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Net users describe themselves as left-leaning law-breakers ... or not

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The problem with a study like the Australian National University’s ANUpoll ”Public opinion on internet use and civil society isn’t the study itself, but the ease with which people over-interpret its findings.

I have no problem with the hard data in the study. For example, the idea that 82 per cent of respondents were frequent internet users with broadband connections is hardly startling.

Nor do I have a problem with the “soft” data – questions asking for respondents to describe themselves in various forms.

But extending a self-description, such as “I believe I am more engaged because of the Internet”, to the ANU’s headline – “Society saved by the social network” – is a bridge too far.

If we simply accept the opinions as an accurate reflection of the “real world”, here’s what the Internet does to Australians (from page 10). Netizens are:

* More likely to support those worse off than themselves; * Less likely to obey laws and regulations; * Less likely to be politically active; * Less likely to be a volunteer.

[A digression: what kinds of activities on the Internet might count as “volunteering”, except that the respondent didn’t think of it as such?]

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