Civilizing the Web's Ethical Wildness

By Lange, Mark | The Christian Science Monitor, September 19, 2007 | Go to article overview

Civilizing the Web's Ethical Wildness


Lange, Mark, The Christian Science Monitor


Since the web began to spread in 1995, this exploding network of networks has grown 7,500-fold. Over a billion users worldwide now have access. That's more than 15 percent of the world's population. The Web is the perfect index of purely human priorities and affinities. It is a window into intensive social subcultures, from the sublime to the truly sad. Anyone who wonders which is winning may be heartened that, at least this week, the Web has 6.4 times as many websites devoted to "art" as to "porn."

We are still sorting out the Web's social and ethical implications. Its greatest virtue - and the source of its spam, spyware, viruses, and vices - is as a distributed medium, resistant to central control. This, in turn, creates an imperative of self- governance that, so far and too often, isn't being met. To test that proposition, consider whether the social and business ethics on display online are equal to those that people would display in the same room.

The Web is full of strange ironies and weird polarities. It offers closeness and immediacy, from anywhere and at any distance. It lofts transient ephemera such as e-mail and instant messaging, but makes them all too permanent (as any clumsy sender or convicted executive knows). It combines assumed anonymity and fractured accountability with a spooky loss of privacy (such as stealthy viral programs that track your keystrokes). Its tendency to disinhibit people prompts extremes: of candor and vitriol, connection and alienation, creation and destruction, generosity and piracy.

Technology reflects our ethics. It also shapes them. Purists say the Web is value-free. But in practice, it reflects a distinct set of values that includes an embrace of anonymity and romping dissent; a willingness to compromise privacy; and that persistent resistance to centralized control. A dozen or so years since arriving on the scene, the Web is still an ethical adolescent.

Early denizens' devotion to anonymity on the Web, as positive as it seemed at the time, has led to unexpected, unintended results. A masked ball, where you need not be who you really are, can be great fun - and anonymity does great good for people in troubled situations seeking counsel. But it also means we traffic in facts and opinions without identified owners (as any chat room and many blogs do). We give eternal life to bad ideas, sanctifying rumor and urban legend (Louisiana's governor is said to have rebuffed White House pleas to declare an emergency before hurricane Katrina). We let phishers assume fake identities to steal real ones, and contend with unimaginable flavors of spam, fraud, exploitation, and sexual predation.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Civilizing the Web's Ethical Wildness
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.