It is no secret that the majority of internet users — either on a PC or a smartphone — are young and well-educated, but research published Thursday by Pew Research shows that people who read or speak English are more likely to be internet users. Even as other factors — e.g., age and education — are important, internet access is shown to be more available in countries in which English is prevalent. While that fact may not come as a surprise, Pew did discover — through a survey conducted among 36,619 people in 32 emerging and developing countries from March 17 to June 5, 2014 — that the general opinions regarding the internet find that it bolsters education but negatively influences morality.
The face-to-face interviews conducted by Pew found that a median of 42% of interviewees across 32 countries say that the internet is a bad influence on morality (29% said it is a good influence). No country had a majority of respondents who believe that it is a good influence. The survey found that people are generally divided on how they view the internet’s influence on politics (36% said that it is a good influence, and 30% said it is a bad influence). But overall, respondents believe that the internet benefits the economy, education, and personal relationships.
The figures on the internet and morality are, no doubt, partially a product of the 2013 revelations unveiled by Edward Snowden that nearly every government uses the internet to spy on its citizens. While the report does not convey why the respondents view the internet as a negative influence on morality, the recent debate surrounding user privacy, massive cyber attacks, and publicized criminal activity using the web are obvious factors.
The report also notes that highly educated respondents were more likely to say the internet is a positive influence: “Six-in-ten of those with a secondary education or more say the increasing use of the internet is a good influence on personal relationships, compared with 44% among people with less education.”
The general perception that the internet is good for relationships is likely linked to the fact that social networking is one of the top uses of the web in general. Internet users in emerging and developing countries are primarily using the web to stay in communication with family and friends, according to the survey. But such high usage of social networks is not exactly news; it’s been several years now since social media has overtaken online pornography in terms of popularity. Pew’s research found that among internet users in those developing countries surveyed, a median of 82% of users use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. A majority of users in every country — ranging from 93% of internet users in the Philippines to 58% in China — say that they use social networks; those users are more likely to be under 35.
So, while most users don’t see the internet as a moral benefit, it is undoubtedly beneficial in other ways, and most recognize those advantages web access provides. As those emerging countries continue to build out internet access, and smartphones continue to grow in number, perhaps perceptions about the internet’s influence on our moral compasses will shift.