Despite the distinction between our lives and digital lives all but disappearing (we’re onlife), we often characterise ethics and civil engagement in online spaces as being categorically compromised.
In a show on ABC Radio National, commentator Waleed Aly explains how he believes the inherent structure of the medium of social media as a broadcast platform compromises our ability to have constructive dialogue, and to connect meaningfully with each other:
“Arguments and ideas that are tossed around are never really tossed around because all of those ideas are turned from engagement to performance. Every aspect of our lives, suddenly, whether it be argument over a political issue, a social issue, pop culture, or whether it is the endless tweeting of meals you’re eating—the thing that unites all of that is that it is an experience of performance.” – Waleed Aly
This reading of connection and civil engagement in digital spaces conflicts with a more utopian one. For example, sociologist Keith Hampton acknowledges the common assumption that social media makes us less connected and politically engaged, believing that, conversely, “people who use sites like Facebook actually have more close relationships and are more likely to be involved in civic and political activities.”
In his book Digital Media Ethics (2013), Charles Ess reasons that whilst many of the challenges we face online are similarly found in non-digital spaces, there are indeed ethical conundrums that are unique to online spaces, as well as the those that are familiar to a pre-digital world, but with new “wrinkles” (Ess, 2013) that have been inserted through our use of digital technologies.
Perhaps it’s not that digital platforms categorically repel or create ethical behaviour, but that we’re just navigating these “wrinkles” and need some time to help us insert our own value framework into unfamiliar territory. In my research, I want to explore some of the core ethical decision-making challenges that we face that are at least partially unique to digital spaces, and try to unpack some of these ethical complexities that are presented in a helpful way.
Updates and changes:
In my last blog, I introduced my area of research and attempted to document some of the reasoning that led me to define the direction and parameters of my project.
As I continue to research into the area, I’m realising just how complex and interwoven these discussions are – and how reducing all of this information into bite-sized how-to videos (such as I had planned) may risk over-simplification. I also began questioning the value of informing an audience in a very explicit way of a singular ‘correct’ approach to a given situation. I realised that, of course, it would be hugely naïve (and perhaps damaging) of me to suggest that there aren’t multiple truths and multiple correct solutions to ethical challenges. The relationship between disadvantage and access to the internet, also known as the digital divide, is just one example of how it is difficult to resolutely prescribe a singular ‘ethical’ path for our digital behaviour.
So, I’ve opted to shift the structure of the presentation of my research into a slightly more discursive format, to enable more complex analysis. To allow for this, I’ve changed the medium of my Digital Artefact from short videos to podcasts, which I feel are better suited to a conversational format. As I present each topic, I’ll be aiming to be explore issues using research and case studies, and asking constructive and generative questions, rather than simply informing. This is more in line with a value pluralist approach to ethics – which I think I like best.
I’ve also slightly altered my topic from the ones in my last blog. My new topics that I’ll be discussing (one per podcast episode) are:
- My Digital Self: Is my online identity harmful?
- Downloaded: Should I be consuming content for free?
- Big Brother: How much privacy should I relinquish?
- E-citizenship: Is my online behaviour strengthening democracy?
For each topic, I’ll be including academic research, and I’ll discuss a relevant case study. Whilst, I don’t want to be prescriptive, I do want the listener to gain something tangible from the episodes. So at the end of each podcast, I’ll leave the listener with ‘5 take-aways’ to help them feel empowered to navigate their digital lives more ethically.
Keep an eye on my blog for podcast one, coming soon!