Ethics in the Information Age
The internet has emerged to be one of most significant developments that began in the last century. The internet technology was initially limited to a few scientists who recognized its use. At present, the internet has been acknowledged across the world, and many people still continue to embrace its use. The internet has not only turned the world to a global village, but it has also reshaped various spheres of life. For example, many people use it for social and economic purposes. Therefore, the internet is now treated as a key infrastructure rather than a simple communication system.
The internet has been advantageous to people. However, some challenges have also been encountered in the process of it gaining much popularity. In this case, many people have been able to exchange valuable information and ideas. Nonetheless, some individuals have been misusing it either to spread rumors, or to do all sorts of criminal activities. Thus, illegal activities conducted on the internet have also caused legal challenges. Initially, the internet was unstructured, and people used it freely without restrictions, and proper procedures. Since its use has now become essential, to an extent that people use it to transact commercial deals, it is imperative for it to be regulated. The internet can be regulated through ethical codes.
Cultural norms seem to exist in almost every society. Cultural norms define how people should behave in a given society. Norms also exist in cyberspace, and they regulate peoples’ conduct in the cyberspace. These norms encompass both social and internet etiquette. For instance, spamming is not recommended in cyberspace. The majority of cyberspace crimes revolve around stealing of products, and identities of individuals.
Lessig fuses cultural norms with ethics. However, cultural norms are supposed to be detached from ethical principles. This is because the cyberspace has a unique social set up that brings together many races with divergent customs and values. Therefore, cyberspace customs slightly differ with normal social customs. As the internet develops, cyber space customs will also not remain static. This is because a new internet technology will also demand new customs to regulate it. Differentiating ethics from norms defies ethical relativism that equates the two.
Ethical principles have universal validity. Hence, they are regarded as grand norms. Ethical principles remain similar everywhere, and they are prescriptive in the same way as cultural norms. “However, they are lasting and durable because they transcend space and time” (Spinello, 2011). “Apart from this, ethics is about intrinsic human goods and the moral choices that realize those goods” (Johnson, 2000). Ethical principles are, therefore, capable of thriving among various cultures. “Computer and information ethics, in the broadest sense, can be understood as that branch of applied ethics which studies and analyzes social and ethical impacts of ICT” (Bynum, 2003). Therefore, ethics determines the type of information to be regulated, and how it should be regulated. This means that ethics determines how content control is done. Ethics also influences policies, personal thinking, and professional practice.
Cyber ethics analyses the ethical dilemmas that have emerged as a result of digital technology. “In this case, cyber ethics aims at reducing internet conflicts that are related to privacy, property, security, accuracy, accessibility, censorship, and filtering” (Spinello, 2011). Content-control is software designed to restrict the availability of certain kinds of content. The main motive behind this software is to prevent people from viewing content that the authoritative body does not want to be seen. The restrictions are typically found at all levels. Content control may also involve censorship.
Cyber ethics are regulated by constraints similar to those of civil society. As described by the framework of Larry Lessig these constraints are made of laws, norms, the market, and code. Codes are developed to constrain and control cyberspace activities. “The notion that private code can be a more potent constraining force than public law has significant implications” (Spinello, 2011). Lessig also contends that laws impact on the rate of technological advancement. However, software can also affect freedom. Government control as used in Cuba and China play on our rights as citizens, and creates a moral dilemma that produces a utilitarianism approach to ethics. According to utilitarianism, something is considered right or wrong depending on whether it causes pain or pleasure in the world.
The information age is very dynamic and many ideas and discoveries are made regularly. In this regard, the formulation and use of cyber ethics should be elaborate and efficient in order to control the use of cyberspace. More importantly, responsible ethical conduct demands the adoption of friendly policies that do not harm people. Consequently, content control should be guided by effective ethical principles that foster the development of cyberspace.
Bynum, T. (2003). Computer Ethics and Professional Responsibility. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.
Johnson, D. (2000). Computer Ethics. New York: Prentice Hall.
Spinello, R. (2011). CyberEthics: Morality and Law in Cyberspace. New York: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.