Extra Credit Blog

Defining Digital Ethics

Sara Perry, an anthropologist at York University specializing in prehistoric and visual archeology, talked at the Center for Digital Ethics Fourth Annual International Symposium on Digital Ethics about the relationship between gender and digital culture. She has had personal experience with online harassment, especially sexual online harassment, and discussed her research on harassment in the professional academic sector. Many times people associate online harassment as being anonymous, where online strangers contact victims and act behind a digital mask. Perry’s experience, and her research on online harassment in the academic sector, contradicted this generalization. Stereotypical faceless perpetrators were replaced by coworkers and colleagues, people Perry saw every day and interacted with frequently. Worse yet, Perry and other victims were at a loss on how to solve these problems due to a lack of tools in stopping/preventing the harassment from continuing as well as absent or aloof institutional support/intervention. Perry’s situation, and the situations of so many others, is extremely relevant due to the increased participation of professional academics in using new media, as encouraged by their respective institutions. This “exposure of their professional identity”, as Perry describes it, leads to greater risks.

The utopian ideal of new media continues to be broken down by cases such as Perry’s. The Internet is an “unruly and wild” place, Perry quoted. This can take away from the element of productivity the Internet has, as much as it encourages it. Where this becomes the most evident to me is in the lack of action taken to stop online harassment, by the victims and by institutions. Perry resolved her online harassment problem by ignoring it, but is this a truly resolved solution for this situation? The world of new media is complex and not completely explored. We are all still learning the ropes, navigating the waters of digital spaces with blind instincts. While we are sailing around, the waters are only expanding. This unbalanced-ness leads organizations to respond to problems, such as online harassment, with an aloofness that can be misinterpreted as apathy. Just as Susan Etlinger, an Industry Analyst with Altimeter Group, recommended to do with big data and Burcu S. Bakioglu, a postdoctorate fellow in New Media at Lawrence University, recommended to do with virtual worlds, a code of ethics needs to be drawn out and defined. Institutions need to make a decision on how to respond to these types of situations rather than drown in their complications. For as much as they encourage the use of new media, institutions need to be responsible and regulate their employees’ misuse.

As much as new media gives power to strangers and the faceless, it also gives power to the familiar and those in close proximity. I used to think the Internet was dangerous because of the walls between the communicators and the under-exposure a user can have. After Perry’s talk, though, I realized the Internet is a dangerous place because of the hyper-exposure it gives users. New media requires a certain amount of trust among users, as you publically post your identity into a digital space accessible to many. This trust can be broken just as easily as it can in the non-virtual world.


Dara Byrne, an associate professor in the Department of Communication and Theater Arts at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, discussed her research on digital vigilantism. Specifically she discussed the Nigerian email, 419 scam, and the 419 Eater‘s response to such Internet scams. Byrne relates this community to other digilante communities like Anonymous and Perverted Justice. Born from the online fraud that scammed millions of dollars from its victims and rallied together by the lack of swift legal action from the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IC3) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the 419 Eaters created a website promoting the ideas of punishment and justice against Internet scammers. Inside of this community, Byrne found “The Trophy Room”. Designed to display the scammers in positions of punishment, the Trophy Room was littered with compromising photos. The 419 Eaters validated their work as “scamming the scammer”, using the body as a vessel for justice and punishment. Within this community, Byrne also found a social element. Community members can earn points based on the trophies they receive, measured by the level of punishment inflicted on the scammer. Byrne described this as the 419 Eaters taking control over the definition of what is right and wrong in pursuing criminals.

Tapping into the ideas of surveillance and control, the idea of a digilante is a controversial one. The federal government has its own deficiencies in responding quickly and delivering swift justice to criminals, but when is it okay for a third party to step in? For something like the 419 Eaters, their response came from a legitimate need by the victims of the Nigerian email scams. Their message of justice, though, conflicts with a true idea of retribution and melds more along the lines of revenge.

