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The topic of this essay is whether the Internet would inhibit or serve to aid in ones moral development.

This essay contends that the internet, as a whole, only would serve to inhibit moral development in the
coming generations. As the internet is a fairly new invention, there has not traditionally been any major
contemporary research done on this topic since the potential sample size is relatively small. However, in
the past few years, internet usage has exploded and so has research on this topic. This essay will examine
the first generation which grew up with the internet, the Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000), and
how their moral development can be affected by the internet. This essay will discuss four major factors
which influence online behavior and how can they affect an individual’s moral development outside the
virtual world. These four factors are lack of affective response and detachment from seeing the harm
caused by disruption, less possibility of discovery of criminal acts and consequently less enforcement of
the law, the possibility of having a completely different kind of social contract in the virtual world, and,
finally, reactions to perceived social and bureaucratic injustices. At the end of the essay, an example will
illustrate what happens when people get carried away in their cyber ego and persona which can result in
tragedy for everyone involved.

The first factor which influences morality to a tangible extent is the lack of affective response and the
distance from the disruption caused. Since people cannot directly see or perceive the negative reaction
their wrongdoing has caused, it reduces the natural feelings of compassion that people feel for each other.
Evolutionary scientists’ claim that the empathy people feel for their victims is most when they can see the
repercussions of their actions immediately or at least almost immediately. Since the internet vastly
increases the distance between sentient beings, their feelings of compassion towards others reduces
accordingly (Bandura, 1991). Also, damage done by people through technology may not be immediately
apparent to the victims and, as it is done only electronically, the wrongdoer cannot experience the harm
caused to the victim either visually or through auditory cues. This further helps in diminishing the
feelings of empathy and feelings of reciprocity among people and causes the transgressor to dehumanize
their victim. The affect of dehumanizing other human beings can easily spill over into the real world,
even if it is restrained through biologically evolutionary responses, such as empathy and feelings of future
reciprocity (Forrester et al, 1998). For example, if a man goes towards a random woman and hits her in
public, he will most likely be restrained by his feelings of empathy for a fellow human being and also
social disapproval of violence, especially towards females. This is due to the fact that actions are almost
universally disapproved of and despised. They also facilitate in lowering the social standing of a person.
However the same man might not feel the same towards hacking a random female’s email account, since
there is no visual or auditory contact between the transgressor and the victim here (Forrester et al, 1998).
Due to there being no immediate feedback, people may start to eventually forget that their actions do
indeed have a real and detrimental affect towards others, and the potential harm would keep escalating in
an even greater connected world. Thus, this dehumanization of the other can have long ranged effects on
peoples’ moral evolution, both in the long and short run.

The second factor which has the potential to spill over from the virtual world into the real one and inhibit
or regress moral development would be the lower possibility of the discovery of criminals and thus a
worsening of law enforcement (Phillips et al, 2000). Electronic communications today are mostly in the
form of emails or forum message board posts. These kinds of communication possibilities make it
possible for a person to make a completely anonymous persona online. With the advent of IP address
modifiers, such as VTunnel, it is even possible to reroute your internet to bypass national or institutional
firewalls. This completely eradicates the system of accountability that has more or less been a pillar of
most modern societies. This lack of accountability creates an almost enormous potential of fraud,
hacking, etc. Since it is almost impossible now to locate wrongdoers, it leads to fraud being left
unchecked and unpunished (Harrington, 1996). So it is impossible for a society to regulate the behavior of
its citizens. There are so many factors to consider before taking legal action against a person online even
if their identity is known. Some factors would be a lack of jurisdiction of authorities, lack of similar laws
across borders, simply the immense geographical and linguistic difference between legal entities. Since
there is no restriction of any type on illegal behavior, it only increases the incentive to engage in such
activities and would obviously lead to a regression of individual and societal moral development. This
can also be put down to a lack of awareness among individuals about online laws. Since a majority of
internet users do not understand the reasons behind digital laws, they may be more inclined to break,
especially with almost a certain guarantee of not getting caught(Chang et al, 2001). They also do not see
the harmful impact of their actions, leading them to conclude that there is none. So this flaw can be
counteracted if people are informed of the effects of their online behavior on others, since it would
automatically lead to less users engaging in illegal online activities due to the Golden Rule of reciprocity.
The Golden Rule, an ancient Chinese maxim conceived by Confucius, states that people should not do to
others what they don’t want done to themselves. It has since become an innate part of societies legal and
moral convictions. (Liankang, 2002)

