Ethical use of the internet

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Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier


Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier

There was a time when the internet was deemed to be a major tool for the advancement of human society. We would have access to knowledge, more detailed and informative data on important issues, instant on-line services, easy world-wide communications and a host of otherimprovements to our lives and goals of good living. Unfortunately, there are also many negative aspects to this digital world.
Recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s use of the profiles of 50 million Facebook users to influence voters in the last USA federal election is a clear demonstration of the adverse effects of the internet.  Last year a data breach at Equifax exposed sensitive identification and financial information on more than 200 million people.  In the past several years Yahoo, Myspace and LinkedIn have also suffered serious compromises to their data collections. Spectacular as these incidents are, they reveal only part of the problem.
Innocent people who have dared to express an opinion have been threatened with vile acts, derogatory and demeaning language, and even death threats. Any slightly unfavourable opinion or fact is immediately branded as fake news. The result is that we are quickly learning that much of what is posted on the internet is biased, often unfounded, and always questionable. We can no longer trust the information (often misinformation) we get from the internet.
So, what can be done?  Countries like China and North Korea have imposed very strict censorship on what can be seen and done on the internet. Unfortunately, this censorship often applies to valid reports and information.  The damage from such
censorship is greater than the benefits. As an alternative, one might suggest better
education on the use and evaluation of internet sources.  While this is laudable, there is the problem of determining the source of information. The internet allows a hack in Russia to appear as a neighbour with a “legitimate” concern. Education would have to be given to every person on the planet. There is also the option of refusing to use the internet. Unfortunately, many important public and private concerns can be accessed only through the internet. And, there is always the human curiosity to see what is out there.
The alternative seems to be acceptance of a real version of George Orwell’s 1984 unless our humanity and critical skills can become a basic requirement for living in the digital society. Such a society would work to gain what benefits the internet can offer while condemning its abuses. This society would insist on a deep and meaningful ethics of knowledge production. Perhaps knowledge workers could have standards comparable to medical doctors – do no harm. Anyone who uses the internet should be considered a knowledge worker with the answer to internet misuse a change in global societal ethics.