We’re all aware of ‘disclosure’ when it comes to our personal information. It is stated in many ways when we open a new account, whether it’s a social media account, bank account, or even when dealing with health care. It’s not an unknown fact that personal information is needed in many ways, but is it secure and private? We fall back on the “principle of humanity” to trust others with our private information. In order to communicate with full transparency, both the good and bad information must be shared in order for others to understand each and every word in the discussion. Kant challenges us to take seriously the notion of full disclosure in communication.
Kant has many reasons to explain why such disclosure and transparency are important. For instance, “Upholding transparency as a goal in our deliberations is not simply a way to argue the rightness of our decisions. It is how we demonstrate that we are ethical beings from the start.” (Plaisance, pp. 152). Kant believes that one must be open about all truths even when it is hard to do so. The only way transparency is effective, is if the whole truth, good and bad, is spoken. Being human means making mistakes and in society, mistakes are often related to bad things which is why Kant supports those who speak of the good and bad, “Furthermore, as we will see, Kant’s categorical imperative requires that I treat people as deserving of respect for
their own sakes because if it were acceptable for everyone not to do so, chaos would ensue.” (Plaisance, pp. 153). One who isn’t afraid to be transparent, is one who deserves acceptance and respect for their honesty.
‘Social media leaders face the transparency challenge’ will be addressed in this paper and its relation to media ethics. The values in conflict for this article are how transparent social media companies are regarding negative trends that affect site users, particularly younger people. These younger users, even children, often fall victim to viral, dangerous fads that become popular on social media. There is little oversight of what becomes ‘virally popular’ online, which is part of its appeal to the broader user base. However, the adverse effects can be disastrous for more vulnerable users. Trends such as the ‘blackout challenge’ encourage violence and might lead to the arrest of individuals who engage with the content.
The normative framework that would best fit this situation addresses the connection between governance, so protection of minors, and its effect on society and the economy (Plaisance, 2020). The media connection is that these companies want to exploit the economy – and, to an extent, younger people – to increase their economic value as a business. However, it is flawed in that it dismisses the needs of critical stakeholders who are significant to society and governance. The conflict stems from taking advantage of the situation for financial gain and has led to danger for children (GlobalData Thematic Research, 2021). It is unsustainable for tech companies to continue with this behavior, and they must realize that is true and work with governments and organizations to address the problem.
The best suited normative framework for this situation is the natural moral law, as it dictates universal moral standards for all people. These tech companies need to be told that their behavior is unacceptable if they wish to fit into society and continue having a profitable business. The tech companies such as TikTok that are mentioned as changing to accommodate concerns should be the new normal for any tech company that wishes to benefit from the economy and the benefits of being a part of the online community (GlobalData Thematic Research, 2021). Governments do not have to extend these privileges to these companies and maintain a safe environment; there should be punishments for companies that refuse to uphold standards to safeguard vulnerable groups.
A decision to harshly punish any company that continues to allow for vulnerable groups such as younger people or children should be made by governments. Any company that allows these toxic, viral trends to affect groups without enforcing stricter guidelines harshly should face harsh penalties. These might take the form of financial fines, legal intervention, or even an outright ban from using the internet, depending on the severity of the case. It would mean that these companies would be far more careful to allow for this content to be allowed on their system as a stakeholder. (Plaisance, 2020) While it would cut down on potentially some of the content’s freedom for users, it is not worth risking the health and safety of younger people or other groups.
The impact on vulnerable people would be that they are not as victimized by this content and might be safer. They would not be targeted by trends such as the ‘blackout challenge,’ and they would not be encouraged to participate in violent or illegal acts by other users on social media. Those instigating the activity often abuse social media to ignore laws and intimidate or encourage other people in a way they would not do in real life. The internet should not be a place to manipulate others for someone’s amusement unethically, and social media needs to have higher standards in dealing with viral trends that are negative for its users.
