Academic journal article Ethics & Medicine

Facebook and the Fusiform Gyrus

Academic journal article Ethics & Medicine

Facebook and the Fusiform Gyrus

Article excerpt

Ethics has gone digital. From Twitter to Tweeples, the ever accelerating world of online connectivity is reshaping the culture of bioethical discourse. While books and journals remain indispensable to serious ethical discussion, cyberspace has evolved features that enhance words with vibrant imagery, immediacy and individual participation. Among these embellishments, the inclusion of faces personalizes ideas and magnifies the potential of words to stir human affections and motivate conduct. This essay considers how the new face of online networking might affect the social aspect of bio ethics and explores the deeper question of how the human face influences ethics.

Peeking at Facebook

Within the past few years, online social networking has become a prevalent international cultural phenomenon. The Internet-based social network Facebook, for example, hosts a number of online bio ethics discussion groups available to its more than 200 million active users. The format of these discussion groups is more personal than chat rooms and e-mail listservers - earlier online technologies from a pre-Windows world. Faces now accompany users' comments, which are linked to personal profiles, status updates and social networks.

The online elements needed for a fledgling global bioethics community are in place. As advances in information technology propel online networking toward increasing connectivity, online bioethics communities will be challenged to steer their growth in constructive ways. The direction chosen will be a matter for ethical reflection as well as of technological performance.

Ethics of Remote Networking

In grappling with the ethical implications of using remote networking technology to expand the bioethics community, it is important to consider the consequences of the technology for harmful or useful ends, as well as fair access, equitable distribution of benefit, respect for individual autonomy and protection from competing interests.

Communication technologies represent a special category for bioethics because they engage the brain and its neural connections which underlie social interaction and ethical reasoning. Ethical decisions regarding the use of communication technologies thus swing back to affect the shape of ethics itself. Choices of layout, functionality, access, and method of dialogue in online social settings will, in turn, influence the formation and dissemination of ethical perspectives.

Many advantages of online bioethics networking are apparent. For one, the global digital bioethics community has considerable potential for demographical inclusiveness. Wherever computers are available, a connection to colleagues can be made. Teens, women, and African-Americans are highly represented among Facebook users1 and have distinct perspectives to contribute. The democratization of bio ethical discourse on issues relevant to all would be a welcome benefit. Broader participation could also enhance the breadth of public understanding of medical science and assist nonexperts to consider, inquire about, and debate the implications of scientific innovation. Since 70% of Facebook users reside outside the United States,1 and Facebook currently ranks as the top social networking site in the majority of European countries,2 online bioethics networking could potentially enlarge the global bioethics community, crossing national boundaries and bridging cultures.

Online networking also offers a number of practical advantages over journeying to conferences and society meetings to engage in dialogue and develop professional relationships. Booting a personal computer can avoid the time and expense of travel. Remote links can thus enhance the professional's efficient use of limited time. They can also provide access to underfunded and geographically remote scholars for participation in mainstream professional and cross- disciplinary dialogue, just as advances in distance education have done for medicine. …

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