Moral Panics over the Internet

posted 14 Apr 2011, 06:45 by Michael Boniface

William Dutton, from University of Oxford, presented to Google EU on "Moral Panics over the Internet".

WikiLeaks and pro-democracy protests across the Arab world are just two of many more recent examples of developments that have fuelled concerns – panics in some cases – over the social and political implications of the Internet. This talk identified some of the major 'moral panics' generated by public discourse on the use and impacts of the Internet. Is the Internet jeopardizing security, destroying privacy, and undermining the quality of information as well as real interpersonal communication and friendship? These and related issues need to be addressed by looking critically at their underlying assumptions and what empirical social research can offer about the actual uses and impacts of this burgeoning network of networks.

The talk highlighted some key issues and the importance of empirical research that critically examines public perceptions, but also it generated lively discussion of the issues on the minds of those attending this session, such as how users can identify trusted information online. The discussion reinforced the point that there are moral panics around the Internet that should be the focus of more sustained debate and high-quality social science research.

This talk was based on research supported by the Oxford Internet Survey (OxIS), the World Internet Project, eHarmony, and the EC’s Socio-Economic Services for European Research Projects (SESERV). You can access the full talk here.