Distant suffering online: The unfortunate irony of cyber-utopian narratives

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The internet is often celebrated for the abundant opportunities it appears to offer citizens to become more informed about and inspired to act on issues related to international development and distant suffering. But to what extent do users actually make use of such opportunities? And what social processes are such decisions governed by? This article begins to answer these questions by analysing the results of a two month study of UK internet users’ online behaviour. The results reveal, not just a general resistance to using the internet to develop a cosmopolitan consciousness, but also the dominant modes of avoidance that participants used to justify their inactivity. I conclude that the potential for digital cosmopolitanism appears to be primarily governed, not by the peculiarities of individual texts or even the properties of the technology, but by the nature and acceptability of pre-existing discursive resources and how they are deployed by users.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)637-653
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Communication Gazette
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015


  • Development studies
  • Internet
  • media literacy
  • cosmopolitanism

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