Six scary things about the internet

The internet can be a big bad place. Recently I seem to have come across several warnings about web use and computers, some I knew about and others I didn’t. I’ve collected six scary things here that can form part of a discussion on online and computer activity or just generally serve as an awareness-raising reading for teachers and learners moving into the virtual environment.

1 Flame wars and smack talk – The internet is said to have a disinhibiting effect on people’s communication, meaning that they will sometimes say things in online discussions that they would never dream of saying in face to face communication. This hostile and/or insulting behaviour is called flaming, or sometimes smack talk. When users fight fire with fire it descends into a spiral, also called a flame war.

2 Internet addiction disorder – There is some disagreement as to whether this is a separate disorder or rather just a symptom of other disorders (e.g. gambling or porn addicts who go online). Apart from the obvious – wanting to be online all the time – symptoms include fatigue, lack of sleep, irritability, apathy, racing thoughts… uh oh this is feeling close to comfort I’ll stop there ๐Ÿ™‚

3 Creepy Treehouse syndrome – What a great name for a syndrome. This has been defined as a place online that adults built with the intention of luring kids in (by Jared Stein, see a more detailed exploration here). In education circles, some people refer to the Creepy Treehouse syndrome when a teacher for example “forces” students to join twitter or Facebook and become friends or followers. Needless to say, this is rather hotly debated (see here for example)

4 Trolls – Internet trolls are unpleasant people who post insulting, inflammatory or irrelevant messages in online forums or on blogs or other public areas. The prime motivation of a troll is to disrupt communication or provoke an emotional response. If a troll is baiting you online, you are giving them exactly what they want by rising to it.

5 Facebook depressionย  – This one is a bit tenuous, but I need to get my six in so here goes. According to one study of teenage girls in New York the ability to share problems and personal issues to such an extent is causing, or at least aggravating, depression. The problem with online places such as Facebook is that it allows one to discuss and cover the same problems over and over again. You know, really wallow in it.

6 Narcissism and web 2.0 – Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell, authors of The Narcissism Epidemic, call web 2.0 the new Wild West of narcissistic culture. They say the overwhelming message of social networking sites is a focus on the individual and, often, the superficial. Two arguments they make that made me think were the following: 1) the internet makes it very easy for you to be someone you’re not (usually better, cooler, more attractive )and 2) a lot of internet communication is through images and brief self-description placing attention on the shallower aspects of the person (your carefully selected photo, your quips, your blurbs). Ouch!

So, I wonder… do you think learners and educators should be aware of these things, and to what extent? Are these real fears or exaggerated horrors about modern technological life? Post a comment if you feel like it.

Published in: on February 11, 2010 at 9:32 am  Comments (14)  
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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wow Lindsay the scary masks certainly grabbed my attention!

    check out this article by the Daily Mail (OK dubious paper but still it’s interesting)

    the internet can apparently rewire the brain and cause all kinds of problems including a generation of people who don’t have the patience to sit and read a book!

    • Thanks Steph for the article. I’ve seen many ones like that, and it does say “controversial” study… I’m still struggling with the idea of whether all this is making us smarter or more stupid. There are arguments on both sides. I see the Daily Mail takes the world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket approach, not surprising perhaps. But good to be aware of!

    • Hi Steph,
      Articles based on “early results” of unnamed and as-yet-unpublished papers are highly dubious, regardless of which newspaper prints them. Sadly, many people will take this as gospel, not bothering to read and critique the actual research when it is published, and thus perpetuate such nonsense.

  2. Oooops, I’d better change my CrowdWise article on the same theme for tomorrow…(lucky it’s a series and can do that!)

    However yes, I do think that everyone should discuss these issues openly and no, I don’t think they’re exaggerated – not at all.

    It took some time for me to realize that actually someone who was very much bugging me, was simply a troll: warts and all, and he was deliberating engaging me (and others) into various flame wars.

    Recognizing his position in the community allowed me to let go of the ‘fight.’

    No. 3 is a very interesting one – I’ll talk about it more on my own blog… on individual identity. This doesn’t just go for luring in children but also resistant adults.

    Internet Addiction. oh boy. oh boy. My solution: created a diary on my corkboard and I’m only allowed to social-network on x site on x days ๐Ÿ™‚ (don’t laugh at me).

    Facebook depression’s a new one for me, if I only had the time…



    • Thanks Karenne, didn’t mean to jump on the same topic… has Alex Case already done this too? ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Look forward to your views on it in your CrowdWise series – you’re right series are very good for that kind of flexibility.

      Sorry to hear about your troll – I too have learnt from experience!

  3. ๐Ÿ™‚ don’t worry, that’s what happens in the blogosphere, topics trend… but anyway, back as have 10 mins to go before class –

    I missed no 6. and want to say something:


    And in other ways, it is also creating an amazing environment of sharing real stuff, real emotions, real thoughts, developing friendships and especially in the edublogosphere: well… you know what you do for example (and so many others) and all for no money: just the fun and pleasure of sharing one’s idea and knowledge with a mostly anonymous audience.

    ๐Ÿ™‚ Right, time to pack bag and computer.


  4. Agreed on all six. Another scary thing is the fact that conspiracy buffs of all types now feed each other’s delusions about everything under the sun.

    • And then there’s the Internet’s antidote to conspiracy theories, urban myths and email hoaxes, So it’s not all bad!

      • I’ve seen snopes before, but thanks for the timely reminder Mark. Great stuff.

  5. I find the Western, especially American, tendency to medicalize behavior rather ridiculous. There was a great New York Times article on this a few weeks ago that made the Twitter rounds

    As for flamers and trolls, they can go to hell and die ๐Ÿ™‚

    • You’re right about a tendency to make syndromes out of everything. It’s getting to be too much.

      You’re also right about those damn flamers and trolls!

  6. Actually isn’t flaming and troll-like behavior a medical condition? ๐Ÿ™‚ Wait a couple more years and I bet it will be. There will also be a lot of great, expensive meds to fix the problem as well I’m sure. ๐Ÿ˜›

  7. Here’s another scary thing: the internet is bringing parity to everything, nothing is exceptional, weird, taboo or (in)appropriate. You go to a teaching blog and you are invited to share what you read on your social network, subscribe to the rss feed or newsletter, leave comments, etc. Alternatively, you go to mule-pleasurers-r-us and… you are invited to share what you read on your social network, subscribe to the rss feed or newsletter, leave comments, etc. The internet environment is normalising the just plain wrong.

    Here’s another thing: everything is measured in popularity rather than if it is any good.

    I have more but I’m depressing myself.

    • Gulp. Yes there is that as well. Please don’t depress yourself, and no need to share this on your social network!

      There’s a great little comment about popularity and quality in marketing terms on Seth Godin’s latest blog btw And there was a book out recently about this too… cannot remember the title though!

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