The Psychology of Trolling and Lurking: The Role of Defriending and Gamification for Increasing Participation in Online Communities Using Seductive NarrativesSeptember 24th, 2012 by Jonathan Bishop
The rise of social networking services have furthered the proliferation of online communities, transferring the power of controlling access to content from often one person who operates a system (sysop), which they would normally rely on, to them personally. With increased participation in social networking and services come new problems and issues, such as trolling, where unconstructive messages are posted to incite a reaction, and lurking, where persons refuse to participate. Methods of dealing with these abuses included defriending, which can include blocking strangers. The Gamified Flow of Persuasion model is proposed, building on work in ecological cognition and the participation continuum, the chapter shows how all of these models can collectively be used with gamification principles to increase participation in online communities through effective management of lurking, trolling, and defriending.
Bishop, J. (2013). The Psychology of Trolling and Lurking: The Role of Defriending and Gamification for Increasing Participation in Online Communities Using Seductive Narratives. In: J. Bishop (Ed.) Examining the Concepts, Issues and Implications of Internet Trolling. IGI Global.
Bishop, J. (2012). The Psychology of Trolling and Lurking: The Role of Defriending and Gamification for Increasing Participation in Online Communities Using Seductive Narratives. In: H. Li (Ed.) Virtual Community Participation and Motivation: Cross-Disciplinary Theories. IGI Global.
You can download this paper from this link.
I have expressed various concerns in the past on the nature of televisual material, such as music videos, with a lot of sexualised content. Being a man over the age of majority this is quite appealing to me, but as a supporter of the NSPCC I am concerned about the sexualisation of childhood. Also, as an egalitarian, believing in treating people as individuals and not based on arbitory criteria which may not apply to them, I have now pretty much finalised my policy on media ratings and the protection of children and other vulnerable persons.
A standardised media rating system
Instead of age-based ratings there would be the following, regardless of media type (e.g. DVD/website/TV-channel):
- Universal – All exempt media and those currently suitable for all ages
- Parental Advisory – All media currently rated PG and 12-15. Parental in this context could refer to a legal guardian in the case of vulnerable adults.
- Explicit – All media currently rated 18 or X-Rated.
A national media rating authority
The Video Recording Act is administered by the British Board of Film Classification. I would like their remit to be extended to all media, from advertising to music videos, from video games to websites (and other hypermedia systems).
In terms of video and advertising they should have to rate them in advance, and this would be the case for software and video games to that fall within the definition of the VRA as needed to be pre-authorised. In terms of websites and other more immediate consumer-generated media sources, the BBFC would only rate following a complaint. This could be referred to them by the Advertising Authority for instance. In other cases, standard anti-virus software could runs scripts that rate the content and block any content as appropriate based on the parental control settings.
Each media outlet would be responsible in the short term for setting its own policy to determine who they deem as appropriate to view the specific media. This could be based on age-discrimination in the short term. They would be legally responsible for any psychiatric injury.
In the future, media outlets would have to use pre-screening technology where they could “reasonably foresee” that a particular person would not be suitable for a particular rating. Such as a child for an Explicit movie. This person would then have to watch a short video clip and then depending on how much this distresses them, measured by emotion recognition technology, then that would determine which media rating they are suitable to.
In terms of home-based media, parents/guardians would be responsible for maintaining the parental controls. It would be their choice about whether they let their children or vulnerable dependent see explicit content or not, but the child protection authorities could intervene if they thought this was having an adverse affect on the welling being of the vulnerable person.
Any media outlet that did not put proper protection in place, including websites like chatrooms/messageboards, would be criminally liable. Such offences could including making sexualised or violent context available to vulnerable persons without their parent/guardians consent. This may include sexual jokes one would not want one’s children to see, but others do not show discretion in relaying.
Firstly I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to speak today. I always enjoy speaking in this slot, as delegates generally are hungry for information – not food or sleep!
When I was younger I used to come to Olympia with my brother to attend a lot of video game exhibitions, so it is quite appropriate I’m talking to you about gamification, in my first speech at this fine venue. This is what I looked like at one of the exhibitions we went to.
Research recently found that those who play video games have worse education and employment outcomes. How many of you are actually convinced by this? My brothers and I aren’t’ either.
Both my brothers and I have all had good outcomes, gaining degrees and high responsibility jobs. Even one of my brother’s fathers-in-law plays video games regularly and, he has an MBE.
So there must be something in the benefits of video games for enhancing performance at tasks in environments where gaming isn’t usually used, which is a simple definition of gamification.
The first big speech I made, before this one of course, was at a college business competition – business being the game of all games. Our presentation won applause with the catchy music, ‘simply the best, better than all the rest’. But our report did not impress the judges; we didn’t seem to deliver all that was needed beyond the presentation stage. Sound familiar?
These slogans of New Labour, uttered by Tony Blair, were the new props that change the game of British Politics into a media driven one, where getting the best sound-bites and not being off message was the strategy. Despite not living up to most people’s expectations, including mine, the previous government was reasonably successful in realising these slogans. Including increasing university numbers and reducing youth crime. Yet only a year after they left office, we had the UK riots, higher youth crime and higher youth unemployment. So what went wrong? And what do we do about it?
