Friday, February 13, 2009

Internet Ethics or Couros Causes Concern!

I've been thinking about internet ethics as a result of the discussions during Alec Couros' EC&I 831 class on Tuesday, February 10, 2009, titled Popular Issues in (Digital) Media Literacy. My thoughts actually began the night before when I noticed a blog that closely resembled another (I am not prepared to identify them here) and I began to ponder the idea of plagiarism on the web. With the cut and paste world we live, it is simply too easy to "borrow' writings from another person and claim ownership by making it look like your work. Don't get me wrong, I am totally fine with someone valuing my words enough that he might want to use them, but give credit or provide it as a link to your thoughts on the topic. I know many of my ideas for blogging have sprung from others, but I make sure I credit those who got me started.

Anyway, the class on Tuesday was timed appropriately for where my thoughts were going. I had begun to question the idea of ethical internet behaviour. From my point of view as an educator, I believe there is a higher standard for me. I wonder if all users should be held accountable, but I realize the reality is that you cannot police such a thing. Nevertheless, I wonder how many people consider themselves to be ethical in their use of the internet especially the social networking aspects when in reality they are involved in what may be considered unethical behaviour. For example, during class we were shown a video titled "David after Dentist" that was posted by the child's father. Some people were quick to condemn the father and I admit I was leaning that way myself until someone mentioned that it could have been posted for grandparents. But because of anonymous viewers sharing what they saw, the video gained popularity and spread throughout the wired world. While I am still suspicious of the father's motives for posting the unflattering video of his son, I am now wondering more about the ethics of us, the viewers who made it go viral. There is no doubt that the child in the video will have to live with this event his entire life whether he likes it or not and some really caring conscientious people in the world have helped make it possible by passing it on. Is that ethical behaviour for a person to share something about another person that could be potentially devastating? If the father is wrong for posting it, we are just as wrong for spreading it! I'm glad my most embarrassing moment(s) as a child were not captured on film and shared with the world; would people take me seriously now if they saw me in moments I would like to forget?

The next pictures in the presentation of the Oswald murder (see pictures above) awoke a memory of a former student that I taught over 2 decades ago. She had told me a story how some bullies had pasted (with glue) her face onto a nude picture and were showing it around town. She was humiliated and felt shame even though she had done no wrong. Flash ahead to the world today; photo manipulation in the digital age is easy to do and is happening with and without the knowledge of the person in the photograph. I actually am not against it if it is done by the person with rights to the photo or with permission from the person with rights to the photo, and if the person in the photo has agreed to let their image be altered (I gave permission here) and published. However, when you take a picture of a murder and you manipulate it for laughs, have you crossed a line? I immediately was struck by the manipulated image of the Oswald murder and I thought of his family. Do people consider their pain? Do people consider themselves as being disrespectful of life in general by laughing at a tragedy? Does the voyeuristic nature of the internet have us doing things we would not do if we were there? Are lives being ruined by maliciously altered images?

My consciousness about the internet and its potential harm was raised on Tuesday. And if I have advice, I will refer you to THE CORE RULES OF NETIQUETTE and rule number one, "Remember the human."
The image of me with many arms was created by Shelley Deck @


The important thing is not to stop questioning said...

You raise some very interesting points in your post. I am in agreement with you that maybe the ethical vs. unethical nature of internet use is no longer forefront in people's minds. I was thinking about this same issue on plagiarism and how it's become so easy to take info without citing one goes to the library anymore! Makes a person really wonder about accountability and just how we use the internet.

Tech Mom said...

Sometimes I wonder if this is just the next evolution in society. I try to think back to what it must have been like when reg film camera's became economical enough that everyone had one. We went from formal portraits to snapshots. Snapshots that caught embarrassing moments, kids in tubs, and really bad hair! I grew up in a time where we all had a "naked tub" picture -- so it was no big deal. I wonder if it was a big deal to the first kid who had a snapshot in the tub. What did the grandparents (who grew up with formal portraits and a different idea of what should be shared) think? How about the guy developing the pictures? Was the child haunted by the photo later in life?

I know photographs were more likely shared just within family and friends but I'm sure the older generation thought that was still too much.

I wonder if we look at "David after the Dentist" and see it through the filter of our adult reality and that the reality of David's adulthood will very likely be different. It may be just a part of culture by then to have an "embarrassing" childhood photo/video out there for the world to see. That the ideas of what society deems appropriate to share in a very public way will have shifted dramatically (not that it hasn't already).

I struggle to determine -- if that shift happens will it be good, bad or indifferent? I really have no idea at this point.