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That the internet has a damaging impact on society

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zschmollzschmoll (PRO)
This house believes that the Internet does have a damaging impact on society, and because we are making a positive claim, we carry the burden of proof.
Before I begin making my case, I think definitions are important so that my opponent and I are both operating with the same tools.

First, the Internet is "an electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world," according to Merriam-Webster. In other words, this includes all activities that can take place over such a network. This includes websites, web forums, social networking, communication platforms and commerce opportunities that exist on such a system.

Damaging impact is not quantified with any type of unit. Unless my opponent can provide some way to quantify what he means by damaging impact, his position has to be that the Internet has had absolutely no damaging impact on society. It is not open for him to say that the goods outweigh the bads as any type of damage would prove what the house is arguing: that the Internet has had at least one damaging impact on society.

By society, we are referring to all people everywhere as a collective group. I am not going to be arguing that every person has been materially damaged in some way by the Internet. Some people use the Internet to do a great amount of good, but society is humanity at large. In other words, it is possible for there to be some individual benefits to the Internet while it is still damaging to society at large. I have that luxury based on the question as written, but my opponent does not.

With these definitions in place, I'm going to begin my argument by offering three pieces of evidence that support my claim. They are going to be: the Internet damages natural human interaction; the Internet increases materialism and consumerism; and the Internet allows for the proliferation of ignorance and deception that threatens the basis of education as we know it.

First, the Internet damages natural human interaction. For anyone who has ever sat at a dinner table where everyone is sitting on their cell phones rather than speaking to each other, you'll understand why this is a problem. People are becoming more comfortable communicating on their electronic devices than they are communicating in person. Hiding behind the electronic device, there is no need for tact, gentleness, kindness or even common courtesy. All it takes is a trip to a Justin Bieber music video on YouTube to see what I mean. You have people saying things about the music that they would never say to Justin's face. Why? They do this because they have the wall of the Internet, and that style of communication is acceptable on that medium.

Now, what if we engage in that kind of communication more and more, and our brains become more wired to interact in the way that we often times feel it is appropriate to communicate on the Internet? We will lose the characteristics of gentleness and kindness. We don't need them on the Internet, so why do we need them in person? We will not understand how to communicate as humans naturally have for such a long time because we have taught ourselves the new way. That is certainly a way in which we damaging society by losing virtues.

The Internet not only causes us to lose positive things, but it also increases certain types of unhealthy desires such as materialism and consumerism. When I see that my friend puts a picture of his brand-new car on Facebook and a bunch of our friends are commenting in admiration, that creates certain images in my mind. I want to be like my friend, and I want people to admire me. As a result, it is kind of like keeping up with the Joneses 24/7. We are constantly reminded on the Internet of the fact that people are getting things, and we want those things. Before the Internet, I certainly might have known that my friend bought a new car, but I would not have had to hear about it for the next seven days in my news feed. I wouldn't need to witness all of his praise.

You might argue that I need to simply get over my selfishness. However, is that not a human trait? Is it not obvious that people want things? You might try to deny that, and I wish that we could get over all of our materialism, but greed is unfortunately far too prevalent in our culture already and I would argue human nature. As the Internet continues fueling our desire to get what our neighbor already has, I expect to see the behaviors increase at a rapid rate.

Finally, I made this somewhat startling claim that the Internet seems to proliferate ignorance and deception and has the potential to damage education as we know it. Certainly, the Internet puts thousands of resources at our fingertips. It is a lot easier to Google search the third Emperor of Rome than it is to go down to the local library, flip through the card catalog and find the appropriate history book to find my answer. However, is there a difference between these two methods?

Before the Internet, it was somewhat harder to spread your ideas. Your ideas had to be filtered by a publisher, and there was a definite review process before something became a book that anybody could access at the library. This is not to say that everything that was previously published was perfect, but there were at least a few sets of eyes on content that would become used for the education of the general public. The potential for abuse was less likely.

With the Internet, I could quite simply go online and create a webpage all by myself, spend a little bit of money on search engine optimization and advertising placement, when you search for the third Emperor of Rome, I could tell you that it was Little Caesar. I know that is a ridiculous example, but think about the implications of that. What if I have an agenda that isn't quite so lighthearted? I can have an awful lot of influence with terrible ideas and have virtually no oversight whatsoever simply by using the Internet.

People will accept what they read as an authority, and what if it truly isn't? What if I just know how to make a website well, but I use that platform to deliberately misinform people for my own personal benefit? The risk of miseducation is great on the Internet, and as is obvious from time to time on Facebook, people are even willing to take dubious sources and accept them as fact with no discernment.

I want to remind you that I have argued in three separate lines as to why the Internet is damaging to society. First, human interaction is being hijacked, and people are losing skills that they had for millennia in civilized society. That is damaged. At the same time, people are gaining an attitude of materialism and consumerism. We always want what our neighbor has, and with the constant reminders of praise that the Internet provides, it will only cultivate our selfishness. That is damage. Finally, in the case of the potential for miseducation, there is no oversight on what is published and appears to be authoritative on the Internet. That can lead to a culture of people who are misled only because of some search engine optimization tricks. That is damage. Based on this cumulative case, I trust that you will agree with me that that the Internet has certainly had a damaging impact on society even if there are some benefits to it that I am sure my opponent will now bring to your attention.

Return To Top | Posted:
2014-07-12 05:39:17
| Speak Round
adminadmin (CON)
I thank my opponent for opening his case. I love this topic so I'm glad to be able to argue it.


