Internet Ethics – A Concept Whose Time Has Come?

A couple of weeks ago Jess posted a blog on “The Case of the Stolen Cell Phone – Where do you Stand?”  It really made me think about the use of social media – what is appropriate and what is not.  Just how do we determine such?   Everyone’s entitled to an opinion and I spent a long time contemplating exactly what mine was with regard to this issue.  I read about Guttman and went to the website he created and spent a good deal of time reviewing the chronology of events.

I have to admit, my first reaction to Guttman’s attempt to retrieve his friend’s cell phone was that it was gutsy and creative.  However, the more I contemplated the matter and studied the course of events that ensued, the less I found the approach appropriate.  Hindsight is always 20/20 but I believe this story has much to teach us in the way of what can go awry when we seek to bring about justice via the medium of social media.

To begin with, when Guttman and his friend first discovered who was using the Sidekick they did not report this information to the police.  Instead, Guttman continued airing this story in a very public forum anticipating that enough pressure would come to bear on the guilty party to force them to do the right thing.  That’s a dangerous gamble that could have resulted in physical harm to a number of people, including Guttman.  Societal passions can be fueled and behaviors ignited in ways which may not be rational or appropriate.  We may not always agree with the outcome of the application of the law but the law is intended to keep order and bring justice.  Having a matter tried by the public can bring chaos and mass hysteria.  Although, there may be instances when it is appropriate to garner public opinion to apply pressure to individuals or companies in a matter, in my opinion, this instant was not one in which this was the case.  I believe that Guttman started out with good intentions.  Unfortunately, it appears that ultimately these intentions led to an inappropriate use of his knowledge in how to use social media for his own purposes.

After contemplating this situation the idea of the need for some sort of ethical guidelines in the use of the internet, social media, etc. began brewing in my mind.  Then, I viewed Michael Wesch’s video “An Anthropological Introduction to You Tube”, and my thoughts were only amplified.  I couldn’t help but wonder just where we were going with all this.  Wesch’s video introduces ideas about how You Tube has shaped the relationships of people today and he introduces us to some of the ideas Larry Lessig has regarding the tensions between the law and the use of technology.  If you haven’t watched Lessig’s video, “Laws that Choke Creativity” it is worth the time if you have any interest at all in how to approach this matter of ethics and the internet.

To be honest, I am a fan of You Tube. I find it entertaining and love the creativity which it propagates.  Nevertheless, I found some of the revelations in Wesch’s and Lessig’s videos disturbing and I have begun to question things in a matter I had not previously.  Is it possible that the internet’s potential has increased so exponentially that we have failed to strategically and systematically ascribe a set of ethical practices which need to be applied thereto ?  Do we now find ourselves at a crossroads between enjoying the vast potential of technological capability and the ability to define a set of practices which are both ethical and lawful in the application of these practices?

Finally, what should be the role of the adult educator in the establishment of a set of “internet ethics”?  To help address these issues, I’ve  begun to build a playlist on You Tube on internet ethics.  I’m not sure that this matter will be settled for me by the end of this course but I am certain that this will aid in the exploration and discovery necessary to address this and other important issues.

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2 Responses to Internet Ethics – A Concept Whose Time Has Come?

  1. jshill2 says:

    Great stuff, Wally! And I’m so glad that my post on the Case of the Stolen Sidekick provided some fodder for your research. 🙂 Don’t know if you saw my follow up on this scenario, but I totally agree with the points you raise regarding Guttman’s actions and decision-making process. As Wesch points out in his presentation, public airing of personal matters can quickly lead to drama (and, in some cases, violence). That could EASILY have been the case with Guttman. It’s a very slippery slope, for sure. I’m really excited to see what you dig up on internet ethics!

  2. MelKoch says:

    Love this post! I liked the Wesch video so much BECAUSE he didn’t just talk about how great it was, and got into the real problems and ethical considerations of the site. You’re right, it doesn’t seem like there is a code of behavior guiding You Tube, but there really isn’t anything on the other parts of the Internet either, and sometimes that is really scary!

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