Public Internet Access is Morally Wrong?

I was doing some research on the use of the internet recently, and I’ve decided to write a paper on the ethics of providing public access computers to the public by public libraries.

Clearly, looking at the issue from a strictly professional standpoint, one could easily say that access to the Internet is a core responsibility of libraries. However, my perspective, as I have consistently said in this blog, is that we have to look at library issues from a non-library perspective as well. My intention is to begin with the premise that providing public internet access is morally wrong and to work backwards from there.

When you look at the empirical data, it is absolutely scary how convincing the “Internet is evil” becomes. Some interesting factoids:

  • Those who are extroverted and/or have strong social networks tend to benefit from internet use while those who are introverted and without social networks tend to feel the negative effects of internet use the most (Kraut et. al, 2002).
  • Despite “Global village” claims, unmoderated teen chat rooms are full of negative racial interactions (Tynes, 2004).
  • 11% of youth 10-13 and 23.4% of youth 14-17 encounter solicitations of sex on the internet, with “troubled youth” being particularly vulnerable (Mitchell, Finkelhor, & Wolak, 2001).
  • Hyper-commercialism has some particularly nasty effects on the personal development of children, and many internet sites are clearly using the internet to disguise commercial content from desired information (Greenfield, 2004).

I haven’t even started in on such topics as Internet addiction, the “Happy Slapping” phenomenon and the whole Jason Fortuny affair.

One argument that libraries can use is the “individual responsibility” argument — that is, that the library is not ultimately responsible for the effects of the internet, since the people who use it have free will. Of course, your average drug dealer could say the same thing.

Since I’m in the fact-finding stage of my paper, I do not want to make a conclusion yet. I already have my beliefs and biases, but I want to see if the data will change my mind first. So far, this has been a great learning experience!

Works Cited
Greenfield, P. (2004). Developmental considerations for determining appropriate Internet use guidelines for children and adolescents. Applied Developmental Psychology 25: 751-762.

Kraut, R. et. al (2002). Internet paradox revisited. Journal of social issues 58: 49-74.

Mitchell, K. J., Finkelhor, D. & Wolak, J. (2001). Risk factors for and impact of online sexual solicitation of youth. Journal of the American Medical Association 285: 3011-3014.

Tynes, B., Reynolds, L., & Greenfield, P. (2004). Adolescence, race, and ethnicity on the Internet: A comparison of discourse in monitored vs unmonitored chat rooms. Applied Developmental Psychology 25: 667-684.


One thought on “Public Internet Access is Morally Wrong?

  1. Huh. The Kraut findings surprise me. I consider myself a strong introvert, and I’m happily active in an online community that I would estimate to be at least 50% introverts. Quite a few of us have observed how much more comfortable we feel in this format.

    Perhaps it’s just a matter of finding a good match and putting in the effort to establish oneself in the community. In any case, off to check out that article and looking forward to reading more about your project!


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