Pro has outlined what I think is a very good general framework for the debate. There is one surprising thing pro doesn't address though, and that's the question of what exactly is "damaging" to society. One man's "damaged" society is another's utopia. As pro has defined society to be, in his words, "humanity at large", it follows that the harms he tries to show must be recognized as such by the general population. To give an example of this principle in practice, suppose (hypothetically) I were to argue that sliced bread is damaging to society because slicing bread is fun. However, since most people are lazy and can't be bothered slicing their own bread, the argument doesn't hold true for the general society, only for those who really like slicing bread.

I would also like to propose a more nuanced approach to my opponent's observation that "It is not open for [me] to say that the goods outweigh the bads [of the internet]." Impacts of any technology can rarely be completely isolated, but are usually linked and/or related to each other. In assessing the impact of a technology on society, then, both the costs and benefits of that technology do need to be considered. Most costs arise as a consequence of the benefits of a technology, and their existence does not invalidate those benefits. It would therefore be foolish to look into the costs in isolation. I make this point on the off-chance that my opponent tries to bring up some argument like "the internet costs money to run" or something, and then complaining when I point out that money is put to good use. That being said, it will be my burden to show how the cost might cause a benefit that outweighs the cost if I run this sort of argument - and given what my opponent has revealed of his case so far, I am pretty confident I won't need to.

This is a highly scientific topic unfortunately, that contains many testable hypotheses. I've tried to find free versions of all my sources, but for some this has proved impossible as the psychological research on the internet is all pretty recent stuff. As such I've also tried to provide detailed explanations for the mechanisms through which these things really work, as pro has done to show his case. I ask that voters bear this difficulty in mind when assessing our use of evidence in this debate.

Natural Human Interaction

My opponent has cited changing modes of communication, and suggested several causes - spacial liberation (I'm not looking at Justin Bieber's face), social ramification (everybody else is hating on Justin Bieber, so why not me) and limited liability (what's Justin Bieber going to be able to do about it?). The other one often cited by researchers is psychological detachment (I'm not really "me" online) so I'll address that one too. The impact pro has cited this should cause is that communication in general should become more uncivilized, as our brains learn the behavioral pattern of online communication. Obviously there's a lot to say about this topic, but I'll try to be brief.

The first thing to recognize is that there is no doubt the internet is a tool for human interaction. The question posed by pro is merely whether it is "natural". Every form of communication has its limitations, and overcoming those limitations is a natural consequence of the development of language, but since pro has identified the conventions of dialogue (ie showing courtesy) as the crux of his argument, I'll define natural human interaction as conforming to those conventions. (It is further worth noting that practically nobody in history has ever really shown courtesy, as some of the earliest writing humans ever carved into a massive pyramid was quite literally somebody complaining about how little courtesy youth had back then, but there's something more important here.)

When the internet was first rolled out, a few communities were given early access so they could be studied carefully by researchers. They wanted to figure out if people actually communicated differently through a computer. The most famous one was Blacksburg Electronic Village. Researchers who looked into it found no difference in how they communicated, other than that some of it was now happening on a computer. At the other widely reported site, Netville, researchers found an increase in local communication. People reported that they weren't hiding behind screens but were actually going out and chatting to their neighbors more than they were doing previously. As legendary academics Katz and Aspden noted in 1997: "The Internet is augmenting involvement in existing communities ... Internet skills appear to be the most important determinant of friendship formation." In a later study, researchers found players of a popular online game (World of Warcraft) behaved kinder and friendlier online than they would towards others in real life. And importantly, to date, no empirical evidence at all exists to the contrary.

There are several reasons for this, but the most important is that the self one reflects, when one can pretend to be anybody, is called (in psychology) the "ideal" self for good reason - it's ideal, and reflects socially normative ideals. People naturally portray themselves online as the people they'd like to be seen as, because that will best satisfy their individual notions of identity. Since people's identities are, to a great extent, socially constructed, our notions of identity are normative towards culturally shared beliefs and values. If my opponent's premise holds true that online behavior is a learning process for offline interaction then online behavior teaches us to behave more like we'd ideally want to behave. We all want to be better people, and if it is indeed true that the internet can teach us to be more like we'd ideally want to be, then that's great. Look at the correlations. Where internet use has risen, smoking rates have generally fallen, volunteering rates in general have gone up, and youth are significantly less politically apathetic (just look at the Arab Spring, Occupy movement etc).

Indeed, most writers (including critics of the internet, such as Turkle) agree that the very reason why the internet was adopted so quickly was because people needed a way to better engage with each other, as traditional communities were falling apart. The internet has in fact brought us closer together than ever before, with the notion of the whole family sitting around the table texting being recently dismissed as extremely rare in a study by Goby.

The ideal-self mechanism works because of (as opposed to in spite of) all of the so-called "problems" that pro has cited. Without an impersonal medium, people would see our personal flaws. By presenting ourselves as more flawless than we really are, we are encouraged to act more flawlessly too. There is, in fact, a greater need for tact and courtesy on the internet than in reality, because like I said, culture is socially constructed - so if all these "ideal selves" are running amok on the net, that increases the pressure on others to be ideal as well. If anything, the internet can be criticized as asking us to conform to an ideal that we could never in reality achieve, so it is hardly surprising that there exist some counter-cultural elements as well. But the fact is that online communities, in all other respects, function with exactly the same fundamental social elements as offline communities (which is hardly surprising, since both are comprised of people). These elements are usually defined as cohesion, unity, shared history, and close relationships. Look at this very site for an example - we are cohesive (engage in mutual discussions, debates, groups, games etc), demonstrate unity (stand together to fight for edeb8 in our awesome upcoming tournament against other debate sites), have a shared history (us all being a part of what has made the site what it is now) and close relationships (particularly when considering the community as a whole). Virtual communities have proven to be just as useful as online communities in mobilizing action. Kickstarter is the most obvious example of that.

