Internet Citizens in Australia – good, bad or ugly? You decide

FREQUENT internet users are less likely to respect the law, serve on a jury or do volunteer work, a study has found.

An Australian National University poll discovered that while regular web surfers were more politically engaged, they also had less deference for traditional societal values.

Only 38 per cent of respondents who logged on at least once a day felt it was important to obey laws and regulations, compared with 51 per cent of less regular cyberspace visitors.

“Frequent internet users were less willing than infrequent internet users to accept that traditional norms of citizenship such as obeying laws and regulations, serving on a jury if called and being active in voluntary organisations are very important in order to be a good citizen,” the report said.

Still, report researcher Juliet Pietsch said the internet wasn’t causing people to withdraw from society.

Interesting to read The Australian’s take on this survey. The Sydney edition of MX, the free metro newspaper, leads with this story on the front page but takes a much more positive view of the same results:

…frequent internet use is actually helping people be more social and caring… 70 per cent of those who used the internet more than once a day felt that to be a good citizen it was important to support people who were worse off than themselves.

I guess the lesson here is to by pass the media and make your own conclusions.

UPDATE: I did read the report for myself. A couple of brief comments:

  • A lot of the benchmarks used in the report are from the US and are 5-10 years old. The Web has changed a lot in that time, so its a shame we don’t have more recent data compare against.
  • I would be interested to know if there are any particular laws and regulations that frequent Internet users don’t think its necessary to obey… also bear in mind, only 51% of infrequent users said it was important to obey – that really puts that point into perspective.
UPDATE 2: More coverage… the SMH copies and pastes from the AAP with the headline, Frequent net users more likely to flout law. However, its sister publication The Age takes the opposite view that the Internet [is] not isolating.

The more I look at the original poll, the more I think the stats are being used and abused a little. However, the poll report itself is also a little unclear – it would be good to get a clearer overview of who and how many people are classified as frequent, occasional and “rarely use” Internet users. My reading of the data is that 16% of people rarely use the Interent and another 16% are only occasional users. So percentage of less or infrequent users is either 16% or 32%, depending on how your define them. So being conservative and assuming ‘infrequent’ includes the rare and occasional groups, then my take on this is:
  • Just under 26% of people who believe it is important to obey laws and regulations are frequent Internet users.
  • A little over 7% of people who believe this are only occasional users.
  • A little over 8% of people, who rarely use the Internet, also think this. 

So even if you lump together people who occasionally and rarely use the Internet, then there are still more frequent than ‘infrequent’ Internet users who believe it is important to obey laws and regulations. Again, the other point is that this poll suggests that only about 41% of people overall think it is important to obey laws and regulations!

What do you think? Can you confirm, comment on or correct my analysis?