The answer to the first is clear to me – the game has changed, again, and we need to change. The new game is called Network Politics. I am going to consider the case studies of three persons during the rest of the speech and will be asking for your experiences to be shared.
Considering the UK riots, some of you may have heard of the heart-breaking plight of Carla Rees, a 34 year-old musician whose flat and property was burned to destruction in London. She lost at least 10 flutes, which she had based her international contemporary music career on.
Considering the case of Trolling; one of the most high profile was that of Natasha MacBryde, who was bullied by a person called Sean Duffy. The inquest into her death heard that 15-year-old Natasha had also been teased by members of an all-girl clique at her £10,000-a-year school in the weeks leading up to her death.
Considering Information Poverty. An average man that lives on the Gurnos estate in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, can expect to enjoy good health for just 58.8 years. This is a socially deprived area. Goetre Junior School is not the best place for a pupil with autism, who I shall call Dafydd Young, lack access help to improve their social skills. He and his peers have poor diet, families who are heavy smokers, and severe unemployment. The Internet is sometimes seen as a luxury here, except to those with mobile phones.
You’re probably all wondering what these stories have got to do with gamification and e-learning 2.0. So let me explain both terms to you in detail on the next two slides.
Firstly let us look at Gamification.
As you can see from this slide, gamification is using elements of gameplay typically seen in video games to encourage participation in websites such as online communities.
Gamification pioneer Amy Jo Kim says that the key ingredients that make games fun, compelling, and even addictive are collecting, points, feedback, exchanges, and customisation.
This image you can see on the slide is of a website from the mobile phone provider GiffGaff which uses gamification to keep and gain customers. The service cuts staffing costs by encouraging customers to support those ones with problems. It does this by offering those persons points for each piece of support they offer in the forums and signing up friends. GiffGaff’s model contrasts with those ‘freemium’ ones which are free to use when one signs up, but charges a premium for services .
If you look through the eyes of Dafydd Young who we mentioned earlier you can see that their social environment could benefit from gamification. Humans are naturally competitive. However in Dafydd Young’s community all too often it is a race to the bottom, to see who can be the poorest for instance. They are traditionally persuaded with short-term games like CyberMonday, which where the online retail companies have hyped-up sales on masse to encourage people to shop online for Christmas – the Monday just gone as it happens.
However those like Dafyddd Young could benefit from gamification being used to increase their repertoire of behavioural responses for use in games that look beyond the short-term. Take one game – hypermiling – where people compete with themselves about how much less fuel their use in their car. People like Daffydd, who need clear rules with their autism, could benefit from e-learning 2.0 systems that allow them to interact with their peers while learning essential social skills – two such systems, called PARLE and Vois, are described in reasearch papers on a free USB stick you can collect.
Does anyone have any opinions and experiences on how you think using games could encourage or discourage certain behaviours, or increase others’ repertoire of behavioural response?
Now turning to E-Learning 2.0.
E-Learning 2.0 is a type of e-learning programme where learners from any school or household can access lessons via their computers and mobile devices and have the instruction tailed to them, including ability and interests.
It is not a term I particularly like, as the collaborative aspect of it is something I have argued for over a number of years. But the 2.0 part serves to emphasise the role of social networking more effectively than the original term for this; Computer Supportive Collaborative Learning (CSCL).
This image you can see on the slide is of an E-Learning 2.0 system I devised, back in 2004 when CSCL was a type of E-Learning. The features of the system included the circle of friends that can be found on Facebook where one can add a friend for them to provide social support and peer-based marking.
Now, turning to the main aim of this speech – to show how the UK Criminal law system can further the role of gamification in E-learning 2.0 systems.
As you can see from this slide, I have on the left put legal instruments currently available and to the right the equivalents which through gamification can enhance learning online, specifically with E-Learning 2.0. I will briefly explain them, and then put these into context of the next two slides asking for your input at different stages.
A fixed penalty notice is an on-the-spot fine given for a minor crime. In an E-learning 2.0 systems this could include docking people points, as I showed possible in my degree thesis in 2002.
ASBOs are court orders which restrict someone actions by saying if they perform a prohibited set of actions named in that order then they can go to jail for 2 years. These have been used on many people in Merthyr Tydfil like Dafydd Young. The equivalent instrument in an E-learning 2.0 system is the behaviour contract as I highlighted in my 3rd Masters thesis last year.
Other instruments like dispersal orders to break up gangs could be reflected by temporarily banning people who get into arguments, or in the case of detention for breach of the peace people could be required to express their frustration in a safe ‘sin bin’ which I call the displacement room.
A concept I devised in 2002 was The Digital Classroom of Tomorrow and this is an ideal system on which to implement these. This is based on the premise that the large class-sizes in state schools are not a problem in themselves, as technology can transform learning by removing the ‘sage on the stage’ teacher from the education system. Students do not want to be lectured at these days, as they have their own worldview that is all too often different from the teachers’. I call this ‘Classroom 2.0′, as it mixes the collaborative software associated with E-Learning 2.0 with the traditional classroom setting rather than replace that setting with 100% distance learning.