In researching for this round I did something totally unthinkable. I dared to search up some of Justin Bieber's music. I found this song "Baby" that has about a 2:1 dislike to like ratio. Here are some of the fantastic comments I saw:

"Stop hating justin he did nothing to u guys?? "
"Not only is JB a disgrace to music, but also a disgrace to humanity."
"I honestly don't understand why you're hating on Justin."
"This video gave me AIDS"
"Guy has amazing voice, I can't to understand why, people, why you hate him!!"

Obviously a range of opinions, ranging from jests about the poor quality of the song / Mr Bieber to borderline outrage about why anybody would even hate on this kind of stuff. Now prepare for me to analyze this psychologically. First, however, there's an important sociological rule you need to understand - reinforcement. Reinforcement is the expected reaction others take to your action. Positive reinforcement is when your expectations align with the actual results, while negative reinforcement is when they do not align. This is the principle behind the internet phenomenon known as "trolling", where a user will try to make somebody react crazily by making some crazy statements to them. The positive reinforcement of that action lies in the entertainment and achievement value of making them react, which causes them to "troll" more. Such behavior is socially ramified not only online, but in the real world also. When we see celebrities and stars fall from grace, that always sells more tabloids than anything else, in no small part because that very gossip and speculation causes the celebrities to do even crazier things.

It's not the anonymity of the internet that grants them that power either, as youtube comments are powered by Google IDs that are often directly traceable to an individual through the Google Plus system if required. Indeed, many famous people have quite non-anonymously dissed Justin Bieber. It's not hard to find sites online with long lists (such as this one) justifying the hatred of Justin Bieber either, with their authors all-too-happy to list their credentials. While the content is shared online, it's not hard to find in entertainment news, and even day to day conversations where Bieber has often become a byword for horrible  music.

But there's a number of more complex forces going on with those comments. A surprisingly high number of comments reflect more traditional values of ideal self. But at the same time, because it's popular to hate on Justin Bieber, there's positive reinforcement for doing so ("yeah, he does suck doesn't he!"). Add in the gossip factor and it's easy to see why a star like Bieber can get so much negative attention. None of this is inherent to anonymity, even if the internet were the only way to be anonymous (and then even if the internet was generally anonymous at all). TIME magazine noted of Bieber and Rebecca Black (who have the most hated videos on YouTube, apparently), "Both Black and Bieber have that irritating ability to create tween pop that gets stuck in your head for days." Ultimately I think this is the issue, as musical socially held beliefs are expressed online in the most entertaining way people can think of. Because being entertaining is a desirable trait (such as making people laugh at music they don't like), that is reflected in the ideal selves of many commentators. Because Bieber became a popular target, he becomes a scapegoat for the audience that just wants to jump on the bandwagon of being an entertaining ideal self, just to get that positive reinforcement. This is why young teen pop stars with relatively less radio playtime, like Greyson Chance, have an astonishingly high number of likes and almost no dislikes, along with almost all positive comments. 

There's a major confounding variable here in selection bias. Not everybody has left a comment on the video, or even seen the video, so not all ideal selves are reflected. Entertainment ideal types will seek out the video specifically to dislike it because of its hype, and spread their own unique reason for hating it, while the more traditional type will just happen upon the video anyway and leave a message of support. Both are legitimate means of achieving positive reinforcement. But many more traditional types (I hate this title - chivalry is by no means a tradition, but let's keep pretending it is) will not just happen upon the video. There's an interesting side note here too: YouTube was where Justin Bieber was first "discovered" by producers. His entire success , and every bit of good he has done, is wholly dependent on the internet.

The key point, to my opponent's only case study here, is that the internet has not caused a change in social values. It has merely broadened the scope of social expression.

Let's bring this all back to my point at the start. Yes, we are psychologically detached online, but that's because in real life we're bigger jerks than we care to admit. The internet isn't significantly shaping what we express at all, but is merely a bigger place to express it. The form of the expression will always adapt to suit the medium, but the internet elicits and imposes a high standard of behavior based on ideal self. And yeah, it is socially ramified, but then so are cultural and behavioral norms in the world at large. If anything, the internet can be best described as a meta-society prototyped from our world where people generally behave nicer and engage with each other more.

I do apologize in advance for simplifying much of this to the greatest possible degree, but I'd be happy to go into more depth in subsequent rounds.

Materialism and Consumerism

Paradoxically, pro claims that internet users both covet socially-desirable items and disrespect socially-desirable people, a rather curious view of social norms that seems to imply an internet-enforced misanthropy. I'd very much like to see the reasoning reconciling these two arguments, but I'll address the point anyway.

One of the strongest social forces is that of belonging. We saw in my previous rebuttal one way internet users can gain a sense of this - by joining the so-called Beliebers, or by joining the ranks of the so-called Haters. Something similar exists not just with personal affiliations, but with personal desires. By belonging to the McDonalds Facebook page and coveting their latest burgers, a person connects with the leagues of other McDonalds fans from around the world. It makes items one already covets seem more within reach. Pro has identified a slightly more nuanced way this happens through Facebook friends. By connecting with one set of friends, the socially-constructed desires of these friends are more visible, helped along by the speed of information on the net. I could even take this argument one step further. If I'm a serial killer and I want to kill people, the internet makes it easier for me to connect with crime networks to help me do my evil deeds. I don't know why my opponent stopped at materialism when kidnapping, money laundering, murder, terrorism etc are all valid targets for this argument - let alone cyberbullying. Don't worry, I'll go through it all.