In the conventional sense, morality ought to be concerned with the principles concerning the difference between right and wrong. It means that a moral or an ethical individual should distinguish good and bad behavior and strive to avoid the latter. Nevertheless, in the dystopian world, which is The Circle morality is defined by a person’s intentions and not their actions per se. For instance, Mae Holland secretly installed security cameras in her mother’s bedroom to help monitor her and keep her safe. She did that without the old lady’s consent. To make it worse, the live feeds were displayed to close to 10,000 employees at The Circle (Eggers, 2015). In a nutshell, Dave Eggers believes that true morality should not be inspired by punishment or the fear of discovery, but rather should be driven by the desire to attain good regardless of the consequences. The figureheads in The Circle construct a twisted sense of morality that does not take into consideration the indignity that the people close to them undergo. Mae Holland, for instance, does not see anything wrong in surveilling her parents and even in exposing their privacy and innermost secrets.
Sources of Moral Culture
Dave Eggers presents the fear of being seen or watched as a spruce of morality. It means that most characters in the play fear doing the wrong thing since there is the possibility of someone watching or seeing them. For instance, Eamon Bailey concedes that he would behave differently if knew that someone was watching his every move (Eggers, 2015). The conversation proves that the figureheads in the play only behave morally if the possibility exists that someone is watching them, and not that doing the right thing is moral and ethical. Secondly, secrecy is another source of morality, especially where family is involved. Bailey quips, “Do you know what would be great to keep from my family? A secret.” (Eggers, 2015). Additionally, the fear of punishment also leads to people behaving morally, albeit prima facie. Mae Holland hesitates to intervene in her father’s situation (illness) for the fear of being banished from home. She intervenes eventually but she was hesitant in doing so. In this case, fear of punishment ensures that Holland accords her father the right to live with dignity albeit for a short while.
The Social Practices
The social practices in The Circle evidently abhor secrecy at all costs even if it is meant to promote privacy or confidentiality. Eamon Bailey compares the art of keeping secrecy to a child not wanting to share their toy and further posits that secrecy is part of an aberrant behavior that should not be tolerated. He further says that secrecy does not come from a place of light, but rather it originates from darkness. Alluding to social setting, he feels that not sharing secrets with your friends is commensurate to stealing from them (Eggers, 2015). Another social practice is that the society is not driven by the desire to do good but rather the ideology that one should only be good when being watched or when they imagine that they are being watched. Bailey states, “What would Karen think of this if she were watching from closed-circuit camera” (1.44.141) (Eggers, 2015). It proves that the social setting is that people only do the right things are remain moral if and when being watched. Such is evidence of a decaying society. The practices conflict with each other. For example, Holland’s parents believe in do not fancy the new generation’s idea of surveillance and the apparent lack of privacy. When their privacy and dignity is invaded they even banish Holland from home.
Deontological ethical theory is the most relevant in this case. The theory states that all human beings deserves to be treated with respect and dignity simply because they are humans and they have rights. It means that people should recognize other people’s rights and subsequently treat them with respect and dignity. The theory is particularly relevant in the case of Mae Holland and his parents. After the mother fell and fractured her hip, Holland felt that it was the right time to step in and take care of her mother. She, therefore, set up surveillance even in her bedroom in utter disregard of her privacy and dignity. Surveilling anyone including the intimate details of their lives does not confer dignity. For her supposed mischief, Holland is banished from home by the parents. Most figureheads in The Circle advocate for and even practice surveillance and end up watching people without their consent (Eggers, 2015). They should understand the principles of deontological ethics that forbid such undignified practices.
Theory of Justice
The principle of equal justice, which stipulates that all citizens or human beings have equal rights to basic liberties. It advocates for democratic rights that include the right to privacy. In The Circle surveillance, which violates the most basic right such as the right to privacy, is carried out with utmost impunity and is even fancied by the leading characters. Children even go as far as violating their parent’s right privacy and share the most intimate details of their lives with the general public (Eggers, 2015). A strict application of the principle of equal justice will help the situation since it will serve to protect the victims while establishing the right punishment for the perpetrators. The goal is to provide the right guidelines that will serve to protect the most vulnerable members of society while simultaneously providing the mechanism to discourage individuals intending to violate the rights and privileges of other members of society.
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