Run by pleasure, the 419 Eaters encourage a selfish idea of justice. In a pornographic sense, the community members get back at scammers by using the same techniques the scammers used against the scam’s victims. They force the scammer to manipulate their physical body or pose in compromising position with photographic evidence of their legitimate identity. They spread fraud further through the online communities, only this time using it for their own personal benefits. Essentially, no one is gaining any ground in stopping the scams from happening. They continue the idea of a scam rather than eradicate it. It is as if they don’t see scamming as the problem, but the fact that they were the ones to get scammed as the issue. This does not prevent any other people from falling victim to the 419 scam or even decrease the spread of the 419 scam. Their intention for justice seems skewed if the ultimate result is not a prevention of the 419 scam. The fire fueling the 419 Eaters community will keep on burning and the trophies will keep stacking higher.


John Thomas, the director of editorial content at Groupon and former editor of Playboy.com, spoke on his experiences working as a journalist in the online community. Focusing on what it means to be an editor in the digital world, he discussed online correctional policies, or lack thereof, in major websites. He admitted to witnessing websites post articles without going through the required processes of vetting and fact checking as they would for print articles. He discovered major news sources did not have online correctional policies for their online posts, which reach international audiences. He recognized the access people have in being able to personally review products, whether it’s the latest beauty product or highly regarded literature. He summarizes this by commenting on the existence of a new standard in journalism, where the individual determines the guidelines of online ethics. He brought up the example of the Chicago Tribune’s special section of their website titled “Mugs in the News”, dedicated to posting all mug shots in the news, regardless of conviction status. The Tribune is given free access to these photos, meaning they are posting these shots on their website purely for the commercial reasons of gaining more traffic.

Since when did posting something online make it not worth as much as print? Some people get their news purely from online sources. Others spend a majority of their day flipping through articles in order to pass time. I am one of them, using major news apps like CNN in order to update myself on current events. Twitter feeds provide real time updates to news stories and I can take articles anywhere with me on my mobile device. People from around the world read online articles. The idea that the articles posted online are scrutinized less than print articles and deemed as purely commercial endeavors goes against the basic principle of journalism as a system of education for the masses. News already steers towards emotional responses when they can, favoring the heartstrings stories over factual updates. Something like the Tribune’s “Mugs in the News”, though, incites people to stereotype and maybe even take matters into their own hands like Dara Byrne’s digilantes. News no longer can be a source of trust. Without news, the world goes fairly blind.

The Internet has been there to give people a voice, but when does it start taking others’ away? From something as simple as a young elementary-schooler’s review of War and Peace on Amazon to the complicated mess of GamerGate, the Internet is one large forum and opinion sharer. A person has to weed through fact and opinion, because the Internet is full of both, but the line is often blurred. Opinions are heard more than fact, due to their sting or ridiculous content. Thomas draws attention to the shift of online information, once regarded as factual, towards a more emotion inducing, opinionated posts. The digital world is still a legitimate world and should be treated as such. As it seems with most of the talks given at the Symposium, online correctional policies should be defined, created, and enforced. New media cannot be ignored, but it can be improved.


Dara Byrne & Digilante Ethics

The final speaker I saw at the Digital Ethics Symposium last Friday was a woman named Dara Byrne.  Byrne is an Associate Professor at John Jay College of Criminal justice in the City University of New York in the Department of Communications.  She titled her talk as “Digilante Ethics,” combining “digital” and “vigilantes” into one word, and told us she was going to explain what digilante justice is and the growing appreciation for it.  Byrne said, “there are real crimes that take place on virtual spaces without real laws to deal with them.”  And while some people ignore these crimes, other people are taking matters into their own hands to figure out how to deal with this arising problem.  Groups such as Anonymous or PervertedJustice.com are two common examples of digilante groups.

To explain what she was going to be talking about, Byrne felt the need to give us a history lesson on some real crimes that have happened in virtual spaces.  The one she focused on the most was the Nigerian email problem of the 90s.  Most people in the room laughed, because most people nowadays are aware of those scams and know not to give their bank account information to their long lost uncle that had 40 million dollars but died suddenly and now you can inherit it all!  Sadly, people still fall for this.  Byrne reported that in 2006, over half a BILLION dollars of loses happened because of crimes like this.  Crimes like this, where a scammer tries to convince a person to send over their account information, even if the uncle or aunt is from China or Argentina, are still referred to as “Nigerian scam.”

