Babies can teach us how to use the internet

Baby with laptopProtesters who tried to break into a corporate building in London today may have a point about the unfair distribution of wealth, but they are probably going about it the wrong way. Many people reckon the protesters should find something better to do, others call for harsher punishments for loutish behaviour. Whichever way you really look at “storming a building”, it ain’t right…! Instinctively, you know what is right and what is wrong – you don’t have to be told that the building isn’t yours, so you can’t break into it – even if you think the building represents unfair distribution of wealth.

Online you can find all sorts of Tweets, Facebook postings and blog articles criticising the protesters. There is much vented spleen visible on social media – not just on this issue, but on others too. However, as soon as someone steps out of line on Twitter, for example, others jump on them to socially isolate them and effectively punish them for being rude or offensive online. We police social media ourselves making sure it is largely a comfortable place to be, that is “right” not “wrong”.

But what makes you instantly know whether a Tweet is in poor taste, or whether a blog post deserves some kind of “punishment” with a negative comment, for instance? It turns out in new research from Yale that you’ve known since you were a baby. The researchers found that babies know the difference between what is right socially and what is wrong and that they have a preference for “punishing” anyone who has done wrong. In other words, right from the word go in our life we appear to understand that goodness is great.

It suggests that social policing is rather instinctive – we have an inbuilt preference for wanting to reward people who do nice things in social groups and punishing those who do bad. Is it any wonder that there are calls for harsh punishment for “storm the building protesters” – even if the people calling for those punishments agree with the message behind the protests?

Online it means you should trust your instincts more. If you think someone is doing the wrong thing on Twitter, they probably are. If you think someone is doing a great social job on Facebook, they probably are. So rather than sitting back, trying to analyse and work things out (and thereby losing “the moment”) it is probably best to trust your instincts and say what you feel. This new research suggests you already know the right thing to do because you knew that when you still wore nappies.

Babies can teach us how to use the internet 1

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