When you join Facebook, you digitally sign a contract that gives Facebook the right to display your stuff on the walls of your friends - and if they think that's good for their business, then you can bet they will (though recently they apparently let you turn this off in your settings, which is awesome). Unlike Facebook, which is essentially an advertising platform, the internet is an open set of protocols that allows for fast communication. Though you can request information, you are not obligated to receive any. This distinction is important - you can give yourself positive reinforcement with regards to ideals that conform to your idea of your ideal self, but you don't have to. You choose to because seeking positive reinforcement is a natural human trait. Facebook knows this, and that's why they're so popular. Furthermore, Facebook is not 24/7. It only exists when you're looking at it. Otherwise it's quite literally just a bunch of bits and bytes in a computer somewhere, not the abstract concept it usually represents. If you don't want to keep up with others 24/7, you are free to leave Facebook at any time and go do something else.

So when I join McDonald's page, seeing photoshopped pictures of Big Macs is my reward for doing so, and that brings me closer to my ideal self, because I'm seeing what I want to see. The same is true of the friends I choose, and networks I choose to either join or distance myself from. The point is that the information communicated to you on the internet is ultimately only a reflection of your ideal self. For many people, their ideal self is not on Facebook. I totally respect that. For some, they absolutely have to have the most friends out of everybody they know, and that's fine too. I've already made the point that the vast majority of us are not horrible people online. The scope of these issues can only ever be as large as our society and culture reinforces the notion that such behaviors are acceptable - a decision in no way shaped by the internet, but by human interaction, be it online or offline.

But what happens when your ideal self is actually a horrible person? First of all, it is true, some people do have terrible ideas. There are people out there who probably want to hurt you at this very moment - even people who don't personally know you. That might range from the humble spammer to the criminal elite. But whatever they can do on the internet, you can do too. The nature of your self gives you no inherent advantage or disadvantage when it comes to the net. To paraphrase Newton, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For example, the internet does provide more opportunities for cyberbullying to take place, but it also provides more opportunities to report that cyberbullying and prove that it really happened. In this way the internet actually reduces instances of bullying overall, since bullies are caught more easily, even when instances of cyberbullying specifically increase (because they substitute for real-world bullying that might have otherwise gone unreported). The net impact on society is that immediacy - not more undesirable behavior, but less. Hackers are caught and stopped faster than burglars. Still they are in an extreme minority, thanks to the psychology of the internet. In effect, the internet has not solved the harms of human nature, but it has not made them worse either.

Is the immediacy of crime a bad thing? Only when the response is relatively slow, which it need not be. Most major viruses and detected and patched within hours online, for example, thanks to the hard work of many security companies. Filing a police report is now easier than ever, and you can do so anonymously - something that would have been incredibly difficult even just half a century ago. As long as we, the vast majority of internet users, stay one step ahead, we should be safe.

One might legitimately ask about whether the ideal self of society actually causes damage to that society. There can be no question that in a consumer culture, spending and values are not necessarily correlated. Attributes of an ideal self will frequently conflict - people often want to be able to demonstrate their wealth, for example, but they also want to live a humble life. These competing forms of good may in the long run have vastly different consequences for our world, but the point is we don't know which alternative leads to what. We have imperfect information concerning the future, and need to make our decisions based on our limited understanding of the consequences. As such, a more coveting society might not actually be something that's worse for us, if we all largely believe this to be the case (as we would have to for it to be reflected in our ideal selves).

To summarize this, then: the marginal cost of the internet is nothing in this respect, because any concerns about ease of access to information that may be considered socially undesirable is premised on the internet's superior speed to other media. This, in turn, empowers others to prevent access to such information to the same degree as it can be proliferated. All this would hold true even if people acted the same way online as they do offline. Any consequences that follow from this would have been borne by us anyway, since the internet has only broadened the scope of decisions available to be made, not limited it. The only materialism the internet promotes is that which we already promoted a priori.

Proliferating Ignorance

The crux of this argument is this claim by my opponent: "People will accept what they read as an authority, and what if it truly isn't?" The problem pro presents is not with a general natural right to free speech, but with the beliefs of people these things are true.

When people want to know who the third emperor of Rome was, they'll probably enter that into a search query. Internet search engines are usually funded by advertising. Advertisers want to target their audience. It follows that search engines have an inherent vested interest in displaying the most relevant, accurate results. The fact that it's so easy to publish online means that the search engines can usually reliably use citations to rank their results in a way mirroring socially held beliefs about what websites are useful to show. Unsurprisingly, it so happens that in the vast majority of cases, people don't want to see ignorant rubbish. When I search on Google for "the third emperor of Rome", 5 of the top 10 results mention the correct answer (Caligula) in the title, while a further 4 are chronologies of the Roman emperors (which would also be useful to anybody engaged in that kind of inquiry). There are some other tricks that search engines use, but citations in the form of links is the most important.

