey countries.

Low on the access totem pole were Indonesia, where only 24 percent of the population had access to the Internet, India (20 percent), Bangladesh (11 percent) and Pakistan (8 percent). Those countries account for about a quarter of the world’s population.

Good/Bad Balance

Internet access will be important for the Net to have the kind of favorable influences that the respondents indicated it’s been having on education, noted Alfred Essa, vice president for analytics and R&D at McGraw-Hill Education.

“What we need in terms of public policies by governments and investments by the private sector is access to the Internet globally,” he told TechNewsWorld.

If that happens, the Internet can become a vehicle for bringing education to underserved areas around the world.

“We know we can do that,” Essa said, “but we have to adapt learning materials to each country and each region, and the Internet can help with that, too.”

While education benefited from the Internet in the minds of those surveyed by Pew, morality did not. That sentiment was constant across all the nations in the survey, Pew reported.

“People are seeing the downside of the Internet environment — the misbehavior and the abuse that happens in online forums and platforms. It can’t be ignored,” said Alan Simpson, director of policy and communications for the Internet Keep Safe Coalition.

“There are so many upsides to the Internet, but that doesn’t make parents and teachers and others ignore the potential downside,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“All the opportunities in education that this survey acknowledges come with a package of opinions and attitudes that can frighten people,” Simpson added. “We have to manage the bad stuff so kids can benefit from the good stuff.”

John Mello is a freelance technology writer and contributor to Chief Security Officer magazine. You can connect with him on Google+.

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