Americans largely have viewed the internet as a positive not only in their life, but for society overall, for a long time.
But the foundation of that belief just developed a huge crack.
The Pew Research Center found that, all of a sudden, the percentage of those who say there is both good and bad online has exploded from 8 percent to 14 percent.
And virtually all of those who changed their minds came from the segment that previously believed it to be mostly good, since those who say it is a bad thing dropped from 15 to 14 percent.
“This shift in opinion regarding the ultimate social impact of the internet is particularly stark among older Americans, despite the fact that older adults have been especially rapid adopters of consumer technologies such as social media and smartphones in recent years,” the report said.
“Today, 64 percent of online adults ages 65 and older say the internet has been a mostly good thing for society. That represents a 14-point decline from the 78 percent who said this in 2014.
“The attitudes of younger adults have remained more consistent over that time: 74 percent of internet users ages 18 to 29 say the internet has been mostly good for society, comparable to the 79 percent who said so in 2014,” the report said.
Regarding the impact on their own lives, 88 percent now say it’s a good thing, 5 percent (up from 3 percent) say it’s a mix of good and bad, and 5 percent say it’s bad.
“Americans have grown somewhat more ambivalent about the impact of digital connectivity on society as a whole,” the report said.
“College graduates are more likely than those with lower levels of educational attainment to say the internet has had a positive impact on society (and less likely to say it has had a negative impact). Among online adults with a college degree, 81 percent say the impact of the internet on society has been mostly good and just 7 percent say it has been mostly bad. By contrast, 65 percent of those with a high school diploma or less say the internet has had a mostly good impact on society, and 17 percent say its impact has been mostly bad,” the report said.
The positives include easier access to information, although about 20 percent are connected only by smartphone and connecting with other people.
Those who think it’s bad point to fake news, false information and its impact on children and encouraging illegal activity.
Also, people worried about private information being accessed.
And, the survey said, it’s also “notable that 15 percent of Americans indicate that they have neither broadband service at home nor a smartphone.”
The information comes from telephone interviews Jan. 3-10 of 2,002 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
Five hundred of the interviews were on land lines, the rest on cell phones.