DCOT could be realised to allow mixed ability students in a class of 30 to assemble around tables of 6, interacting with an E-Learning 2.0 multi-user virtual learning environment on their laptops so as to create Classroom 2.0. This ‘one-laptop-six-at-a-table’ policy would not work without customisation as Amy Jo Kim points out.
Using customization in e-learning systems, particularly using gamification concepts, can mean interest is maintained in the environment, without the over-dependence on the teacher from the broadcasted approach to education, still found in most schools today.
If you look at this next slide you can see there are different types of platform for e-learning 2.0 systems, which can use the customisation in the Digital Classroom of Tomorrow.
Adjusting content based on learner interests. For instance if Carla was at school, she might find English lessons more interesting if she was asked to ‘Describe five adjectives that describe your favourite music instrument the flute. Weblogs which are updatable can do this well, and can be revised and commented on by other learners but not edited by them.
Wikis and hypertext fiction can allow a user to modify content to improve skills such as with regards to use of English. This can involve adjusting the content on grounds of ability. Someone at a basic level of understanding could be asked to ‘List’ five adjectives, someone with moderate abilities could be asked to ‘Describe’ five adjectives, and the most advanced toto ‘synthesise five adjectives’.
Chatroom and message boards could be improved through docking people points if they perform a behaviour that is banned on the basis of a ‘behaviour contract’, which sets of the rules of the game, in order to build consensus among the students. This could involve automatic detection and deduction.
Also possible is having a system where the status of the user can be changed so that they are no longer able to access the main part of the system if they treat others unfavorably for instance.
Does anyone else have any examples of things they have found useful for engaging people online and managing behaviour?
Finally, before opening up to the floor, I want to talk briefly about Trollers, and the role they can play in gamified e-learning 2.0 systems.
Many of you will have heard about trolling in the press and probably associate it with people who want to harm others. This was true in the case of Natasha MacBryde. However I argue that trolling, which is simply posting a humorous message to provoke a reaction in others, or his own sick fun in Sean Duffy who bullied Natasha.
If you look at the different types of Troller on this slide. The Flirts troll by posting reflections of funny things that have happened in their lives. Snerts on the other hand post to harm others, for their own sick entertainment. Trolls post more inflammatory messages that go against the grain of someone in order to entertain the community at large, such as by mocking the Snerts. Their less constructive equivalent, the Big Man, troll by saying things others disagree with but they strongly hold to, knowing others will react with consternation so they can have fun proving them wrong.
The My heart bleeds for you Jennies do trolling by posting messages that make light of a current situation in order to put another at ease. Their opposite, the E-Venger, posts hurtful messages in order for them to feel happier for something they felt wronged by.
The Ripper posts self-deprecating messages that make them feel happier, even though they are not looking for solutions as such. Their opposite, the Chatroom Bob, posts entertain messages in order to gain the trust of the other person, who they then exploit for their own ends.
And lastly, the Wizard will troll to be creative, such as posting a joke they made up. The Iconoclasts on the other hand will either remove content or post messages that challenge the legitimate world views of others.
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Firstly I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to speak today. It is always good to come to speak at Cardiff University – this is only my second conference speech here, but as a student I spoke in a number of debates at the students union. I’m going to talk with you today about the multicultural aspects of Virtual Worlds.
When I say to you the term, Virtual World, what do you think of? Perhaps a graphical interface such as SecondLife, or a gameplay-intensive environment such as World of Warcraft. Or perhaps you think of something else.
These are all examples of Virtual Worlds, which generally these days consist of three-dimensional graphical environments for accessing social interactions with others and exchanging graphical representations of real-life or fantasy objects online.
Virtual Worlds today are like the television of previous generations. They have now become accessed by a range of different people from different ethnic groups and social backgrounds who share the same experiences of this new kind of media. So you might ask, ‘are virtual worlds multicultural environments?’
Culture can be defined as ‘a network of physical and mental artefacts that are formed through the participation of actors in functional systems’. This definition would suggest that in the UK, for instance, those people who watch the television programme Eastenders or Coronation Street and know the characters in these imagined communities are part of the same culture.
Based on this definition multiculturalism is unavoidable, because each person is different and an individual and may share cultural artefacts such as memories or experiences with people of any faith or race if they have access to the same environments. That is the case whether they are ones that are realised in their minds, such as virtual communities, or ones that they share in a physical space, such as organic communities.
Having used online communities such as virtual worlds for two decades, I have noticed the conflicts that arise when people from different generations and cultural backgrounds come together in the same space. In determining how it might be possible to reduce these conflicts through better system design, I decided the correct approach might be to find what these different cultures have in common, as a way of approaching information systems design to take account of their shared values.
Using data from the UK Data Archive I looked at what the Net Generation had in common with other current generations. The Net Generation were born between 1977 and 1997 and are currently in their teens and early adulthood and are referred to as N-Geners. They have grown up with digital technologies such as microcomputers and the Internet. They are however, treated by designers of computer systems as ‘youngsters’ or ‘the youth of today’, rather than by their commonalities distinctive of the age they find themselves in, which make them up as part of this techno-cultural generation.
