13 May 2019 Digital vulnerability and global justice
Readers of Comment may have seen Clifford G. Christians’ article in the 1/2019 issue of WACC’s journal Media Development on “New digital technology and global communication ethics”.
He calls for a commitment to the three ethical principles that underlie human solidarity: truth telling, human dignity, and non-violence, which “highlight the distinctive character of any society and are the basis for distinguishing the human community and virtual networks from each other.”
Those who wish to read in depth should obtain Christians’ latest book: Media Ethics and Global Justice in the Digital Age (Cambridge University Press, 2019).
In short, as with every new technological innovation, there are pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, benefits and risks.
People’s increased interconnectedness offers opportunities to share information, experience, and knowledge, but it also creates new risks and ethical dilemmas. Advancements in digital technologies have led to many positive effects, but at the same time a kind of digital vulnerability has emerged which has been exploited by governments, corporate interests, xenophobic populist politicians and even by internet service providers.
Abuses include disrupting or shutting down systems, the misuse of information for surveillance, invasion of privacy, censoring speech, deleting or blocking data, and the forced distribution of politically motivated messages via network operators.
And, according to a recent study commissioned by the European Parliament, women are especially affected:
“Cyber violence and hate speech online against women occurs on a variety of platforms: social media, web content and discussion sites, search engines, messaging services, blogs, dating websites and apps, comment sections of media and newspapers, forums, chat rooms of online video games, etc. Research shows that women are specifically targeted by cyber violence and that age and gender are significant factors in the prevalence of cyber violence… Cyber violence infringes women’s fundamental rights and freedoms, their dignity and equality and impacts their lives at all levels.”
So, the question is who is going to speak out and act to protect our collective digital rights and freedoms and to decrease our collective vulnerability to misinformation, manipulation, and cyber violence? Without safeguards, the digital age risks becoming an ally of those who seek to disparage and demean human dignity and global justice.
As Elie Wiesel said in his Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”