By Lisa Cannon Green
Since the birth of the internet, it’s easier to keep in touch with friends and family—and easier to retreat into a solitary digital existence.
It’s easier to look up Bible verses—and easier to look at pornography.
On balance, is the internet good for society? Once-enthusiastic Americans are becoming less certain, a new survey from Pew Research indicates.
Seventy percent of online adults still believe the internet’s influence has been mostly positive—but that’s a significant drop from the 76 percent who believed this in 2014.
Instead, a growing number say the impact of the internet has been a mix of good and bad. Fourteen percent held this view in January 2018, compared to 8 percent when Pew first asked the question in early 2014.
Another 14 percent say the internet’s effect has been mostly negative. That’s about the same as in 2014, when the share was 15 percent.
Older Americans led the shift in opinion, according to Pew. In 2014, 78 percent of online adults 65 and older viewed the internet as a good thing for society. By 2018, that approval had dropped to 64 percent.
However, younger Americans also became less positive. In 2014, 79 percent of internet users 18 to 29 years old said the internet is good for society. This year, 74 percent agreed.
Those who think the internet has mostly been good for society cite two major benefits, Pew says:
- 62 percent point to the ease and speed of accessing information.
- 23 percent appreciate the ease of connecting and staying in touch with other people.
Those who think the internet has mostly been bad for society have a wider range of complaints:
- 25 percent say people spend too much time on the internet or become too isolated.
- 16 percent worry about the spread of fake news and misinformation.
- 14 percent believe the internet has negative effects on children.
- 13 percent say it encourages illegal behavior.
- 5 percent are concerned about privacy.
Although they may feel uncertain about societal effects, nearly 9 in 10 online Americans say the internet has benefited them personally, according to Pew.
Eighty-eight percent say the internet has been mostly a good thing for them. Only 5 percent say it’s been mostly a bad thing, and 5 percent say it’s been a mix of good and bad.
“Even as they view the internet’s personal impact in a positive light, Americans have grown somewhat more ambivalent about the impact of digital connectivity on society as a whole,” Pew says.
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LISA CANNON GREEN (@lisaccgreen) is senior editor of Facts & Trends.