The culture of this generation is incredibly different from previous generations, which may be considered inevitable as older generations will not share the same experience as those in the younger generations will share. However there are striking differences between this generation and previous ones. The Baby Boom Generation for instance were quite homogeneous, sharing similar beliefs and interests and having many common values. The Net Generation on the other hand are very heterogeneous, where it is often only their values that they have in common.
The attitudes of Generation X, previous to the Net Generation, were primarily shaped and formed by broadcasted information such as television, autocratic teaching styles. Conversely, as a result of new media technologies, such as the Internet, the Net Generation have been provided with a significant degree of autonomy, independence and freedom, making them a distinct techno-culture.
The Net Generation are currently between the ages of 13 and 33, meaning their skills and capabilities are considerably diverse and this can significantly affect how they interact within technology and the extent to which they are able to participate in virtual worlds. I’m sure anyone who knows a teenager today knows how much more demanding they are and how much more sophisticated they have become in the way they access information. This is true of many people in the Net Generation.
In my study, which was a factor analysis of data collected through computer supported quantitative interviewing, I identified six commonalities between the generations. These were Opportunity, Understanding, Relevance, Aspiration, Choice and Expression, which I will go through briefly now.
When someone decides to visit a particular part of a virtual world or take part in an information exchange, they are doing so by giving up the opportunity to do something else, referred to as ‘the opportunity cost’. Different generations value certain activities more than others and are more willing to sacrifice certain opportunities over others. This is a core aspect of ecological cognition, where it is stated that users of information systems do not have a hierarchy to their needs that are innate, but have developed cognitions that affect their priorities through exposure to not only their internal environment such as their mind and body, but also their external one. That is to say, the world.
It has been argued that the question of fairness across generations should be formulated as a comparison of opportunities available to individuals living at different times. From this it is clear to find support for the existence of this factor in understanding the similarities between how different generations use information.
The crucial part of responding to an economic opportunity in the environment is an understanding of the stimuli it offers. It has been argued that understanding, particularly of science and faith is spread over many generations, with each adding its own contribution, arising from its own perspective.
The relevance of a particular stimulus in the environment to an actor is affected by their ability to consume it. It can be seen that as a particular user’s confidence in a system increases, so their consumption of its resources also increase. For instance, in Second Life, as a user becomes aware of how to interact with the system, such as through ‘flying’ or ‘teleporting’ then the greater their exposure to different aspects of the system will become and it will be more likely that their inventory will increase as they discover artefacts that are relevant to them. It has been argued that those developing solutions for different generations should take into account the difference between them in the relevance of information technologies, as N-Geners are more likely to be accepting of these than older generations.
Members of the different generations have different aspirations, though the thing they may have in common is that they regularly experience them. This factor is particularly affected by the principle of ‘marginal utility’, which is the extent to which the exposure to a particular stimulus leads to demand for a re-exposure or reuptake of that stimulus. It is at this stage that actors become unaware of the externalities of their wants. They are driven purely by responding to existing relevant opportunities and going on to create new opportunities, even if this is only to be re-exposed to desirable aspects of the environment.
Different actors will respond differently to the principle of marginal utility and this will effect their judgement on whether to take up another unit of exposure, which is affected by the universal value of ‘choice’. Choice goes beyond the right to choose, as the basis for exercising choice is according to the perceived needs or values of an individual or group of individuals of different generations.
Like the opportunity factor, the expression factor is affected by opportunity cost. While an actor is using a specific product or communicating with a specific actor they may be missing out on the opportunity to do so with an alternative actor or product. The need for expressing oneself is evenly distributed across generations, but the means for expression should be expected to vary, as would means for entertainment. This suggests that it would be beneficial to map the differences between generations when it comes to activities that they carry out.
In making recommendations based on an analysis of virtual worlds and these factors I would suggest that it is possible to use a range of techniques to manage conflicts between different generations as part of a strategic policy and planning process. Specifically these are ‘the distraction board’, the ‘behaviour contract’ and ‘the displacement room’.
THE DISTRACTION BOARD
The social networking service Facebook displays notices to users as they are using the system notifying them of other things going on. An artificially intelligent virtual world could detect conflicts between actors and suggest alternative activities for them to engage in. While this may be treating users as if they were pet animals needing to be distracted with a special toy, it would be effective and avoiding conflicts and promoting harmony between generations at the stages of opportunity and understanding.
THE BEHAVIOUR CONTRACT
The online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, has a range of policy documents that users can edit and agree on. While it has difficulties, such as not having multiple versions that people can vote on, the wiki format whereby people can edit documents and form a consensus could be effectively implemented into virtual worlds to produce a behaviour contract. This contract, would affect the stages of relevance through to choice and impact on the sorts of decisions actors would make affecting their behaviour, potentially resolving some of the intergenerational multicultural conflicts between them.
