Trust Over the Net: The Case of Israeli Youth

Trust Over the Net: The Case of Israeli Youth

Oren Golan (New York University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/jdtis.2010040104
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The Internet has been highly acclaimed for its innovation, financial and cultural benefits; however, a major obstacle to its expansion lies in the question of trust relations. This paper focuses on trust-building over the Internet among Israeli youth and how youth constructs trust over the Internet. The study is based on 38 in-depth interviews with adolescents ages 12-21 and an analysis of chat rooms, personal homepages, blogs and popular youth newsgroups. Findings uncover three strategies for identifying trust among youth—control over anonymity, “technological affordances” for maintaining trust, and continuity and durability of online relationships. Findings show the Internet’s potential for fostering social integration and reveal the ways youth communicate and fraternize in contemporary society.
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1. Introduction

The Internet has been highly acclaimed for its innovation, financial and cultural benefits. Following its dramatic expansion, particularly in the past decade, popular notions that were echoed by social scientists anticipated the Internet’s rapid integration into everyday life, rather than it serving merely as a technical tool or a separate sphere for social endeavor (Fisher, 2001; Haythornthwaite & Wellman, 2002). Nevertheless, since its inception, and particularly in early research, prospects for the development of cooperative relationships on the Internet have been often assessed with skepticism (Kiesler, Siegel, & Mcguire, 1984; Beninger, 1987; Heim, 1992; Stoll, 1995),

The rise of the Internet, particularly since the mid 1990s, as it has gained its colossal popularity has raised questions regarding its effect on social integration and trust. Among social scientists, trust has long been perceived as a basic precondition for any stable social and economic relationship, as well as a necessary precondition for coping with conflict situations (Durkheim, 1949; Barber, 1983; Gambetta, 1988; Sztompka, 1999). Trust may be defined as “confidence in the reliability of a person or system” (Giddens, 19901). Among scholars, high levels of trust in society at large have been linked to a number of positive outcomes. Widespread social trust is a sign of social solidarity and cohesion and has also been linked to strong economic performance (Yamagishi & Yamagishi, 1994; Fukuyama, 1995) and is a source for supporting democratic ideals (Muller & Seligson, 1994; Cleary & Stokes, 2006). In theories of social capital, social trust is both an outcome and a cause of high levels of civic involvement (Putnam, 2000) as well as a constraint on non-normative and “immoral” behavior.

Past studies that focused on social interaction over the Internet have demonstrated the importance of online trust in the exchange of individual goods, production of public goods, the existence of stable social networks, communities, and effective social norms (see Parks & Floyd, 1996; Kollock & Smith, 1999; Baym, 2000; Raymond, 2001; Dutton & Shepherd, 2006). This paper focuses on an investigation of the ways in which trust is created and maintained among youth over the net, for adolescents are avid participants in Internet culture. More specifically, I aim to uncover how youth manage their online relations and steer themselves to what they perceive as trustworthy zones.

The paper aims to shed light on the Internet’s role and potential for fostering or hindering social integration and collective ideals, as well as uncovering the ways youth communicate and fraternize in today’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) society. Today, the Internet can be seen as a major tool for modern communication and civic cooperation. Hence, there is a significant justification for the study of online trust as both an indicator of and a key platform for the organization of democratic participation and social integration.

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