Do we have morals online?

Kate Manning KM

Humans have been discussing morality for millennia. If you were to step back and look at our cumulative efforts, you would probably find that you can't think of a single 'bad' thing which was once — or still is — the 'good' thing in someone else's opinion.

We do have a number of standards that we generally adhere to — for example, we consider stealing, lying, or being manipulate to fall into the general category of 'bad', or at least 'not good.'

How could digital possibly change our opinions on this? Quite easily, actually.

Humans have had 'rules of engagement' of some form or another for as long as they have existed. Until very (very) recently, these rules have centred on the way we physically interact with each other. Stealing has traditionally involved taking something physical from someone else, whether by force or burglary. Lying and deception involve us using our senses — vocal communication (think of phone scams) and body language. We are able, objectively, to attribute blame to the wrongdoer and punish them appropriately.

In the digital world, we don't have these rules, and let's face it, we're a bit lost. If my laptop were to be hacked and some money stolen from my bank account, who could I possibly blame for this? The most obvious answer seems to be — the hacker! but in reality, it is our bank that takes the fall (not that I have any especially warm feelings towards banks). We are by default recompensed with no need to buy extra insurance. Similarly, it's difficult to determine who the victim is. After a mugging or burglary, we'd expect the victim to at the very least be shaken — to feel unsafe walking down the street for a time and to reassess their trust of locks. After being hacked, we realise that we probably should have paid more attention to online security.

It's quite apparent that our global leaders struggle to keep up with 'crime online,' and for good reason. If you work in the digital industry you'll be perfectly comfortable with the next-big-thing happening a few times year rather than a few times a generation. In a world where laws take years to draft and pass, where does that leave us? I would say that it allows us to be more autonomous in our judgements than we ever have been before.

Our moral stances are becoming as transient as digital trends. And I don't think that's a bad thing.

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