THE DISPLACEMENT ROOM
The sports software that comes with the Wii games console and the ‘sand-box’ on Wikipedia are ideal examples of the sort of tools that could feature in the ‘displacement room’. A virtual world with such a room, would have things like punch-bags, sand-boxes and other means of expressing frustration that would allow actors to displace their anti-social plans and make them feel like their intergenerational conflicts have been resolved.
If you feel depressed when you can’t Google yourself or check e-mail, you just might have an addiction to the Internet, according to cyber-psychologist Kimberly Young, director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery and author of “Caught in the Net” (John Wiley & Sons, $34.95), the first book to address Internet addiction.
Young likens excessive Internet use to pathological gambling.
Fortunately, treatment centers have opened up across the world including Korea, China and the Netherlands. The Priory Clinic in London is now treating texting addicts, or those who might spend up to seven hours a day writing and receiving text messages on their cell phones.
One of eight Americans exhibited at least one possible sign of problematic Internet use, a Stanford study showed. Psychological symptoms include an inability to stop using it, craving more time on line, neglect of family and friends and feeling depressed and irritable when not at the computer. Physical signs can be carpal tunnel, sleep deprivation, backaches, eye strain and increased agitation.
“Job loss, financial loss and marital loss can all be associated with the disorder,” said Young, founder of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery who has seen everything from young children who withdrew from life for online gaming to couples who divorced because of online affairs.
But others say spending large amounts of time behind the computer doesnt constitute an addiction. People who go without food or sleep because theyre so engrossed with the Internet have chosen to do so, said Jonathan Bishop, an independent Internet researcher in Wales.
“The Internet is an environment, so we cant be addicted to it,” he said in an e-mail. “We dont say that people who play card games in pubs for hours on end have pub addiction. I would argue that the medical model of disability is the wrong approach, and that the social model should be adopted.”
To find out whether you have an addiction, take the test found on The Center for Internet Addiction Web site. Here are ten sample questions. The more “often” or “always” answers, the greater the chance you have a problem.
How often do you:
1. Stay online longer than you intended? (a. rarely b. occasionally c. frequently d. often e. always.)
2. Neglect household chores to spend more time online?
3. Prefer the excitement of the Internet to intimacy with your partner?
4. Form new relationships with fellow online users?
5. Check your e-mail before something else that you need to do?
6. See your grades or school work suffer because of the amount of time you spend online?
7. Hear others in your life complain about the amount of time you spend online?
8. Let your job performance or productivity suffer because of the Internet?
9. Become defensive or secretive when anyone asks you what you do online?
10. Lose sleep due to late-night log-ins?
A few months ago, it wasn’t unusual for 47-year-old Carla Toebe to spend 15 hours per day online. She’d wake up early, turn on her laptop and chat on Internet dating sites and instant-messaging programs — leaving her bed for only brief intervals. Her household bills piled up, along with the dishes and dirty laundry, but it took near-constant complaints from her four daughters before she realized she had a problem.
“I was starting to feel like my whole world was falling apart — kind of slipping into a depression,” said the Richland, Wash., resident. “I knew that if I didn’t get off of the dating sites, I would just keep going,” detaching herself further from the outside world.
Toebe’s conclusion: She felt like she was “addicted” to the Internet. She’s not alone.
Concern about excessive Internet use — variously termed problematic Internet use, Internet addiction, pathological Internet use, compulsive Internet use and computer addiction in some quarters, and vigorously dismissed as a fad illness in others — isn’t new. As far back as 1995, articles in medical journals and the establishment of a Pennsylvania treatment center for overusers generated interest in the subject. There’s still no consensus on how much time online constitutes too much or whether addiction is possible.
But as reliance on the Web grows — Internet users average about 3 1/2 hours online each day, according to a 2005 survey by Stanford University researchers — there are signs that the question is getting more serious attention: Last month, a study published in CNS Spectrums, an international neuropsychiatric medicine journal, claimed to be the first large-scale look at excessive Internet use. The American Psychiatric Association may consider listing Internet addiction in the next edition of its diagnostic manual. And scores of online discussion boards have popped up on which people discuss negative experiences tied to too much time on the Web.
“There’s no question that there are people who are seriously in trouble because of the fact that they’re overdoing their Internet involvement,” said Ivan K. Goldberg, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York. Goldberg calls the problem a disorder rather than a true addiction, which Merriam-Webster’s medical dictionary defines as a “compulsive physiological need for and use of a habit-forming substance.”
Jonathan Bishop, a researcher in Wales specializing in online communities, is more skeptical. “The Internet is an environment,” he said. “You can’t be addicted to the environment.” Bishop, who has had several articles published on the topic, describes the problem as simply a matter of priorities, which can be solved by encouraging people to prioritize other life goals and plans in place of time spent online.
The new CNS Spectrums study was based on results of a nationwide telephone survey of more than 2,500 adults. Like the 2005 survey, this one was conducted by Stanford University researchers. About 6 percent of respondents reported that “their relationships suffered as a result of excessive Internet use,” according to the study. About 9 percent attempted to conceal “nonessential Internet use,” and nearly 4 percent reported feeling “preoccupied by the Internet when offline.”
About 8 percent said they used the Internet as a way to escape problems, and almost 14 percent reported they “found it hard to stay away from the Internet for several days at a time,” the study reported.
