Thursday, June 14, 2007

Internet Ethics Part Two

Well, I warned ya I was hung up on ethics on the internet. I obviously still am.

Another dissimilarity between real life and the internet is that in real life, much of our relating with others is by oral communication, whereas the predominance of internet relations is by writing.

This has created a curious hyper-technical definition within our ethics that is not present in real life. See, in oral communication, we very quickly forget what was said. Without a record, there is no possible way to verify what someone claimed only a few minutes ago. But the ‘net is forever…

If I claim, “I never said that Christians don’t read their Bibles” all it takes is a googlewhack of a few of my regular haunts and out pops a quote from me in 2003 in which I said (uh-oh!) “Christians have ceased reading their Bibles.” Now the accusations of lying come out!

Can you imagine if we were held to everything we said? And if we ever stated something differently, the accusation of “lie” is charged, convicted and punished with almost instantaneous fervor?

Worse, this technical accusation has become nit-picky. I find it a matter of supreme irony as to how horrible our spelling has become, thanks to the computer and spell-checker. (And yes, I am one of those who types out “rythm” and then lets the spell-checker figure out the right spelling for me. Oh, stop it! You do it, too!) Yet, conversely, we often see another person criticized for mis-spelling a word, as a sign of their stupidity, and reason to disregard their entire comment.

We have brought it upon ourselves, yet are holding others to an even higher standard!

And now that we have the ability to recall and record every single letter, word, paragraph and punctuation, people have learned to us it to their advantage. The internet has created a “technical ethic” where we are able to come so, so close to some imaginary line, but as long as we don’t “technically” cross it—we consider ourselves saints of purity.

Who hasn’t seen this take place?

Bob: I think that Gore would make a good Attorney General.
Jane: Only the most stupid would consider Al Gore fit for a government position.

Bob: Hey—you called me stupid!
Jane: No, I didn’t call you stupid, only those who hold to Al Gore working in the government. If you desire to think that…well…that is your choice.

We have become masters at NOT calling a person something, yet making it crystal clear we most certainly are.

“Perhaps you have failed to study even the basic mathematics required of a child selling lemonade in a stand at the side of the road.”

See how that “perhaps” absolves the person of any crime? Oh, sure, we all get that the one person is calling the other a cretin—but if accused, they could avoid all accusations by saying “Technically I didn’t say that. I was just asking.”

Riiiiggghhhhttt. And we all appreciated your concern. (Envision much sarcasm here.)

We know what sockpuppets are. It is when a person sets up two accounts on the same forum, and then uses one to bolster the other. All of a sudden “Petee” is agreeing with and telling the world how wise “Speaking Ministry of Blake” is. (Two actual sockpuppet names for the same person.)

Apparently, as the internet ethic developed, having a sockpuppet is a no-no. We all decry that as violating some unseen rule.

O.K. So what if I join a forum. And I don’t like what I see. I decide to gang up on one poster. I recruit my friends. I feed them what to say. Any Private Messages, or e-mails I receive from the moderators or other posters I forward on to my friends to “keep them informed.” I ask them to post against this person every chance they can.

I guess “technically” I have not violated the sockpuppet rule. “Technically” my friends can post what they like, and I am free to forward messages to whomever I choose. But have I violated the spirit of the sockpuppet rule?

I can’t think of a correlation to the sockpuppet law in real life. We don’t have it. Yet it is certainly alive and well in internet-world. And in a new world, with a new ethics—what I see is emphasis on hyper-technicality. The conscious choice to create a line, and then see how close one can get. As long as one does not very specifically cross over—then one has conformed to the ethic.

Are we retreating to form over substance?


  1. Dagoods,

    A few times now you compare the internet to "real life." Is the internet like some giant Disneyland? Fantasy Island? A place where real people can go and make believe?

    Imagination can be part of an escape and it can be part of the creative force.

    I'm starting to think my notion that, as regards ethics, the internet (like many other inventions) is more a "measuring device" than a determining device. Although, I think there ends up being a sort of symbiotic relationship between the two. Weird, because our inventions aren't "biotic" yet they do seem to take on a life of their own from all the human input.

    The anonymity of the net affords one the opportunity to exercise parts of their person that would be kept under wraps in a face to face situation. Perhaps what we are really seeing on the net is how people really are and what we call "real" is really not.

    Will the modified ethic on the net result in changes in our ethics in the "real" world? I would guess yes, at least some, since all of our inventions seem to do so to some extent. I'm not sure human nature has changed since Org hit Simp over the head with a club, it seems to me the club has just become more sophisticated. There will always be the struggle between "good and evil" and it will manifest anywhere people are. Course, there's the problem with our inventions being able to do more and more harm. A club has less potential than a nuke, a book less than the net?

    I don't think the retreat into form over substance is new, again, just the tools employed. A few thousand years ago someone complained that others were exercising "a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof..."

  2. Dagoods,

    I would like to put a link to your blog on my own - would that be okay? I really like how you puzzle through the kinds of questions I am asking myself.

  3. Don't we already have an example of what you're talking about in the case of the law? As a lawyer don't you already split hairs over words in legal documents and also in the court room? And isn't technicality your specialty, especially when a technical reading of a contract favors your client?

    What I have found interesting about the web, since being on it for about 3 years (?), is why we even care about the anonymous people to whom we discuss these issues with, you included. Anonymous people like yourself can hide, and not have to deal with any real life consequences when you're done. While I think there is nothing unethical about being anonymous, it annoys me since I am willing to say who I am and take the hits when I say or do something people object to. And even though you want to remain anonymous, you don't allow any anonymous comments on your Blog!

    The bottom line is that the web is a place to learn and to share information with other people. It allows us to consider the arguments of many people who disagree, even if those people are anonymous, or if we’re dealing with sock-puppets. This is a good thing, for we can all be exposed to other ideas than our own because of it. But to complain about the nature of the web and the personalities on it (if that’s what you are doing), is to merely complain, or to make yourself look superior to others, which you aren’t, since the name “DagoodS” is a sock puppet for the real writer of this Blog. So, may I suggest continuing on making your excellent arguments and staying off that high horse of yours?

    You write so very well, and your arguments are so compelling, I wouldn’t want to see you get sidetracked into this area if you want to claim to be above it all.

    Cheers, my friend.