Of course, not everybody checks their facts online, and it's this that's the problem. When a politician tells you something, it's natural to want to check their sources are accurate. When you're reading this very round, you'll probably question the veracity of my claims too. And yes, even things published in books have been grossly wrong. There is not really a magic school in England called Hogwarts. This also applies to so-called non-fiction books. Lance Armstrong didn't exactly mention his doping in his autobiography, did he? In fact, publishers have always just been motivated by what sells. It's the editor's job to check the facts, not the publisher. The only publications that have ever had a stringent review process are those that have professional academic editors, which are almost all journals. Amazingly enough, even journals have sporadically contained fake science and information that was later proven completely inaccurate. The vast majority of the written education used in human history has been from religious books, the veracity of which, while plausible, cannot be particularly reliably confirmed by any editor. It was in this principle that, at the Nuremberg rallies, the NAZIs accused the Jews of spreading misinformation about them in the news and implored them to report only the truth (which just so happened to be the NAZI version of the truth, ie untrue). By the way, journals and other such trustworthy articles are easily searchable using Google Scholar, which will only return results that are highly likely to be true.

The ease of publishing such information has also never been a problem. The easiest way to spread something untrue remains simply to say it to somebody. Although this could be argued to have little more than a local impact, consider how many vast cultures had rich oral traditions dating back many centuries before the invention of writing. This proves that the spoken word can have both reach and impact. Gullible people have always been duped by things, and the internet has not changed that. Indeed, the lack of oversight over quality of information on the internet is in many countries (such as the USA) a constitutionally protected right, being both free speech and free press. Free press means that if a newspaper wants to print lies, they are free to do so (subject to other laws). Free speech means I can say whatever I like and get away with it (again, so long as I don't run afoul of other laws, like slander etc).

The problem is not the false information people believe in. The problem is that people believe false information. This only shows a failure of our education system to properly teach people how to look at information critically. I agree that there is a problem, but it is not a problem with the internet. In fact, the internet can be used to help teach people, especially young people, how to think critically. This website is a prime example of this fact. By using debate and competition, it is possible to build a framework that forces participants into a critical mindset. An interactive system like this has historically only existed interpersonally. By expanding the scope of critical discussion, everybody connected to the internet benefits. So if anything, the internet has made us less susceptible to bogus information.

Our access to particularly dangerous information can be much more controlled on the net as well. It used to be easily to be mailed fraudulent lottery schemes by snail mail, because the postie couldn't open every envelope to check if there was a scam inside. Now, email programs automatically filter such spam and hide it from your view, allowing you access to only the information that's really directed at you.

Finally, an interesting anecdote to this argument is found in the essay "Search and Emergence" by Rudy Rucker: "An even more surprising success is to be found in user-curated encyclopedias. When I first heard of this notion, I was sure it wouldn't work. I assumed that trolls and zealots would infect all the posts. But the Internet has a more powerful protection system than I'd realized. Individual users are the primary defenders." Because the ranking and visibility of pages is determined by search engines primarily through relevance, and the majority of individual users have a strong interest in keeping information on the net accurate, my opponent will find it incredibly difficult to get hits on his site with false information. For the same reason that a site like Wikipedia - despite a few minor flaws - is by and large actually accurate, the most relevant pages found by search on any given subject can also be presumed to be relatively accurate. And while untruths (usually fake news) do occasionally circle social media, they are usually posted on snopes.com within hours to dispel any doubt.

Final Thoughts

Pro wanted me to bring some benefits of the internet to your attention. He also pointed out I don't have to do that to win this debate. Ultimately this debate comes down to four simple facts:

It is not that the internet has damaged human interaction, but that we are jerks

It is not that the internet has made us materialistic, but that the internet exposes our materialism

It is not that the internet tells lies, but that we believe them

And in each case, rather than produce the problem, the internet has reduced the problem

I look forward to the next round.

Return To Top | Posted:
2014-07-15 03:01:25
| Speak Round
zschmollzschmoll (PRO)
I of course welcome the opening statement from my opponent, and I thank him for directly getting right down to the heart of the conflict. I can tell these next few rounds will be great.

I would like to begin by defending my assertion that my opponent cannot say the goods outweigh the bads in regards to the Internet. I don't think that we need to consider benefits and costs at all as some kind of net measure. I am not arguing here for the financial costs of the Internet, but I do think of financial example might help prove my point. Let's say you have a chance to earn five dollars in revenue, but it will cost you two dollars. Then, let's say that I am great at finding opportunities, and I find you a chance to earn five dollars but only at a cost of one dollar. Granted, you would make a net benefit in both situations. You are better off than you were before, but the first one causes damage. Why? You are worse off than you possibly could have been; this is an opportunity cost.
If there is any area where the Internet has created more negative value them positive value, that is damage. Even if there is a net benefit overall to the Internet, if there is any individual area where the Internet has created more negative than positive value, my case is proven and the Internet has caused at least one damaging impact on society.

I appreciate all those the resources provided by my opponent, but I am going to do my best to show you where they fall short of actual refutations of my points.
I want to applaud his bravery in going online to view a Justin Bieber video in response to my challenge. However, I don't know if his reinforcement argument holds. We all know that it is very easy to create a fake Google account and start commenting all we want anonymously. If you go to the same video that he mentioned, several of that commenters are simply avatars and screen names. You definitely do not need to tie your comments to your ideas. That is somewhat irrelevant to the argument, but I wanted to clear up that issue.

Interestingly, my opponent mentions the following: "The key point, to my opponent's only case study here, is that the internet has not caused a change in social values. It has merely broadened the scope of social expression."

This is false. There is research on a phenomenon called online disinhibition effect. It is hard to find articles that are not behind a pay wall, but here is a nice overview by Dr. Jeremy Dean (http://www.spring.org.uk/2010/08/six-causes-of-online-disinhibition.php). There is documented research from other sources online as well that you can find on your own regarding the fact that people do indeed act differently in the real world than they do online. Their values change if you will. If your actions reflect your values, then it seems as if we have two different sets of values here, and if we follow the trend toward a society that communicates more and more electronically, those values will be cultivated, and we will lose the ones that we have from interacting in person. Again, if we are losing something that we had, there is damage there.

