Trust, Civic Engagement, and the Internet
In “Trust, Civic Engagement, and the Internet,” professor Eric Uslaner argues that despite polarized beliefs, evidence suggests that the Internet is a neutral factor in civic engagement. He opens by describing the polarized beliefs held within this conversation about the Internet, citing the opinion of the “Good Net” as a place that levels race and class barriers, promotes trust and connection with strangers, and provides a venue to build community. Contrarily, Uslaner conveys the perspective of the “Bad Net” as a medium of pulling people away from social interaction, leading to stress and depression while simultaneously showing the world as a cruel, mistrustful place. However, Uslaner proclaims that the Internet is neither “good” nor “bad” claiming, “The Net is not transformative” (Uslaner 330). He asserts that people do not change based on the Internet; rather, the Internet exposes preexisting social qualities, especially trust.
Uslaner affirms that trust does not develop from social exposure; rather, it is learned through childhood emulation. Therefore, Uslaner deduces that the Internet cannot create or destroy trust. He emphasizes that people behave similarly online as they would offline, tending to connect with people who are similar to them. Moreover, Uslaner declares that trust shapes online interaction, not vice versa.
Uslaner supports these ideas through trends with numerous charts, analyzing data from the Pew Surveys of 1998 and 2000. In 1998, there was virtually no evidence for linkage between trust, sociability and Internet usage. In 2000, however, trust changed how people used the Internet. Uslaner qualifies this claim, attesting that Internet usage never influenced trust; instead, mistrustful people monitor their Internet usage differently. He uses the data to show that online behavior mirrors offline behavior, and that “Most of the time, the Net is neutral, neither creating nor destroying social bonds” (Uslaner 340). Uslaner concludes that the users, not the Internet alone, are the cause of any change in societal civic engagement.
Uslaner, Eric M. “Trust, Civic Engagement, and the Internet.” Engagements With Rhetoric: A Path to Academic Writing at the University of Maryland. Boston, MA: Pearson Learning Studios, 2011. 326-347. Print.
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