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University of Nebraska Public Policy Center

Investigating the Role of Distrust in Unauthorized Online Activities Using an Integrated Sociotechnical Approach

Evidence suggests that “unauthorized online behavior” motivated by social, political, economic and cultural conflicts is increasing. Yet research on stemming cyber-attacks has tended to focus on mechanisms and processes of defense, ignoring what determines and prevents the conditions that foster cyber-attacks in the first place. Advancing knowledge about distrust in general and in this specific domain is important both for social science and cybersecurity. Advancing research on distrust is important to creating secure and trustworthy cyberspaces because distrust is highly characteristic of cyber-attackers, and is indeed an explicit part of a hacktivist (i.e., hacker activist) code of ethics.

The long-term goal of this project was to determine guidelines for the design and implementation of effective, empirically-based, theoretically-grounded, online systems for thoughtful democratic public participation and non-violent resolutions of social conflicts. This research took a step toward that goal by integrating social psychological theory with technological innovation in an experimental investigation of the role of trust/distrust in deterring unauthorized online behaviors. Our central hypothesis was that relationships between distrust and unauthorized online behaviors (or acceptance of such behaviors) depend on the specific bases of distrust, and require different remedies. Broader impacts of the proposed activities were that the research findings contributed to the creation of online spaces for public engagement that encourage optimal behavior and reduce destructive and ethically questionable behaviors (e.g., cyber-attacks, hacktivism).

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