Byrne continued her talk with her next slide, titled “A Watershed Moment,” and told the crowd that in the 1990s, due to all of the Nigerian Scams (actually from Nigeria), there was global media coverage of Nigeria and its corporate corruption, an underperforming oil instability, political instability, and a rise in regional crime and violence.  Law enforcement agencies began to categorize these crimes at 419 scams in reference to article 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code for confidence schemes even if the criminals have no connection to Nigeria.  Flash forward to the 2000s, and 419 Digitlante networks have been created as structured responses to the belief that there are deficiencies in the state security system.  These deficiencies include that fraud statistics had risen three-fold in ONE year and there were widespread views that law enforcement is unable to help victims.  Digilantes used social network sites to plan, codify, and share their work and progress with each other.

One of the sites we mentioned in class today while briefly speaking about Dara Byrne’s presentation was 419Eater.com, where digilantes “scam the scammer” by getting the scammers to send in pictures of themselves in humiliating, dehumanizing positions and other various scenarios (branding themselves with their scam logo is another horrible example).  The digilantes of 419Eater.com then post the pictures they receive and they get ranked as “trophies,” to show that punishment has been enforced.  Perhaps Byrne ran out of time and wasn’t able to finish up her concluding thoughts, but one of the final things she said was, “As citizens are being monitored by the government, we are monitoring ourselves.”  But is fighting fire with fire really the best way to perform “justice,” or does fighting fire with fire count more as revenge?  Is there really no better way to seek justice from scammers and digital con-artists?

The Amish and Technology — What?!

When I read the schedule of the Digital Ethics Symposium, I was quite intrigued to read that there would be a talk about Amish people and their use (or non-use) of technology.  Lindsay Ems, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, presented “Approached to Amish technology use: The body as an optional, ideal communication medium.”  I’ve always thought of the Amish as a weird section of non-conforming society of the United States, but have always had a fascination with their way of life.  They are a conservative religious group that live modest, “old” lifestyles.  They lead their lives off of biblical teachings, and believe that community is the most important thing because an individual cannot live a godly life by themselves.  I was pretty shocked to learn that Amish populations are growing, doubling about 18 to 20 years.  While I’ve always thought that Amish completely refuse the use of modern technologies, Ems quickly explained otherwise.

Lindsay Ems stated that the principle guide around Amish technology use is that they want to control their technology, not have technology control them.  Ems conducted many interviews with different Amish leaders, business owners, and farmers to find out her data.  Some Amish people use iPhones, social media, online shopping, just as long as their new media use does not tear apart their families.  They believe that the Body is the optional, ideal communication medium because nothing can replace a face-to-face conversation.  One of the quotes Ems showed to the room was “Can you feel love through a text?  No, you can’t.  With technology you can communicate and connect with others but there’s no life in it.”  I think that is something all of us can understand and agree with (especially in reflection of our New Media Diet projects).

After hearing Ems speak at the Digital Ethics Symposium last Friday, I really do feel respect and a type of jealously towards the Amish people.  I am not a believer, most days I consider myself Atheist, other days I feel more Agnostic, but I really do admire and appreciate what this conservative Christian group is doing, in terms of their beliefs of the importance of connection. Another quote that Ems cited was when one make spoke about the Amish’s connection to the soil.  He said, “The soil is a part of you,” which at first sounds odd, but with further explanation kind of makes me want to move to a farm.  Ems explained him further, saying that the Amish people are so connected to the soil because they harvest all their own food, and the meats they eat are the animals they raised, and everything we put into the Earth and have the Earth return back is connected and a huge part of us.  I might not be explain that as eloquently as Ems did, but you should be able to get the gist.  My favorite thing that I got from Ems’ talk was one of the final quotes she told us, which was in response to asking an Amish leader what the best way to raise the young to have a healthy relationship with new technology.  His response was, “Your talk talks and your walk talks but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.”

Translation: Your actions speak louder than words.

Final Talks

After experiencing two insightful speeches about digital media and ethics, I decided stay for the final talk on technology and ethics. I took the stairs to Regents Hall and took a seat amongst the audience of students and professors to hear four insightful speakers. The first speaker was Susan Etlinger from Altimeter Group. She brought up some excellent points regarding ownership and stewardship of photos that are posted on the web. Photos that become a meme are no longer owned by anyone- they are out for grabs in the digital world. It was a scary revelation.

