PhD research

Online social norms and channel shift

My research examines emergent online social norms, their impact on online social capital and the implications for society in the wake of digital by default and channel shift policies being expanded by the UK government and governments around the world. Channel shift is the process of relocating government, public and private services from face to face and telephone to the Internet.

These shifts create significant cost saving opportunities and efficiencies but also introduce challenges for some individuals attempting to adjust to what I call online social-mediated interactions (Based on John Thompson’s theories in Media and Modernity). My study looks at highly digitally skilled individuals to find out if this group, which is often considered ‘digital natives’, prosper or struggle in the age of channel shifts. Additionally, I examine their views on government surveillance, online privacy, data usage and other factors.

Social-mediated Interactions

These are, in part, the unwritten social rules that influence an individual’s experience with others online. My PhD looks for inequalities in ‘readiness’ for social-mediated interactions online across society and how this poses a challenge, even with highly digitally skilled individuals’. My PhD investigates three key related issues:

  1. Digital inclusion should not be solely addressed and categorized through a lens of digital skills or digital cultures but also ‘social mediated interaction’ and online social interaction ‘readiness’. I examine emerging online social norms and ask if they are not fully understood even within those who are digital skilled. This impacts access to social capital and ability to use online government services like benefits and more face to face services which are being ‘shifted’ online.
  2. We should examine digital inclusion and digital skill inequality in regard to specific digital platforms (apps, web services), not the Internet in general. Digital skills and social norms can be radically different across platforms.
  3. Sociologists and political scientists make theoretical generalisations about the Internet as if it has reached a ‘final form’, like the telephone or television. Yet the Internet is constantly changing opening new possibilities whilst closing others. Social scientists must adapt their theory writing to this changing digital environment and I hope to shed light and expand on existing theory.

These issues potentially impact not only government policy but also civil society. We risk ‘channel shifting’ society to digital environments that are insecure and evolve in ways that shifts social power to centralised power blocs.