Moving on to his rebuttal of my points about materialism and consumerism.

I honestly don't really understand how he directly handled my argument. Basically, my argument was that the undesirable trait of materialism is emphasized through the Internet, and because of the immediate nature of the Internet, those emotions come from a wide variety of places for a long amount of time. My argument was not necessarily about the speed of information, but it was mainly about the fact that the Internet can be like keeping up with the Joneses when there are literally 1000 Joneses on your Facebook as opposed to the two families that live next door. Because of the human tendency towards wanting praise, we want more and more because we have more people to impress.

While I certainly appreciate his points about the speed of the Internet making problems more immediate and also immediately solvable, that was not my main point. I was arguing that materialism increases as we want what our neighbor has, and we are more exposed to everything our neighbor has through online social networks. Again, if we can agree that greed and materialism are not positive traits, then damage has been created.
Finally, we're moving on to proliferating ignorance.

First, my example about the Roman Emperor was hypothetical. I also did that same search before writing that example, but I did not imply that that particular search was somehow representative of my point.

Search engines do not actually operate purely on citations. They are certainly a factor, but there are many other things that go into the algorithms of Google and other search engines. Of course, these algorithms proprietary, so I cannot provide you with a list of all of the factors and their relative importance, but they are highly complicated things.

There is certainly plenty of room for search engine optimization to take advantage of this. Look at the case of the sports website Bleacher Report. Bleacher Report utilizes many amateur journalists (I was one in the past), but it is not surprising at all to see one of these articles written by people like me be ranked ahead the work of the very people from ESPN that I cited in my articles. That is search engine optimization, and it is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is certainly not always true that the most informed articles rise to the top. The primary sources I was referencing were behind my commentary in the search engines.
I again suppose that I was not clear with my argument. I agree that free speech is important. I wouldn't argue with that. I think that you should be free to publish on the Internet. However, from a societal perspective, is it not damaging to have people read bad sources and believe them. My opponent said that the problem is that people believe false information. I agree, but is it not problematic that it is relatively easy to publish false information?

Before the Internet, it was certainly harder to spread terrible ideas simply because you had to sell them to a publisher through an editor. It is a lot harder to set up a printing press then it is to set up a website that looks authoritative.

Let me provide a little thought experiment. Suppose that there is a wrong idea that only one percent of the population is going to believe. In society today, I can just create a website and potentially find plenty of gullible people to believe in my false idea. Almost anyone within that one percent will find my article and reinforce their wrong beliefs.

In the past, I would need to sell that idea to an editor. Certainly, my editor might fall within that same 1% that I do, but the odds are against it. The odds are one out of 10,000. My idea will not become a piece of media in that situation. I might be able to talk to some people in my town and spread my idea, but I will not be able to reach the same audience of gullible people that I can through the Internet.

Without the Internet, those people would simply never hear my terrible idea. Even if they do have the propensity to believe it, they would not have had the exposure to it. As a result, they would not have picked up the wrong idea, and they would have the right idea.

Can't you see the potential damage? Isn't it problematic to society when more people are buying into wrong ideas?

I think that while my opponent has presented a lot of research, he has not directly interacted with two of my main arguments. Even though one that he did address, there is research that also shows that there is an online disinhibition effect. In other words, people do treat people differently online.

I am greatly enjoying this debate, and I look forward to the chance to continue the conversation.

Return To Top | Posted:
2014-07-17 14:51:57
| Speak Round
adminadmin (CON)
I thank my opponent for continuing the debate.

At the end of the last round I presented my four key contentions:

It is not that the internet has damaged human interaction, but that we are jerks
It is not that the internet has made us materialistic, but that the internet exposes our materialism
It is not that the internet tells lies, but that we believe them
And in each case, rather than produce the problem, the internet has reduced the problem

In this round I will extend and support these arguments further, as they have become the key areas of clash to the debate.

I accept my opponent may show the costs of one alternative may outweigh the costs of another alternative, provided that he can then also prove that the benefits are equivalent. Again, I don't really see it being an issue for this debate. I further accept my opponent's assertion that "If there is any area where the Internet has created more negative value them positive value, that is damage."

We are Jerks

My opponent does not comment on my scientific evidence. He does not refute my substantial psychological analysis. He has presented no substantive evidence whatsoever that supports his theory. He has only cited a single substantive theory, which as I will go on to show, has been proven wrong countless times, but if nothing else then the weight of my existing evidence already disproves this theory.

Let me begin, however, in the dark realms of Justin Bieber. By pro's mechanism, any marginal negative behavior on the internet must be committed anonymously. However, I have already provided links to articles written by people only too happy to put their names to the Justin Bieber hatred. Pro conveniently ignored these. I did a quick survey of the first 11 top-level comments on the same Justin Bieber song. 10/11 of the Youtube profiles were connected to a personal social network, like Facebook or Google Plus. The 1 that wasn't so connected was actually one of the supporters of Justin Bieber. 4/11 were connected to multiple social profiles. Social connectivity while sharing such hatred would make no sense if the online disinhibition effect were true for those people. They would instead simply create a fake account on youtube, like the one belieber did, and comment relatively anonymously. While not everybody's YouTube name is the same as their profile name, their social profile name (which looks at least highly believable to be a real name in every case, especially since there would be not reason to make both a fake Google Plus and a fake Youtube profile under my opponent's model) can easily be found.

So while you don't need to tie comments to ideas, the fact remains that most people do.

