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Sociology of the Internet

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Title: Sociology of the Internet  
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Sociology of the Internet

The sociology of the Internet involves the application of sociological theory and method to the Internet as a source of information and communication. Sociologists are concerned with the social implications of the technology; new social networks, virtual communities and ways of interaction that have arisen, as well as issues related to cyber crime.

The Internet—new media such as the Internet, and social change at-large in the transformation from industrial to informational society (or to information society). Online communities can be studied statistically through network analysis and at the same time interpreted qualitatively, such as through virtual ethnography. Social change can be studied through statistical demographics or through the interpretation of changing messages and symbols in online media studies.


  • Emergence of the discipline 1
  • Research trends 2
  • Social impact 3
    • Political organization and censorship 3.1
    • Economics 3.2
    • Philanthropy 3.3
    • Leisure 3.4
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Emergence of the discipline

The Internet is a relatively new phenomenon. As Robert Darnton wrote, it is a revolutionary change that "took place yesterday, or the day before, depending on how you measure it."[1] The Internet developed from the ARPANET, dating back to 1969; as a term it was coined in 1974. The World Wide Web as we know it was shaped in the mid-1990s, when graphical interface and services like email became popular and reached wider (non-scientific and non-military) audiences and commerce.[1][2] Internet Explorer was first released in 1995; Netscape a year earlier. Google was founded in 1998.[1][2] WorldHeritage was founded in 2001. Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube in the mid-2000s. Web 2.0 is still emerging. Steadily, the amount of information available on the net and the number of Internet users worldwide has continued to grow rapidly.[2] The term 'digital sociology' is now becoming increasingly used to denote new directions in sociological research into digital technologies since Web 2.0.

Research trends

According to DiMaggio et al. (2001),[2] research tends to focus on the Internet's implications in five domains:

  1. inequality (the issues of digital divide)
  2. community and social capital (the issues of time displacement)
  3. political participation (the issues of public sphere, deliberative democracy and civil society)
  4. organizations and other economic institutions
  5. cultural participation and cultural diversity

Early on, there were predictions that the Internet would change everything (or nothing); over time, however, a consensus emerged that the Internet, at least in the current phase of development, complements rather than displaces previously implemented media.[2] This has meant a rethinking of the 1990s ideas of "convergence of new and old media". Further, the Internet offers a rare opportunity to study changes caused by the newly emerged - and likely, still evolving - information and communication technology (ICT).[2]

Social impact

The Internet has created new forums of social interaction and social relations including social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace and sites such as and Couchsurfing which facilitate offline interaction.

Though virtual communities were once thought to be composed of strictly virtual social ties, researchers often find that even those social ties formed in virtual spaces are often maintained both online and offline [3][4]

There are ongoing debates about the impact of the Internet on strong and weak ties, whether the internet is creating more or less social capital,[5][6] the internet's role in trends towards social isolation,[7] and whether it creates a more or less diverse social environment.

It is often said the Internet is a new frontier, and there is a line of argument to the effect that social interaction, cooperation and conflict among users resembles the anarchistic and violent American frontier of the early 19th century.[8]

In March 2014, researchers from the University of Benedictine at Mesa in Arizona studied how online interactions affect face-to-face meetings. The study is titled, “Face to Face Versus Facebook: Does Exposure to Social Networking Web Sites Augment or Attenuate Physiological Arousal Among the Socially Anxious,” published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.[9] They analyzed 26 female students with electrodes to measure social anxiety. Prior to meeting people, the students were shown pictures of the subject they were expected to meet. Researchers found that meeting someone face-to-face after looking at their photos increases arousal, which the study linked to an increase in social anxiety. These findings confirm previous studies that found that socially anxious people prefer online interactions. The study also recognized that the stimulated arousal can be associated with positive emotions and could lead to positive feelings.[10]

Recent research has taken the Internet of Things within its purview, as global networks of interconnected everyday objects are said to be the next step in technological advancement.[11] Certainly, global space- and earth-based networks are expanding coverage of the IoT at a fast pace. This has a wide variety of consequences, with current applications in the health, agriculture, traffic and retail fields.[12] Companies such as Samsung and Sigfox have invested heavily in said networks, and their social impact will have to be measured accordingly, with some sociologists suggesting the formation of socio-technical networks of humans and technical systems.[13][14] Issues of privacy, right to information, legislation and content creation will come into public scrutiny in light of these technological changes.[15][12]

Political organization and censorship

The Internet has achieved new relevance as a political tool. The presidential campaign of Internet activism.

