Online Prosocial Behaviors

Online Prosocial Behaviors

Michelle F. Wright (Pennsylvania State University, USA) and William Stanley Pendergrass (American Public University System, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7601-3.ch037
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Prosocial behaviors in the cyber context (i.e., the internet, text messages) can be traced back to when the internet was just a message board, used to share open source software. Following these early investigations of prosocial behaviors, clinicians recognized that the internet might remove barriers to help seeking. Recent investigations have provided support for the internet as a place to seek help among various populations. Prosocial behaviors in the cyber context also have benefits for the givers as well, including health benefits, personal satisfaction, and reputational increases. This chapter draws on multidisciplinary research to review prosocial behaviors in the cyber context.
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Over three billion people use electronic technologies (e.g., cell phones, the internet) everyday (Internet Live Stats, 2016). Although there are many investigations and news stories about negative online behaviors, less attention has been given to positive online behaviors. There are many opportunities to receive help or to perform prosocial acts through electronic technologies. This chapter focuses on online prosocial behaviors. The chapter includes eight sections:

  • Section one provides the definition of offline and online prosocial behaviors.

  • Section two examines the unique characteristics of the cyber context and how such characteristics are conductive to prosocial behaviors.

  • Section three focuses on various online prosocial behavior, including helping through electronic groups, online mentoring, online donations to charities, virtual voluntarism, and helping in other electronic contexts (e.g., social networking sites).

  • Section four investigates the value of online prosocial behaviors to the giver and receiver.

  • Section five provides theoretical explanations for why people engage in online prosocial behavior.

  • Section six describes solutions and recommendations for organizations wanting to harness electronic technologies for various helping opportunities.

  • Section seven presents suggestions for future research on online prosocial behavior.

  • The last section provides concluding remarks regarding the chapter.


Characteristics Of Online Prosocial Behaviors

Online prosocial behaviors have some characteristics that set them apart from the same behaviors offline. Search engines make it easier to find opportunities to help or receive help online (Sproull, Conley, & Moon, 2013). It is easier to give or receive help online because one’s physical appearance or personal attributes do not influence other’s opinions (Brennan, Moore, & Smyth, 1992). Individuals can use fake names or screen names and hide their identities online, which reduces stigmas associated with seeking help (Wright & Li, 2012). The online environment offers flexibility to individuals wanting to help or give help, allowing them to give help or receive help even with restricted schedules. There is high controllability over online prosocial behaviors. The online environment allows givers to choose when they want to help and if they want to help again without feeling pressured (Sproull et al., 2013; Wright & Li, 2012).

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