The research my opponent cited has some merit. Online disinhibitation does occur in that there are social values that were once suppressed, and are now being expressed. Support for minority movements such as gay rights provides a strong example. A recent study on MMORPG players found that: "...virtual gaming may allow players to express themselves in ways they may not feel comfortable doing in real life because of their appearance, gender, sexuality, and/or age. MMORPGs also offer a place where teamwork, encouragement, and fun can be experienced." However, the ability to engage in a flame war is not inherently a motivation to engage in one, and this is where the theory falls short. All the evidence shows that online disinhibition actually creates stronger interpersonal relationships, not weaker ones.

According to a 2000 study of flaming online on controversial topics, it occurs in some form in only 4.7% of text communication, 0.39% of video conferencing communication, and 0.21% of online face-to-face communication. In fact, studies have consistently found that flaming is only done by a very small group of internet users, who are almost all extroverted males (a sample, indeed, that would have been too much in the minority to notice among the earlier internet experiments). But these males simply post a lot of messages. The fact that despite their attempts to dominate the conversation, 96.3% of messages on controversial topics remain completely flame free, shows an extraordinary resilience among internet users as a whole to this kind of behavior. And indeed among these messages, the majority are worded nicer than they would be interpersonally.

There is no way anonymity can activate a personal identity. Anonymity always activates a group identity, because by definition anonymity is impersonal. As I explored in depth in the last round, the only reason why anyone attacks (flames) Justin Bieber is because of circumstance. This also explains why other pop stars are left relatively alone. It is true that flaming is significantly more prevalent among anonymous sources, but the reason for this is simple - you can't express an ideal self (part of your personal identity) when the very point of being anonymous is that you are not yourself. Hence why so many people go to such lengths to not be anonymous online. Naturally, there is a counter-culture against this too (campaign for privacy on the internet) and balancing those concerns is pretty important. Indeed, despite our proven jerk behavior in real life, in many non-anonymous sources the flaming rate is literally 0%.

My explanation for the group behavior of the few as trying to find acceptance among a group of haters who are really just trying to be funny is scientifically validated as well. According to another recent study, flaming online is most perceived (among all reactions) to be funny, even more so than it is annoying (however much that makes us sound like even bigger jerks). In each case among the general population, the internet only supplements overall social capital, and never reduces it. Indeed researchers have argued that computer networks are inherently social and thus these conversations are merely extensions of social interactions in general.

While it could be argued that better enabling flaming to take place by providing an additional outlet for anonymous expression is bad, consider two things. First, the alternative. If these people have neither group acceptance nor interpersonal acceptance, how exactly are they going to have any hope of generating social capital? In this respect, flaming is a learning and experience process to help them learn what is considered by others to be acceptable behavior and what is not. Second, consider that before the internet, people couldn't avoid flaming. If you don't want to be flamed, go on edeb8 and avoid 4chan. It's really that simple.

And better yet, in almost every case, flamers don't actually want to hurt anybody. There's literally nothing more to it than the message, and often they don't realize that it has the capacity to actually tangibly hurt others. Here's an interesting account about a guy who met somebody who had "trolled" him online, that's worth quoting at length:

The Troll burst into tears. His dad gently restraining him from leaving the table.
I put my hand on his shoulder and asked him "Why?"
The Troll sat there for a moment and said "I don't know.I don't know. I'm sorry. It was like a game thing."
A game thing.
So,that's what it was...
The Troll's mother said "If you want to call the Garda we'll support you in that. I'm ashamed of him."
I responded: "I'm not criminalizing a 17 year old kid and ruining his future. But I will write about it - and you must all guarantee me that he'll go and see a counsellor about this or I will go legal on you."
Then I got up to leave. I looked The Troll in the eye and said "Stand up."
He stood. I said " Look at me. I'm a middle aged man with a limp and a wheeze and a son and a wife that I love. I'm not just a little avatar of an eye. You're better than this. You have a name of your own. Be proud of it. Don't hide it again and I won't ruin it if you play ball with your parents. Now shake hands."
"I'm sorry." he said, and looked like he meant it. "Thanks for giving me a break dude."
Then we shook on it.
And that is how I came to shake the hand of a troll.

"Game things" and social teasing, though funny to jerks like us, was not invented online and has existed since forever. This is not a harm that the internet has created. "Games" are also social things, stressing the social element of modern human interaction.

Originally pro tried to say that our ability to actually communicate has been lost, and that we all just sit around texting. Note how he dropped this line and turned this argument into something closer to his second point after I rebutted him in depth. The point is overall that if pro wants to tell me that values have changed, he had better be prepared to show what changes in values have been caused by the internet, as opposed to some other cause. If anything, we now value social capital more than before, not less, as I have conclusively demonstrated both in theory and practice.


What I said to handle his argument was that since the internet is only a reflection of our desires as expressed through our behaviors, we must already be materialistic a priori for this argument to hold. Certainly those motivations can come from a variety of places, some of which might be virtual (such as online advertising) but this is not a new problem, nor is it one that the internet has actually created. As my opponent correctly notes, the human tendency is to want praise, the internet is merely a tool used to fulfill that desire. Inherently, the fulfillment of a materialistic desire is nothing negative, and if it was we wouldn't know that a priori either.

I further argued that the internet has actually had a major hand in reducing materialism through a number of mechanisms, such as ideal self and the need to consciously buy-in to most materialistic content online rather than just having it forced on you (for example, the smell of tasty McDonald's burgers down the street may increase our materialism).

I have no idea how greed relates to this argument at all. Greed is a product of our desires. It also predates the internet, and hasn't been changed by the internet. Greed still works exactly as before.