Governments are also getting online. Some countries, such as those of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, the People's Republic of China, and Saudi Arabia use filtering and censoring software to restrict what people in their countries can access on the Internet. In the United Kingdom, they also use software to locate and arrest various individuals they perceive as a threat. Other countries including the United States, have enacted laws making the possession or distribution of certain material such as child pornography illegal but do not use filtering software. In some countries Internet service providers have agreed to restrict access to sites listed by police.


While much has been written of the economic advantages of internet-enabled commerce, there is also evidence that some aspects of the internet such as maps and location-aware services may serve to reinforce economic inequality and the digital divide.[16] Electronic commerce may be responsible for consolidation and the decline of mom-and-pop, brick and mortar businesses resulting in increases in income inequality.[17]


The spread of low-cost internet access in developing countries has opened up new possibilities for peer-to-peer charities, which allow individuals to contribute small amounts to charitable projects for other individuals. Websites such as Donors Choose and Global Giving now allow small-scale donors to direct funds to individual projects of their choice.

A popular twist on internet-based philanthropy is the use of

  • Sociology and the Internet (A short introduction, originally put-together for delegates to the ATSS 2000 Conference.)
  • Peculiarities of Cyberspace - Building Blocks for an Internet Sociology (Articles the social structure and dynamic of internetcommunities. Presented by dr Albert Benschop, University of Amsterdam.)
  • Communication and Information Technologies Section of the American Sociological Association
  • The Impact of the Internet on Sociology: The Importance of the Communication and Information Technologies Section of the American Sociological Association
  • Sociology and the Internet (course)
  • Sociology of the Internet (link collection)
  • Internet sociologist
  • The Sociology of the Internet

External links

  • John A. Bargh and Katelyn Y. A. McKenna, The Internet and Social Life, Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 55: 573-590 (Volume publication date February 2004), doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.141922 [2]
  • Allison Cavanagh, Sociology in the Age of the Internet, McGraw-Hill International, 2007, ISBN 0-335-21725-7
  • Christine Hine, Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet, Berg Publishers, 2005, ISBN 1-84520-085-3
  • Rob Kling, The Internet for Sociologists, Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Jul., 1997), pp. 434–444
  • Joan Ferrante-Wallace, Joan Ferrante, Sociology on the Internet, Thomson Wadsworth, 1996, ISBN 0-534-52756-6
  • Daniel A. Menchik and Xiaoli Tian. (2008) "Putting Social Context into Text: The Semiotics of Email Interaction." The American Journal of Sociology. 114:2 pp. 332–70.
  • Carla G. Surratt, "The Internet and Social Change", McFarland, 2001, ISBN 0-786-41019-1
  • D. R. Wilson, Researching Sociology on the Internet, Thomson/Wadsworth, 2004, ISBN 0-534-62437-5


