How Do Morals Translate Offline to Online?

How does a 12-year-old’s sense of right and wrong play out when he or she is online? A recent Michigan State University study, published in the academic journal Sex Roles, isn’t answering the question but attempting to get the conversation going.

The study, titled “Gender, Race and Morality in the Virtual World and Its Relationship to Morality in the Real World,” looks at responses from 515 seventh-graders to questions about the acceptability of “virtual” actions. Those actions included spreading computer viruses, emailing test answers to friends, viewing pornography and sending sexually explicit messages to strangers. It compares those results to the same students’ responses to questions about real-world behavior like cheating on tests, bullying or teasing, lying to parents or teachers and using racial slurs.

The results showed that greater Internet use correlates with a greater acceptance of “Internet harm,” which included threatening others over email and reading other people’s emails without asking.

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