False Ideas
Here's the exact search engine rank correlation for Google, the world's number one search engine, as measured last year. Of the top 8 factors, 7 are social signals, and the other one is citations on other websites. You can do all the on-page optimization in the world, and people will still be able to get you a low ranking simply by ignoring you. Bleacher Report ranks highly because its articles are popular, not because they waved a magic search engine wand or something.

200 years ago, people believed books written by snake oil salesmen because they had no way of verifying the claims, and nobody else knew about snake oil. Today, at least there is a mechanism by which search engines create algorithms that delivers only the best, most relevant and most accurate results. As is the case with the Romans with their emperors, so is the case here. As long as search engines have the incentive to get accurate results, people will be better served by Google than by a library, which only has >0.1% of all the books on a subject, whereas Google indexes close to every website on the internet.

Publishers are usually happy if you present them with manuscripts you have edited yourself. As long as they can profit off it, it's in their interests. Since most such articles aren't being sold to academics, you don't need your academic qualities to be checked either. It's exactly the same with the internet, with the search engine taking the role of the publisher. If anything, the internet gives you a greater exposure to highly accurate content, while also providing access to stuff deemed less accurate.

Overall, this point relies on a false premise that just about any ideas can be popular on the net no matter how factually wrong. In fact, the more wrong something is, the more it seems to be lampooned online, not celebrated.

The resolution is negated.

Return To Top | Posted:
2014-07-20 14:26:34
| Speak Round
zschmollzschmoll (PRO)
Given that this is my final opportunity to comment on this topic, I am going to remain with the topics that we have been focusing on in this entire debate.
I think that my argument was misrepresented however on the first point. I did not say that any marginal negative behavior must be committed anonymously. I said that the Internet allows the potential for that to occur, and the fact that people have the ability to do this can certainly be damaging.

Moving on to his point about flaming. This actually ties into my previous point. There is the potential for damage to be done through the Internet, and even though it is a minority, some people do indeed create damage and say things that they would never would in person. I think that his example relating the interview with a troll follows exactly what I was talking about. People do not realize the harm that they do, and they might think that it is innocent fun that doesn't hurt anyone. According to my opponent "they don't realize that it has the capacity to tangibly hurt others." I have never argued for intention here, but the tangible hurt is what I have been trying to prove the entire debate. If indeed it is true that people are tangibly hurt as my opponent ascertains that it is possible, then I believe that my point holds. Even if they only are outspoken men who have far too much time on their hands to irritate and bother people on the rest of the Internet, the fact of the matter is that they do have the potential to do damage, and they actually have done damage to people of all ages around the world.

You see this specifically with teenagers and cyber bullying. Even though "traditional" bullying is still more common than cyber bullying, there is also no denying that some people are exclusively cyber bullied. (http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/cyber-bullying-statistics.html)

Again, I think I have shown a consistent line of argument from the beginning of this debate until now. There are qualities that you do not see as often in online conversation such as tact. If we lose these characteristics, society will be quantifiably worse off. We are losing things that we had before, and again, I encourage you to go look at the research in regards to online disinhibition. There are different values that are cultivated in online interactions, and as we are losing characteristics that we have had for millennia, tell me that there is not damage being done.

Moving on to materialism. I never argued that the Internet created our materialism, but I argued that it amplified it. We agree that humans like praise. We agree that technology can fulfill that desire. Technology is available around the clock which is where it is different. In times before the Internet, when you went home, you would not go online and see 200 of your friends on Facebook. Again, I likened it to keeping up with the Joneses 24/7. I want praise, and I can get virtual praise at any time by posting impressive things on my Facebook. After all, if other people are receiving praise for posting the pictures of new cars or other things like that, will it not remind me constantly that I want that praise as well?

Finally, I appreciate the graph that you provided, but you certainly can purchase all of those things. Here are a few examples.


I know it isn't technically magic, but there are techniques you can use, and before you immediately argue that these things will immediately damage your search engine ranking rather than promote it, the research is mixed about that, so it is certainly possible that search engines can be gamed.

I agree that it is in that the search engine's best interest to have accurate results, but in the end they are ultimately computer programs. It is possible to work around them.

People do not always have the discernment that I think you believe they have, and it is certainly possible for blatantly wrong information to go viral on the Internet and ultimately provide people with false information that they believe is true. If that is not damage, I don't know what it is.

I have argued this entire debate that the Internet has had a damaging effect on society. I have argued in three lines of reasoning is presented above, and even if only one of them convinces you, you ultimately need to agree with my position because the Internet will have caused some damage on society. Thank you for reading this debate, and I look forward to the closing statement from my opponent. Thanks for the debate admin!

Return To Top | Posted:
2014-07-21 13:22:54
| Speak Round

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Whoa, I never thought I'd see the day when admin missed a deadline! Nice work both of you, this was a good debate.
Posted 2014-07-25 07:47:59
I'd just like to say that I'm really sorry for missing this deadline. I loved the topic and even had my round written up. I just wanted to check over it one last time before the time ended, and unfortunately I then totally forgot as work came up. Really sorry. Impressive how fast you came up with your rounds though.
Posted 2014-07-24 16:04:21
Thanks. I appreciate all of your help with this.
Posted 2014-07-17 14:52:52
Also, let me know if there are any other notifications you should get but don't, or if you find any other bugs. I try to fix stuff within a few hours. :)
Posted 2014-07-15 03:02:41
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Trying again after this one fell through: http://www.edeb8.com/debate/That+the+internet+has+a+damaging+impact+on+society%5Cn-1/