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The sociology of the internet

The sociology of the internet

The sociology of the internet is a subfield of sociology where researchers focus on how the internet plays a role in facilitating communication and interaction and how it affects and is affected by social life.

In the late 1990s, the sudden widespread adoption of the internet in the US and other Western nations drew the attention of sociologists. Internet technology allowed for new forms of communication and information and new ways of spreading it. Sociologists wanted to understand how these would impact people's lives, the cultural patterns, social trends and larger social structure.


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Historical view of sociology of the internet

Historical view of sociology of the internet

Paul DiMaggio and colleagues wrote the earliest sociological essay about this subfield, titled " Social Implications of the Internet."

It outlined the concerns within the internet, such as:

  • the digital divide
  • relationships between the internet and community and social capital
  • the impact of the internet on political participation
  • how internet technology impacts organisations and economic institutions and our relationships to them
  • cultural participation and cultural diversity


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Digital sociology in today's world

The roles of internet communication technologies (ICTs) have evolved in our lives, their impacts on social relations and society overall. So, too, the sociological approach to studying them has evolved.

Digital sociology now considers the variety of ICT devices we use in our lives, how we use them and the implications these technologies have for social life and society.


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Development of Digital Sociology

Since 2012, a handful of sociologists have focused on defining the subfield of digital sociology. The subfield became formalised in the UK when the British Sociological Association members created a new study group designed to develop a set of best practices for digital sociology.

In the U.S., there is no formalised organisation around the subfield, but many sociologists have turned to the digital in research focus and methods. They can be found among research groups, including the American Sociological Association's sections on Communication, Information Technologies, and Media Sociology.


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Key areas of study of digital sociology

Key areas of study of digital sociology

  • The impact of ICTs on social relationships. For example, the role that social media plays in teen friendships today, rules of etiquette.
  • How ICTs are a part of the processes of crafting and expressing identity.
  • The impact of ICTs and social media on political expression, activism, and campaigning.
  • The role and impact of ICTs and the web in processes of building group affiliation and community, particularly among marginalized groups.


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Digital sociology offers a way of addressing the changing relationships we have in digital societies.


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