Censorship on the internet is rampant with 60+ countries engaging in state censorship. A Cambridge University research project is aiming to uncover the scale of this censorship, and how it affects users and publishers of information
The way in which people communicate online via social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook can be seen as a modern form of madness, according to a sociologist.
Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
writes in her new book, Alone Together : A behaviour that has become typical may still express the problems that once caused us to see it as pathological.
Under the illusion of allowing us to communicate better, technology is
actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world, she suggests.
We have invented inspiring and enhancing technologies, yet we have allowed them to diminish us, she writes.
In Alone Together Sherry Turkle offers a fascinating and highly readable analysis of how increasingly intelligent machines and a highly networked world are impacting us socially and psychologically. The book is roughly
divided into two parts: the first focuses on social robots, or autonomous machines that interact directly with us, while the second part delves into the increasingly networked world and the implications a tethered society in which many individuals
are unable to break away from email, social networking and in some cases prefer online games like Second Life to the real world.
Some of the most fascinating material in the book involves Turkle's investigations
of how children perceive these technologies and how their social world view is impacted. Early in the book, Turkle tells how children lined up at an exhibit that included live (but immobile) turtles felt that it would have been better to replace the live
animals with robots -- both because robots would provide a more active display and because the captive animals could then be returned to their natural environment. This idea of children (and even adults) placing a low premium on authenticity comes up
again and again. Robotic pets are seen as having important advantages over the real thing. Elderly patients indicate that, at least in some areas, they might prefer a robotic caretaker to a human one.
conclusion is that our social preferences are evolving to include, and in many cases even prefer, technology over people. As she says, Our relationships with robots are ramping up; our relationships with people are ramping down. This is obviously
something that should perhaps give us pause.
Today's fast-paced media could be making us indifferent to human suffering and should allow time for us to reflect, according to researchers.
They found that emotions linked to moral sense are slow to respond to news and events and have failed to
keep up with the modern world. In the time it takes to fully reflect on a story of anguish and suffering, the news bulletin has already moved on or the next Twitter update is already being read.
As activities such as reading books and meeting
friends, where people can define their morals, are taken over by news snippets and fast-moving social networking, the problem could become widespread, researchers warn. Children are said to be particularly vulnerable because their brains are still
If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people's psychological states and that would have implications for your morality, said Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, from the University of
Southern California, and one of the researchers.
Their work, published next week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition, involved studying the response of volunteers to real-life stories to induce admiration for
virtue or skill, or compassion for physical or social pain.
Using brain imaging, they found that humans can sort information very quickly and respond in fractions of a second to signs of physical pain in others, but admiration and compassion -
two of the social emotions that define humanity - take much longer.
The volunteers needed six to eight seconds to fully respond to stories of virtue or social pain, but once awakened, the responses lasted far longer than the volunteers' reactions
to stories focused on physical pain.
The Internet may not be such a dangerous place for children after all.
A task force created by 49 state attorneys general to look into the problem of sexual solicitation of children online has concluded that there really is not a significant
The findings ran counter to popular perceptions of online dangers as reinforced by depictions in the news media.
The panel, the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, was charged with examining the extent of the threats children
face on social networks like MySpace and Facebook, amid widespread fears that adults were using these popular Web sites to deceive and prey on children. But the report concluded that the problem of bullying among children, both online and offline, poses
a far more serious challenge than the sexual solicitation of minors by adults.
This shows that social networks are not these horribly bad neighborhoods on the Internet, said John Cardillo, chief executive of Sentinel Tech Holding: Social networks are very much like real-world communities that are comprised mostly of good people who are there for the right reasons.
The report was the result of a year of meetings between dozens of academics, experts in childhood safety and executives of 30 companies, including Yahoo, AOL, MySpace and Facebook.
The task force, led by the Berkman Center for
Internet and Society at Harvard University, looked at scientific data on online sexual predators and found that children and teenagers were unlikely to be propositioned by adults online. In the cases that do exist, the report said, teenagers are
typically willing participants and are already at risk because of poor home environments, substance abuse or other problems.
Not everyone was happy with the conclusions. Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general, who has forcefully
pursued the issue and helped to create the task force, said he disagreed with the report. Blumenthal said it downplayed the predator threat, relied on outdated research and failed to provide a specific plan for improving the safety of social
Among the systems the technology board looked at included age verification technologies that try to authenticate the identities and ages of children and prevent adults from contacting them. But the board concluded that such systems
do not appear to offer substantial help in protecting minors from sexual solicitation.
One problem is that it is difficult to verify the ages and identities of children because they do not have driver’s licenses or insurance.