The different types of internet user
- Maltese Safer Internet Centre
In today's world, one often hears about addictions, such as drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. However, addiction can be demonstrated to exist even where no substance, legal or illegal, is present. The list of addictions today also includes internet addiction.
When speaking about internet addiction, online gaming and game sites would typically come to mind, which is correct. However, even excessive internet use can be considered an addiction.
One can conceptualise an addiction in terms of the person's attachment to a specific activity. With regards to attachment, one will consider regularity of an activity, frequency, the increase in importance of this activity in the life of the person concerned and, ultimately, one must see if a person's life has changed as a result of this activity and if the person concerned can still control his or her own life.
A number of studies have shown that internet use may become problematic internet use. This comes about as a result of escapism, mood modification, negative consequences and other manifestations.
A person who is a problematic internet user is one who has intense mental preoccupation with the internet, compulsive use, spends a considerable amount of time on the internet at the expense of other, more important, activities and is one who basically is unable to manage the time spent online.
When considering issues related to problematic internet use one has to reflect on the issue if this is considered an addiction simply as a result of a social construction. Like any other addiction, internet addiction brings with it medicalisation issues, such as the need to pay people to help you cure it.
The President's Foundation for Wellbeing in Malta was concerned with the increase in engagement by young people in internet use and so conducted two studies to get a scientific base on which to plan future action.
The first study was conducted with 18-30 year olds. Out of a total of 4,233 people contacted, 1,507 agreed to participate in the study. Following the study, it resulted that 65.9 per cent were average users, 33.3 per cent were excessive users, while only 0.8 per cent were problematic internet users.
In general, one can define occasional users as those who went online for entertainment or to make new friends, habitual users as those who use it often and for whom length of time might become an issue, while those classified as at risk users are those who will do whatever they can to be and stay online and who prefer to be online rather than with friends in real situations such as playing sports or going out together.
The second study by the President's Foundation for Wellbeing concentrated on the internet use of 13 to 16 year olds. The study involved 869 students coming from 18 schools: 89.3 per cent from state schools, 6.6 per cent from Church schools, and 4.1 per cent from Independent schools.
This second study went into issues such as social networking and online gaming. While 80 per cent of the students were classified as occasional users or habitual users there was a considerable amount (20 per cent) who were classified as at risk or as problematic internet users. Such users have a higher probability of having social issues and academic issues as a result of their internet addiction.
When viewing such statistics, one cannot but conclude on the importance of more interventions at an earlier stage in life, with a greater focus on prevention, early intervention and harm reduction.
A suitable educational setting that can serve as a platform for intervention is schools. In Malta, the suitable setting is the Personal Social Career Education (PSCD) lessons, where classes are small and where the PSCD teachers dedicate lesson time to various aspects of internet use, as part of the BeSmartOnline campaign which forms part of the official syllabus followed in both primary as well as secondary schools.
Naturally, in-service training, as well as professional development sessions, have taken place and others are in the pipeline, since PSCD teachers must have digital knowledge if they are to be in a position to help their students control their use of the internet.
Find out more about the work of the Maltese Safer Internet Centre (SIC), including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services.
- Maltese Safer Internet Centre/Stephen Camilleri, Education Officer – PSCD
As part of the BeSmartOnline! project in Malta, Personal Social and Career Development (PSCD) Education Officers have developed a series of workbooks to help teach young people digital citizenship skills. Read on to find out more.
- BIK team