The next speaker was Brian Fitzpatrick from Google. He was the main focus out of the four speakers because many are concerned about their information being stored by Google and what they’re doing with it. He stated that he believes policy is not about ethics at all. He mentioned that Google was not legally allowed to say if they got information from the government, but now they can be more transparent with their users. You can now tell Google if you want to export or delete data which is the main reason why thousands and thousands of web links have been recently deleted. Fitzpatrick believes that in the age of internet, good business is not necessarily ethics based.  Products are better and Google has to continue to be up to date because there are many up and coming businesses that will come around and succeed and potentially take over Google. He brought up an excellent point that almost everyone uses Google because it’s  1) a good product and 2) users trust it. If no one trusted Google, then they would use another search engine but they don’t. He told the audience that Google does not sell your information to other businesses which was a relief to hear (if it’s true).

The last speaker was Sandee Kastrul from i.c. stars. She did an excellent job finishing up the International Symposium by discussing leadership. She believes that young people need to “change state of mind” for freedom in order to effectively be a leader. Most people don’t associate leadership by making opportunities for others and serving our community, but those are the two critical key parts of a leader. Ms. Kastrul’s organization trains inner-city youth in business skills, leadership and technology. She said that technology and data are used to solve problems. Solving problems allows you to acquire intellectual capital which is pivotal in order to have status. Status is needed in order to make a change. The way to procure status is by having financial stability, connections and most importantly, intellectual capital.  Another important piece of information she shared was regarding intelligence. She believes that the more intelligence you obtain, the more responsibility you have to share your knowledge to others. If you hold that knowledge only to yourself, it’s selfish. She ended her speech by asking two key questions: How will I take my element and turn up the heat or allow people to chill when they are heated? Also, How will YOU make a change? These two questions stuck in my mind as I ended my inspiring day at the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy Symposium.


After meeting Anita Sarkeesian, I questioned if I should leave the Fourth Annual International Symposium of Digital Ethics on a high not or visit the next concurrent sessions. Would they be as insightful and educational? I put my thoughts aside and entered Beane Hall to listen to the Concurrent Session moderated by my professor Seung-Chul Yoo. The three speakers were: Thorsten Busch from  Concorida University, Haewon Chung from University of Ottawa and James H. Moor from Dartmouth College.

Mr. Busch talked about Digital Business Ethics in the Videogame Industry. To be honest, I had a hard time following him and he took up a lot of time which affected the two other speakers. Haewon Chung spoke about crowdscience and it’s purpose. Crowdscience uses crowdsourcing as scientific research. She explained that crowdsourcing is “the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call”. Wikipedia is an example of crowdsourcing. She talked about certain sites that are used in order to generate information from the public in order to help scientific research, such as figuring out protein structures in order to help discover new health issues. It was fascinating to learn how science is working with people in order to make the world a better place.

The key speech that I learned so much from was James H. Moor’s speech on The Ethics of AI. AI is brought up in a lot of science fiction movies but seeing how it works in the real world was very intriguing. Professor Moor explained that AI goes through waves. It was a big topic in the 1950’s-1960’s but died down since the 1970’s. Now, AI is having a huge comeback due to Big Data Movement and in collecting data for infrastructure. An example he used was the Target story discussed in class, (where the young women was given pregnancy coupons at the end of her transaction at Target and her father was upset and contacted Target. It turned out that his sixteen year old daughter was indeed pregnant) showing that computers are now taking information in order for decision making. He discussed what should computers be doing. Should computers drive cars? In order to come to that decision, questions regarding values and ethics are brought up. Do we trust computers? Do our values override computing? What track record does computer have versus humans? The more power computers have, the less valuable humans become. AI removes jobs because they can do more than humans thus it affects our economy. Human nature now changes.

Professor Moore also predicted issues AI might raise if we combine humans with AI (such as human’s playing computers in chess). AI will affect ethics because technology has trade-offs with consequences. It begins to question who we are and affects us emotionally.

I never knew much about AI but seeing how it affects everyday life and the future of it was astounding. I am happy to say that Anita Sarkessian’s speech and Professor Moore’s speech made my experience at the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy a memorable moment that I will remember for years to come.