  1. ^ a b c Robert Darnton, The Library in the New Age, The New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 10. June 12, 2008. Retrieved on 22 December 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Paul DiMaggio, Eszter Hargittai, W. Russell Neuman, and John P. Robinson, Social Implications of the Internet, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 27: 307-336 (Volume publication date August 2001), doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.27.1.307 [1]
  3. ^ Lauren F. Sessions, "How offline gatherings affect online community members: when virtual community members ‘meetup’.""Information, Communication, and Society"13,3(April, 2010):375-395
  4. ^ Bo Xie, B. ‘The mutual shaping of online and offline social relationships."Information Research, 1,3(2008):n.p.
  5. ^ Lee Rainie, John Horrigan, Barry Wellman, and Jeffrey Boase. (2006)"The Strength of Internet Ties" Pew Internet and American Life Project. Washington, D.C.
  6. ^ Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook "friends:" Social capital and college students' use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4).
  7. ^ Social Isolation and New Technology Pew Internet and American Life Report
  8. ^ Richard Jensen. "Military History on the Electronic Frontier: WorldHeritage Fights the War of 1812," The Journal of Military History (October 2012) 76#4 pp 1165-82 online
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^
  14. ^ Kranz, Matthias, Luis Roalter, and Florian Michahelles. "Things that twitter: social networks and the internet of things." What can the Internet of Things do for the Citizen (CIoT) Workshop at The Eighth International Conference on Pervasive Computing (Pervasive 2010). 2010.
  15. ^
  16. ^ "How the Internet Reinforces Inequality in the Real World" The Atlantic February 6, 2013
  17. ^ "E-commerce will make the shopping mall a retail wasteland" ZDNet, January 17, 2013
  18. ^ Kiva Is Not Quite What It Seems, by David Roodman, Center for Global Development, Oct. 2, 2009, as accessed Jan. 2 & 16, 2010
  19. ^ Confusion on Where Money Lent via Kiva Goes, by Stephanie Strom, in The New York Times, Nov. 8, 2009, as accessed Jan. 2 & 16, 2010
  20. ^ "Zidisha Set to "Expand" in Peer-to-Peer Microfinance", Microfinance Focus, Feb 2010
  21. ^
  22. ^ News - Net abuse hits small city firms


See also

Cyberslacking has become a serious drain on corporate resources; the average UK employee spends 57 minutes a day surfing the Web at work, according to a study by Peninsula Business Services.[22]

The Internet has seen a growing number of Web desktops, where users can access their files, folders, and settings via the Internet.

People use chat, messaging and e-mail to make and stay in touch with friends worldwide, sometimes in the same way as some previously had pen pals. Social networking websites like MySpace, Facebook and many others like them also put and keep people in contact for their enjoyment.

Many use the World Wide Web to access news, weather and sports reports, to plan and book holidays and to find out more about their random ideas and casual interests.

Many use the Internet to access and download music, movies and other works for their enjoyment and relaxation. As discussed above, there are paid and unpaid sources for all of these, using centralized servers and distributed peer-to-peer technologies. Discretion is needed as some of these sources take more care over the original artists' rights and over copyright laws than others.

While online gaming has been around since the 1970s, modern modes of online gaming began with services such as GameSpy and MPlayer, to which players of games would typically subscribe. Non-subscribers were limited to certain types of gameplay or certain games.

One area of leisure on the Internet is online gaming. This form of leisure creates communities, bringing people of all ages and origins to enjoy the fast-paced world of multiplayer games. These range from MMORPG to first-person shooters, from role-playing video games to online gambling. This has revolutionized the way many people interact and spend their free time on the Internet.

The pornography and gambling industries have both taken full advantage of the World Wide Web, and often provide a significant source of advertising revenue for other websites. Although governments have made attempts to censor internet porn, internet service providers have told governments that these plans are not feasible.[21] Also many governments have attempted to put restrictions on both industries' use of the Internet, this has generally failed to stop their widespread popularity.

The Internet has been a major source of leisure since before the World Wide Web, with entertaining social experiments such as MUDs and MOOs being conducted on university servers, and humor-related Usenet groups receiving much of the main traffic. Today, many Internet forums have sections devoted to games and funny videos; short cartoons in the form of Flash movies are also popular. Over 6 million people use blogs or message boards as a means of communication and for the sharing of ideas.


[20], Zidisha's microlending platform facilitates direct dialogue between lenders and borrowers and a performance rating system for borrowers. Web users worldwide can fund loans for as little as a dollar.eBay and Facebook tapped into this trend to offer the first peer-to-peer microlending platform to link lenders and borrowers across international borders without local intermediaries. Inspired by interactive websites such as Zidisha However, the recent spread of cheap internet access in developing countries has made genuine peer-to-peer connections increasingly feasible. In 2009 the US-based nonprofit [19][18]

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