Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Approaching Internet Abuse: A Psychoanalytic Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Approaching Internet Abuse: A Psychoanalytic Perspective

Article excerpt

Introduction

We live in a wired society where information technologies have permeated every part of our lives. Although we have cherished this achievement, we are also becoming increasingly vulnerable to various forms of computer abuses that infringe upon our basic rights of freedom of speech, privacy, property, etc. To the professional IT managers in Taiwan, these abuses seem especially troublesome because of the Internet's huge popularity and its negative image portrayed in the public media in Taiwan. The popularity implies great potential for electronic commerce opportunities, which in turn lead to the adoption of the Internet by many companies. But it appears that before enjoying the benefit, the company must work out how to protect itself from potential harms caused by employees' abusing the Internet in their work. Indeed, the sorts of abuses that are seen in the newspapers almost daily are no longer matters like flaming and defamation, which we may call "abuse in the small." Instead, these abuses are much broader in scope socially-gang fighting, broken families, wholesale piracy, and even murders, which we shall call "abuse in the large." Should the company be held liable for those abuses, be they large or small, that are committed by its employees utilizing the company's computing resources? To the IT professional managers, curbing Internet abuse becomes a new challenge because they are no longer dealing with problems that they can address with isolated intra-company policies. Rather, Internet abuses at work are intricately linked to the world outside the company. The sources of these abuses are societal and the challenge to understand them seems insurmountable.

Taiwan is unique in the adoption of the Internet. Its number of Internet users grew from four hundred thousand in i996 to an estimated six million by the end of 2000, according to statistics released by Taiwan's semi-o[double dagger]cial Institute of Information Industry (III) [7]. Over half of this Internet population are 30 years or younger, while another quarter belongs to the thirty-something group. Almost two thirds are college educated or equivalent, and over half access the Internet daily. One would think that such a population profile points to a healthy picture of Internet usage. Yet, according to YAM [i2], the civil watchdog of Taiwan's Internet, the most popular web sites in 2000 were consistently chat services (see Table i). Furthermore, in the year 2000, over 90% of news pertaining to the Internet reported in the public media were negative such as sex trades, broken families, and gang fighting.

The Internet has been portrayed as the core engine empowering us to a state of ultimate democracy and the friction-free (transaction cost-free) market. But in Taiwan, although none of these virtues are in sight, society already is paying a price for this technology. Is this only a temporary but necessary step before transition into a better future? Is the future already here? Or is information technology, however powerful it might be, only a slave of the culture in which it is implemented?

In a course entitled "information and society," a group of students set out to discover answers to these questions. They were not young college students, but professional managers holding mid- to high-level positions in charge of the formulation and implementation of information technologies in their respective companies. They were interested in learning why their younger colleagues (and their children) were so interested in the chat services and what sort of abuses might be committed. One of the first things they were asked to do was to read theories of psychoanalysis-specifically the works of Sigmund Freud and Harry Sullivan.

The Theories of Freud and Sullivan

Why Freud? How could the concepts of psychoanalysis, already a centuryold and somewhat out of fashion, be related to one of the most advanced achievements of mankind and its application to society? …

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