“The Internet problem is still in its infancy,” said lead study author Elias Aboujaoude, a psychiatrist and director of the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford. No single online activity is to blame for excessive use, he said. “They’re online in chat rooms, checking e-mail every two minutes, blogs. It really runs the gamut. [The problem is] not limited to porn or gambling” Web sites.
In the 2005 survey, conducted by the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, single people and younger people were more likely to use the Internet than others. Survey participants reported that an hour spent online reduced face time with family members by nearly 24 minutes; an hour on the Internet reduced sleep time by about 12 minutes.
More than half the time spent online involved communication (including chat rooms, e-mail and instant messaging), the report said; the rest of the time is spent updating personal Web pages and browsing news groups, social networking and dating Web sites, as well as other sites.
Hints of Trouble
Excessive Internet use should be defined not by the number of hours spent online but “in terms of losses,” said Maressa Hecht Orzack, a Harvard University professor and director of Computer Addiction Services at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., founded in 1995. “If it is a loss [where] you are not getting to work, and family relationships are breaking down as a result around it and this is something you can’t handle, then it’s too much.”
Since the early 1990s, several clinics have been established in the United States to treat heavy Internet users. They include the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery, in Bradford, Pa., and the Connecticut-based Center for Internet Behavior.
The Web site for Orzack’s center lists the following among the psychological symptoms of computer addiction:
Having a sense of well-being or euphoria while at the computer.
Craving more and more time at the computer.
Neglect of family and friends.
Feeling empty, depressed or irritable when not at the computer.
Lying to employers and family about activities.
Inability to stop the activity.
Problems with school or job.
Physical symptoms listed include dry eyes, carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, backaches, skipping meals, poor personal hygiene and sleep disturbances.
If college settings are any example, excessive Internet use may be a growing problem. Jonathan Kandell, assistant director of the counseling center at the University of Maryland at College Park — one of the first universities to offer a support group for this type of behavior in the 1990s — said that surveys of students who seek counseling show an increase in those reporting that “they either always or often had trouble controlling themselves on the Internet.” In the late 1990s, about 2 to 3 percent reported that problem; in 2005 and 2006 surveys, the figure has increased to about 13 percent, Kandell said.
The APA is considering whether to take up this issue when it updates its official manual of psychiatric disorders in 2012, said William E. Narrow, associate director of the association’s division of research. If such behaviors begin affecting a person’s life and “they feel like they can’t stop, [then] that’s the type of thing that we would start to have concerns about,” Narrow said. It’s also important to consider, “Are there any other disorders that can account for the behavior?”
Many online discussion boards — with names such as Internet Addicts Anonymous, Gaming Addiction and Internet Addicts Recovery Club — focus on Internet overuse and contain posts from hundreds of members. On such boards, posters admit that they feel as though they can’t step away from their computers without feeling drawn back and that their online habits interfere with personal relationships, daily routines and their ability to concentrate on work or school. Reports of failed relationships, slipping grades and workplace problems that writers attribute to their preoccupation with the Internet are not unusual.
People who struggle with excessive Internet use may be depressed or have other mood disorders, Orzack said. When she discusses Internet habits with her patients, they often report that being online offers a “sense of belonging, an escape, excitement [and] fun,” she said. “Some people say relief . . . because they find themselves so relaxed.”
Goldberg, the New York psychiatrist, said he has seen patients “whose marriages were deteriorating who retreated behind a keyboard.” The Internet “becomes another way that people use to try to cope with their own disorder,” he said.
Less Game to Play
Some parts of the Internet seem to draw people in more than others, experts report. Internet gamers spend countless hours competing in games against people from all over the world. One such game, called World of Warcraft, which charges a $14.99 monthly subscription fee, is cited on many sites and discussion boards by posters complaining of a “gaming addiction.”
Andrew Heidrich, 28, an education network administrator from Sacramento, plays World of Warcraft for about two to four hours every other night, but that’s nothing compared with the 40 to 60 hours a week he spent playing online games when he was in college. He cut back only after a full-scale family intervention, in which relatives told him he’d gained weight and had become “like a zombie.”
“There’s this whole culture of competition that sucks people in” with online gaming, said Heidrich, now married and a father of two. “People do it at the expense of everything that was a constant in their lives.” Heidrich now visits Web sites that discuss gaming addiction regularly “to remind myself to keep my love for online games in check.”
Toebe also regularly visits a site where posters discuss Internet overuse. In August, when she first realized she had a problem, she posted a message on a Yahoo Internet addiction group with the subject line: “I have an Internet Addiction.”
“I am self-employed and need the Internet for my work but I am failing to accomplish my work, to take care of my home, to give attention to my children who have been complaining for months,” she wrote in a message sent to the group, which had more than 300 members as of last week. “I have no money or insurance to get professional help, I am not making money, I can’t even pay my mortgage and face losing everything.”
Since then, Toebe said, she has kept her promise to herself to cut back on her Internet use. “I have a boyfriend now, and I’m not interested in [online] dating,” she said by phone last week. “It’s a lot better now.”