The third factor is that since the internet is a new medium of two way communication between producers
and consumers, there should be new rules pertaining to its usage. Some have so far to call for a new
Social Contract between societies as the internet has completely revolutionized relations between all
levels and classes of people, as once the invention of the printing press had done. The nature of the
internet is such that the rules of property and privacy do not apply. This is visible in the rise of piracy ever
since the birth of the internet. Napster was the first file sharing network which had enabled the
widespread use of piracy. After it got shut down by the US courts, many variations, such as peer to peer
networks, have materialized. Enforcement of piracy has become almost impossible, since the majority of
users are anonymous and widespread. It was estimated that almost every internet user has at least once
engaged in the act of piracy, knowingly or unknowingly. The situation is such that the only way to
enforce anti-piracy laws would be by breaking privacy laws, which would be a highly unpopular move
and which no court will consent to (Nucci, 1989). “Real world” concepts are impossible to apply in
cyberspace. For proper enforcement, many current and existing laws would have to be reshaped, if not
completely overhauled. If laws are reformed, it may lead to disregard for the values on which these laws
were made. Most people tend to associate such overhaul with anarchy, which is essentially lawlessness,
the state of the internet right now. Such lawlessness, with the added veil of anonymity, may even lead to
anarchy and destabilization of the nation-state (Snarey, 1985). Although opponents call this concern over
the top, fear mongering and unlikely to happen, the power of the internet was already seen in such
countries such as Tunisia and Egypt. These “revolutions” only lead to increased destruction of a country.
With the infrastructure destroyed, morality is likely to degenerate. There needs to be effective
enforcement on the internet to ensure continued prosperity of most societies.

The last issue is the perceived social injustice and corruption of government and other large entities as a
rationalization of illegal online activities. People tend to develop their cyber-egos to give the impression
that they are rebelling against what they may perceive as social grievances. Since there is anonymity on
the internet, people can easily voice their grievances without coming under any real threat. While freedom
of expression is a cherished value, and one worth fighting for, unbridled freedom of expression gives
more allure to extremist ideologies (Chawdick et al, 2003). It also leads to people associating with only
similar ideologues with no voice for the other side. This has the potential of restricting ones moral
development as a person cannot hear both sides of the argument. On traditional media, for example TV,
normally both opposing voices are given a forum on which to debate and discuss their ideas. This helps in
broadening people’s horizons and giving them more ways to extend their morality. Without any
accountability, under the guise of anonymity, and without knowing counter arguments, people are likely
to be pulled into supporting extremism (Jaegar et al, 2003). On the other hand, the internet is also a forum
for dissenting voices if the traditional media in their country in not free to air opposing views. If that is
the case, the internet can prove to be a blessing. However, in most developed Western nations, this is not
the case, and cyber-egos supporting extremist ideologies can gain support and embed themselves among
the population (Welch et al, 2003).

To illustrate how cyber-egos suppress moral development, consider an example of cyber bullying. Cyber
bullying is online harassment of mostly school going children, largely adolescents, by their peers. In a
very high profile case, a British teenager was jailed for posting death threats to one of her peers on
Facebook. The transgressor, Keeley Houghton, was 18 when she posted death threats to a classmate
whom she had been bullying for about four years. It can reasonably be concluded that she would not have
killed him; it was the result of her taking her cyber persona too far and transgressing on another
individuals rights. Although she had assaulted the victim twice before, there was no indication that she
had intended to follow through on her death threats (Hanley). However, since she felt emboldened by the
allure of cyberspace, she probably could not think of the real world affects of her internet posting. She
was also not aware of any laws which she might be breaking. Since she could not see, hear or feel the
victim’s reaction, her feelings of empathy were further diminished. This illustrates how even normal
teenagers can be lead into doing criminal acts because of the widespread lack of accountability on the
internet. Also, she was incarcerated on bullying charges, which some legal experts don’t think can
technically apply to Facebook. Also clear in the example was her perceived injustice of the government
since she ignored repeated legal convictions warning her to cease her bullying of the victim.

In conclusion, the internet makes people feel invincible when they perform any illegal activities online.
This is mainly due to the culture of the internet and its users. There are four basic factors which affect
human behavior while browsing the internet, and they were discussed in detail in this report. They are, in
summary, the lack of visual or auditory response from the victim, which reduces feelings of empathy, the
distance between the aggressor and victim, which also makes it hard to empathize with the victim, seeing
them only as a computer terminal rather than a person. Secondly, the complete lack of accountability on
the internet, which makes it easy and tempting for anyone to break the law. Thirdly, the tendency of
internet users to ask for a complete overhaul of the legal system because parts of it cannot adapt to the
requirements of cyberspace. Lastly, the perceived social and governmental injustices felt by people which
lead to increasingly chaotic behavior offline in order to get back at the “system”. Then the example of
Keeley Houghton illustrated how some of these factors come into play in real life. Truly the internet
brings out the worst in people, both online and offline.

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