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Ethical Issues in the Online World

Welcome to the blog of the Internet Ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University. Program Director Irina Raicu will be joined by various guests in discussing the ethical issues that arise continuously on the Internet; we hope to host a robust conversation about them, and we look forward to your comments.

The following postings have been filtered by tag digital media. clear filter
  •  "Harrison Bergeron" in Silicon Valley -- Part II

    Friday, May. 22, 2015

    A few weeks ago, I wrote about Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron.” In the world of that story the year is 2081, and, in an effort to render all people “equal,” the  government imposes handicaps on all those who are somehow better than average. One of the characters, George, whose intelligence is "way above normal," has "a little mental handicap radio in his ear.”

    As George tries to concentrate on something,

    “[a] buzzer sounded in George's head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.

    "That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did," said Hazel.

    "Huh" said George.

    "That dance-it was nice," said Hazel.

    "Yup," said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. … But he didn't get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.

    George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.

    Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask George what the latest sound had been.

    "Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer," said George.

    "I'd think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds," said Hazel a little envious. "All the things they think up."

    "Um," said George.

    "Only, if I was Handicapper General, you know what I would do?" said Hazel. … "I'd have chimes on Sunday--just chimes. Kind of in honor of religion."

    "I could think, if it was just chimes," said George.

    Re-reading the story, I thought about the work of the late professor Cliff Nass, whose “pioneering research into how humans interact with technology,” as the New York Times described it, “found that the increasingly screen-saturated, multitasking modern world was not nurturing the ability to concentrate, analyze or feel empathy.”

    If we have little “mental handicap radios” in our ears, these days, it’s usually because we put them there—or on our eyes, or wrists, or just in our hands—ourselves (though some versions are increasingly required by employers or schools). Still, like the ones in the story, they are making it more difficult for all of us to focus on key tasks, to be present for our loved ones, to truly take in and respond to our surroundings.

    In anticipation of the Memorial Day’s weekend, I wish you a few days of lessened technological distractions. And, if you have some extra time, you might want to read some of professor Nass’ research.

     

  •  The Need for Accuracy Online

    Monday, Apr. 8, 2013

    The Internet has surely surpassed the expectations of its pioneers.  As a communication medium, it is unparalleled in scope and impact.  However, the ease of publication in the Web 2.0 world has created new ethical dilemmas.  In this brief video, Adobe Chairman of the Board Charles Geschke points out the gap between what Internet users expect to receive (i.e. factual and accurate information) and what they too often get instead.  Is it the user's responsibility to judge which sources to access on the Web, and how much to rely on them?  Is it the publishers of information who have a duty to strive to be accurate?

    Below, Sally Lehrman (Knight Ridder/San Jose Mercury News Endowed Chair in Journalism and the Public Interest at Santa Clara University, and a Markkula Center for Applied Ethics Scholar) responds to Geschke's comments.  Add your own responses in the "Comments" section!

    "The Internet has certainly opened up opportunities for anyone to publish whatever they want.  In some ways, the proliferation of voices is good.  It provides access to ideas and perspectives that traditional news gatherers might miss. It also can put pressure on news organizations to get things right.  But, as Mr. Geschke points out, it's hard to tell when the information packaged like news on the Internet is really just marketing or propaganda.  That's why brands like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and local sites such as Patch.com and your own local newspaper are valuable.  Their reporting can be trusted.

    Ethical traditions in journalism ensure multiple sources and careful attention to facts.  But many people have come to expect their news for free, and feet-on-the-ground reporting and fact-checking are expensive.  That makes it very difficult for true news operations to survive.  Unfortunately, we're seeing a decline in quality as a result.  The public must learn to discern--and value--quality news.  One way is to learn more about traditional journalism ethics guidelines, found (on the Internet!) on sites such as www.spj.org/ethics.asp and www.rtdna.org/channel/ethics."

    Sally Lehrman