An outspoken critic of attempts to label problematic Internet use as Internet Addiction Disorder says he believes that the symptoms of the proposed condition are down to a cognitive difference in individuals.
Jonathan Bishop, an independent Internet researcher from Wales, says that the problems associated with intense Internet use resemble more cognitive understandings of social phobia than drug or gambling addiction.
Speaking about his beliefs Mr Bishop said: “Problematic Internet use that results in individuals going without sleep or food is more to do with how they have prioritised their goals and plans than a tolerance of the Internet.” Restating his statements to the Beijing Review magazine, Mr Bishop said that it is not possible to be addicted to the Internet, “The Internet is an environment, so we can’t be addicted to it”, he said, “We don’t say that people who play card games in pubs for hours on end have pub addiction”
Criticising foreign governments’ responses to problematic Internet use, Mr Bishop said that they should look at the real reasons behind their citizen’s cognitive differences, “If these foreign governments gave people reason not to spend hours on the computer, such as through helping them develop more appropriates goals and beliefs in a free and democratic offline environment, they would not think that staying in the virtual worlds they inhabit is more important.”
A generation of Chinese is growing up with the Internet as just another part of their everyday lives. But, along the path to modernity, obstacles are sure to arise, and China is only just beginning to understand and deal with the myriad side effects technology may have on society. Recently China acknowledged this with the opening in Beijing of its first medical clinic dedicated to the treatment of what it calls “online addiction.”
As China works to reform its healthcare system, it is going to have to determine for itself whether it will approach online addiction as an illness that can be treated with a combination of drugs, therapy and counseling. If China looks outside its borders, it might save some time in formulating a strategy for dealing with this problem.
Online or Internet addiction is typically defined as a proclivity toward compulsiveness in the use of the Internet, which specifically interferes with one’s ability to lead a normal life. Any individual, who forsakes his responsibility to friends, family or employer, and engages in obsessive Internet use at the jeopardy of his own stability, health or social well being, might be suffering from Internet addiction.
In the United States, where widespread Internet began taking a foothold nearly one decade ago, Internet addiction has yet to gain official acceptance as a psychological disorder in the medical community. The gold standard for such acceptance is the inclusion of the disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychological Association. Currently in its fourth edition, the “DSM-IV” is an attempt at classifying and describing all known psychological disorders according to their symptoms. And while Internet addiction has yet to make it pass the manual’s editorial board, the growing number of case studies outlining patient symptoms and treatment published in various medical journals suggests that the disorder is gaining more widespread acceptance.
“Like the diagnosis for Pathological Gambling, it took decades from the original studies to its inclusion in the DSM as a separate category and I would imagine this same scientific process needs to be completed for Pathological Internet use,” said Dr. Kimberly Young, Director for the Center for Online Addiction in Bradford Pennsylvania.
The concept of Internet addiction was first hypothesized in the 1990s. The ailment, varyingly described as “Internet Addictive Disorder” (lAD), “Cyber Addiction” and “Online Addiction,” has mental health experts and social critics engaged in an ongoing debate over whether such an official classification is even justified. The battle underlying the debate has on its one side the right of patients to be informed about and treated for the problem and to have that treatment covered by medical insurance policies. On the other side is the potential for social stigma that may result from appending the pejorative label of a “mental illness” to what many consider to be no more than a pattern of poor behavior.
The Center for Online Addiction says Internet addiction can be likened to substance based addictions in which the afflicted develop a relationship of dependency of the substance that “takes precedence over any and all other aspects of their lives.” Dr. Young said the most important factor in effectively treating the problem is increasing awareness of the issue and helping people understand the potential harm involved.
In the mid-1990s, when the concept of online addiction was first hypothesized, there was little, if any, scientific data to back up claims that a serious problem was brewing. Initial attempts to call attention to the disorder came under considerable scrutiny and even some degree of professional ridicule.
“At first, people thought I was kind of nuts,” said Dr. Maressa Hecht Orzack, founder and Director of the Computer Addiction Study Center at Harvard University-affiliated McLean Hospital. “I discovered it in myself. .. I saw that my solitaire card game was a problem.”
Orzack says she would play solitaire with no end in sight, often using it as a distraction from other work she had to do. It didn’t take Orzack-a practicing clinical psychologist with years of experience treating substance abuse and other addictive disorders-long before she recognised her problem. She said the message really hit home when her late husband would find she slumped over her computer keyboard, sleeping.
When Orzack mentioned her experience to colleagues, no one paid any attention.
Over time, however, her colleagues started to relay stories of others who they suspected might be suffering from an addiction to the Internet Today, some 10 years later, she gets referrals from all over the world.
Before it was ever considered a treatable disorder, Internet addiction was a nuisance to employers who noticed decreased productivity in their workers who were using the Internet.
“Most Internet usage abuses were occurring at work,” said Dr. Mark Wiedemold, Editor-in-Chief at the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior. ‘That’s when it became a major issue for employers.”
The number of manuscript submissions to CyberPsychology & Behavior on the subject of Internet addiction has increased in both quality and quantity. It’s also become apparent that Internet addiction is not exclusive to the United States.
