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Does Digital Piracy and Internet Addiction Increase 'Deviant' Behavior?

Researchers from the University of Louisville tried to find a correlation between illegal pirating and such behaviors as sexting.

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By Paul Gaita

06/06/14

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A recent study has attempted to link illegal downloading of online content and Internet addiction to inappropriate and even “deviant” behavior in teenagers.

The study, conducted by researchers from four universities, including the University of Louisville, and published in Computers in Human Behavior, surveyed more than 1,600 high school students in rural North Carolina to determine if they pirated online content, and if so, what they downloaded. In addition, the survey attempted to determine if the subjects exhibited any sign of Internet addiction – like did they experience any craving or withdrawal when separated from their computers – and did any of their peers exhibit what the researchers determined as “deviant behavior,” such as sexting, logging into another person’s email or Facebook account, or sending inappropriate pictures by phone.

The surveys revealed some surprising statistics for each category: 15 percent of the students polled said that they had pirated a song, while 29 percent admitted to illegally downloading a movie. In addition, 40 percent showed signs of Internet addiction. Further data mining showed that those subjects who showed a greater tendency towards Internet addiction were also more likely to pirate software with increasing frequency, though music and movie downloads did not increase for this group. However, those subjects who admitted to “deviant peer association” were also more likely to continue to commit illegal downloading of all three types of media.

But a Washington Post feature noted that there are inherent flaws to the study, based largely on the difference in attitudes towards the definition of “deviant” behavior between adults and teenagers. An interview with one of the paper’s authors reveals the difficulty in nailing down the crux of the word without resorting to generalities: deviancy, in the authors’ eyes, “goes against social norms,” but can include everything from inappropriate clothing to murder.

Certain acts can be considered deviant but not criminal, and different age groups – like the ones profiled in the study – will have different attitudes towards certain behavior. Teenagers are less likely to view sexting or hacking into someone’s Facebook account as contrary to societal norms as adults, which upends the connection between such behaviors, piracy, and Internet addiction. The latter itself has proven difficult to nail down due to the increasing amount of time people spend on their computers. A study conducted by researchers from Yale and other universities found that four percent of high school students qualified as Internet addicts, but was unable to clearly link addictive behavior to computer usage.

Rapidly changing norms regarding society and Internet usage have made it impossible to gauge behavior through standard scientific means, and as the Post article noted such accepted illegal activity as online piracy may not even be regarded as such a decade from now.

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