The moral matter of an interactive online domain: a philosophical and empirical exploration of how our relation with the online domain mediates online morality

Jan Bats

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

1312 Downloads (Pure)


Today, much of the contact we have is through the internet. It is known that not all of this contact is positive. In online environments, we form opinions about others much faster and more harshly and discussions can easily escalate.
"Why does this happen? Why are people quicker to argue with each other online, and do we judge others more harshly online than we would in person?" Many current scientific opinions point to how we feel more anonymous when communicating through the internet. This sense of anonymity also ensures we can't see the people we are talking to, or the effect our words and actions have on them. There's often a mob mentality online, and it's easy to disparage others when you don't need to worry about it turning physical.

Introducing a new explanation of our online behaviour
However, besides these statements, another explanation can also play a role. Many of today's online environments provide personalisation options and the perception of high control over the environment. Everyone feels at home in their own environment, and many social media platforms allow users to personalise their environment according to their preferences. We can upload our own photos as backgrounds, change the language, adjust the look and feel of the environment down to the fonts used, and choose who we do and do not communicate with. Just like our homes, we organise social media and other online environments to our comfort and make it our own, under our control. Does this affect the choices we make when using the internet, and how we interact with others online? After all, in our own homes we often do things differently than we do elsewhere.

Empirical research
My dissertation provides proof for this home environment theory through journal research and three experiments. In my experiments, I found that participants who were asked to personalise an online environment were quicker to form negative judgements about others who did not meet their standards. These participants allowed their own interests to play a role in their choices more than the participants who were not able to personalize their environment. On the other hand, those who personalised their environments were also more amicable towards the friends they had in that environment. To conclude, when using personalised online environments, we judge others who do not meet our standards more harshly, we put our own interests first, and we are kinder to our friends.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Verbeek, Peter-Paul C.C., Supervisor
  • Valkenburg, Rianne, Co-Supervisor, External person
Award date1 Mar 2019
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-94-028-1381-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'The moral matter of an interactive online domain: a philosophical and empirical exploration of how our relation with the online domain mediates online morality'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this