Last week I promised you I'd write about ethics and the Web. Ever since I've been wondering if I bit off more than I could chew and have been trying to find a way to approach this rather broad topic. Would I have to provide an introduction to methodology—weigh the merits of utilitarianism against the theories of Rawls or Kant? Would my suggestions sound preachy or reminiscent of the thought police? But then it struck me.
He'd ask questions! So that's what I'll do. I'll ask a few questions about hypothetical moral issues one might face when writing for the Web. You gentle, quiet reader will in turn either answer the question or ask additional questions that will help lead us towards what I hope will be a morally sound conclusion. Also if you have additional issues you would like to address in this manner, let me know and we can consider those as well. Let the dialogues begin.
In the course of your work, you blog in support of a program that will reduce illiteracy among children in the local school system. You have researched the program carefully, read the studies showing its successes in other schools and your goal is for the school board to implement the program here. A week after you have posted your entry, you learn of a new study that contradicts the previous findings. Are you morally obligated to add this information to your blog? What if you read the new study and realize that it's methodology was flawed? What if the study was flawed, but the institution that produced it has a stellar international reputation? What other issues should be considered? Is your moral obligation to the children greater than to your readership?
What if you were running for president of your sorority, and someone gave you an audiofile of your opponent having sex with her boyfriend? If you were to podcast this anonymously it's affect on her reputation might swing more votes towards you—or gain sympathy for her. Is it morally allowable to podcast this? Does it make a difference whether your opponent is popular and confident or insecure and shy? Does it matter that you weren't the one who made the recording?
I actually only made up part of this story. In reality it happened to a friend in college whose fraternity brothers played the recording during a party at their house. I'm using this example because pranks are a common part of college life. The moral questions relate to the nature of the prank; when is something more than a harmless joke? In these days of MySpace, Facebook, and personal blogs, some pranks may involve the Internet, where they can be seen or heard by anyone from your mother to future employers. In addition to asking whether this is harmless fun or emotionally damaging, it is also worth considering how your involvement in such a prank impacts your own reputation.
You're a political blogger who believes that we should build a bridge across Lake Erie to further economic development. Studies have revealed that a ferry service would be far more cost effective given the structural challenges that such a bridge would involve. But a bridge would be cool, especially for you who owns a small cottage in Ontario. Is it fair for you to leave out any negative information? Would your moral obligations be different if you were a professional journalist, a lobbyist for the trucking industry, or merely an interested citizen?
You each probably have other examples we can examine. Post them below or send me an e-mail, so we can add them to our dialogue. Whether or not you have additional ideas, please share your answers and questions to the above scenarios and let's see where our discussion will evolve. Have a great Halloween Weekend!