“Submissions are now coming from all over world,” said Wiederhold. “South America, South Korea, Singapore, Europe.. . Clearly it is an international issue. A growing number of people were experiencing problems in their marriages and other personal relationships, and difficulty engaging in successful ‘real world’ relationships offline.”
The treatment of online addiction is still relatively new. But Dr. Young said the Center for Online Addiction has been successful in treating the disorder with recent studies showing “upward of 70 percent recovery in a six-month follow-up with addicts.”
Still there are some who would argue that there is no scientific basis for treating excessive Internet use as a mental illness.
“When people go on a pub-crawl, they go from one social experience to another,” said Jonathan Bishop, a Britain-based interaction designer and researcher who specialises in the development of virtual communities. ”But we don’t call that behavior an illness. We don’t have a thing called ‘pub addiction.’”
Bishop’s position is that using the Internet is simply an alternative environment for “real world” social interaction. He often uses the “pub” analogy to describe the online experience of chat rooms, instant messaging and message boards. Though he readily acknowledges that compulsive Internet use can become a serious problem if it comes at the expense of one’s job, family or personal health, he is opposed to affixing any official diagnostic label to the phenomenon, especially one that would define it as a mental illness.
“If you treat it as an illness, it could cause depression because (patients) may begin to believe there is something wrong with them,” said Bishop. “Really, there is nothing wrong with them. They just want to be social.”
Bishop says he doesn’t think there is any qualitative difference between socialising online and socialising in-person. These are simply two sides of the same coin, he said. He was surprised to leam that the problem in China had grown to the extent that it would require the establishment of a treatment center.
“I personally don’t see the Internet as what the people are being addicted to,” said Bishop. “I see it as the social experiences that are offered by the Internet that people are addicted to.”
These experiences may include frequent checking of email inboxes, excessive use of instant messaging programmes, chat rooms, games or posting to online newsgroups.
Another characteristic typical of an addictive problem is the feeling of withdrawal that comes when that object or dependency is removed. But do Internet addicts suffer from withdrawal symptoms? Dr. Maressa Hecht Orzack thinks so.
“People will tell me (they) ‘crave being online,”’ said Orzack. ‘They go through withdrawals, they get irritable, they may get depressed, and they need to return to it in order to feel better.”
The documented presence of withdrawal symptoms, as well as the increased tolerance to the dependency, which manifests itself in the urge to be online for longer and longer periods, makes Internet addiction increasingly analogous to more widely understood addictive behaviors, such as pathological gambling.
Yet whatever position they take in this ongoing debate, most experts agree that whether online addiction is recognised as a distinct psychological disorder and given an entry in the DSM is secondary to the promotion of awareness and treatment for the condition. By sheer numbers alone, the existence of a problem with potential for serious consequences is undeniable. Increased social awareness of the condition and a thorough understanding of how to treat it is key to winning the battle.
“What’s at stake for society is a reflection of what’s at stake for the individual,” Mark Wiederhold said. “If this becomes an issue with your ability to perform your job, to have a relationship or otherwise negatively influences your life, then it’s more than just a hobby. We need to educate health care providers that these are potential issues for their patients.”
During 1993, there were a lot of write-ups in the newspapers about violence and video games. The tabloids gave gullible readers the impression that video games were the sole reason for violence on the street. Video games can be violent, especially as the graphics are becoming more detailed. But this is not the only reason for violence. We live in an aggressive society, and whenever, some major violence related incidents occur, the government and the so-called professionals look for a scapegoat.
In 1993, Sega’s new state-of-the-art video game computer was released, the Mega-CD. Along with it was a new type of interactive game released called ‘Night Trap’. In Night Trap, your aim is to trap the vampires and save the teenage girls. In some places the game can be violent if you don’t trap the vampires.
There were also many major incidents in our society, like the horrific murder of James Bulger by two teenagers, many sex attacks, and numerous assaults.
With the release of this new interactive game, Night Trap, that was slightly violent, video games seemed the ideal scapegoat for the Government and the soâ€called professionals to use to deflect responsibility from themselves when they realised society was becoming more and more corrupt than ever.
Although video games have been around since the eighties, they are a relatively new concept And as they are new, like most technology, the older generation do not understand them. This is probably because older people were brought-up in an age where technology was not as developed as it is now. And as the majority of Members of Parliament consist of people whose minds are permanently set in the sixties, it is not surprising why they fear this modern technology. Dominic Diamond once said ‘It is human nature to fear what you don’t understand and attack what you fear, and this was and is certainly true of the Government.
When there was a debate in the House of Commons in 1993, instead of the Government discussing what was actually causing violence, all that they were doing was having a slanging match with each other.
Violence is not going to go away over night, but what is the point in looking for scapegoats. The Government should be looking for the actual causes and just passing the blame on to someone else. Maybe the actual reason is that they are not governing the country properly. And most importantly, video games are here to stay and will take us into the 21st century, when the people of the eighties and nighties will take over the running of the country. And without doubt, their flexible and problem solving minds will make a better job of developing our country, as their minds are not fixed on one decade.