CDEP Symposium: Afternoon Sessions

After Anita Sarkeesian’s talk and a short lunch break, I stayed around for one of the afternoon sessions.  I attended the 1:00-2:15 concurrent sessions in Regents Hall.  Unlike the one I saw earlier in the day, which was a mixture of men and women, this session was all women, which I found interesting. Here are my recaps of each woman’s talk:


Sara Perry, University of York

Gender & Digital Culture

Sara was a pretty blonde woman, and I think this made her speech on online harassment stand out even more.  She told her personal story about how she had been sexually harassed online multiple times, by colleagues, people she knew.  She went on to talk about online harassment of the office/professional space.  It was interesting to hear how as offices have shifted to do more things online, harassment has shifted to be online as well.  Yet, there are often no safety precautions implemented in offices to stop this harassment online.  It happens to both men & women and is harassment of all kinds, not just of a sexual nature. She did a study and found many people experience it but often ignore it because of a lack of safety protocol to protect works in regards to it, which is upsetting, because this is an issue that should be taken more seriously.


Lindsay Ems, Indiana University

Approaches to Amish Technology Use: The Body as an Optional, Ideal Communication Medium

In Lindsay’s talk, she used the Amish’s use of technology to show how technology can ideally be used.  As like anyone else, I was surprised to hear that the Amish even used technology! They can’t have buttons but they can have cell phones? News to me! It was interesting to find that they use the same technology as us, smart phones with all the apps, etc.  Yet, they treat technology differently.  They moderate their use- phones aren’t allowed in the house, they only use it for just what they need, no excess.  Lindsay did an ethnographic study and found that the Amish value face-to-face communication over anything.  In-person communication strengthens community and close bonds, helps adults to lead by example and promote good messages and values, and so on.  Technology can’t express emotion and many other aspects that in-person communication has.  Taking a look as Amish culture and how they use technology made me really take a deeper look at our use of it and how we have let it affect our culture.


Burcu Bakioglu, Lawrence University

Ethics of Unethical Play: Curious Case of How the Bad Boys of Second Life Transformed into Digital Activists

Burcu talked about how government is set up in the virtual world.  She started off talking about “grieving” in virtual game play. She mentioned LambdaMoo and of course I got really excited and was glad that I knew what she was talking about! Kudos to comm 200! She mentioned the virtual rape and all.  She then went into an analysis of how there are different levels of governance in virtual worlds, but how it mainly comes down to individual players.  Most games have of course terms & agreements, but there are many levels under this.  Ultimately surveillance rules and proactive security is key.  The creators of the game can’t help us so it’s really up to us, the players!


Dara Byrne, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Digilante Ethics

Dara talked about how there are real crimes happening in the virtual world yet there is not much being done to stop it, no digital justice.   She talked about those internet scams we all see, but think no one really falls for, using the Nigerian email scam as an example.  Many normal people would think “who falls for those though?” Yet, many people do fall victim to internet fraud apparently.  She talked about the impact and we have lost millions of dollars to internet crime, the numbers were insane! And law enforcement can’t even really help, it is so hard to track and control. She highlighted that it is up to us as a community to act as vigilantes, or “digilantes,” and to alert others to these possible frauds and educate one another and ourselves so as to try and avoid them.


These talks weren’t as interesting as the earlier ones I thought, a few were kind of hard to follow, but they were interesting nonetheless!


What were others insights into these talks? Which were you’re favorites? What were some interesting things you may have picked up from them?

CDEP Symposium: Morning Sessions

To start off my day at the symposium, I attended one of the morning concurrent sessions.  I went to the 10:00-11:15 session in Beane Hall.  I walked in and felt a little awkward, being by far the youngest one in the room beside maybe one other student. I definitely expected more! It was very informative, though, and I was very glad I went! I took notes as I listened to each of the four speakers give about a 15 minutes speech. Here is a short summary of each:


Jan Fernback, Temple University

Privacy, Data Brokers, and the Fourth Amendment: The Ethics of a Targeted Surveillance Regime

In Jan’s speech, she talked mainly about our 4th Amendment right to privacy and how online data brokers violate that right. She went into detail about data brokers and how they target individuals and are a threat to our security. She showed us some examples of data broker sites (Intellius, Been Verified, Exact Data, etc) and just exactly what kind of crazy info our ours they have (financial info, medical info, occupation, hobbies, even pets, etc).  Sites mine our info and sell it for profit, and basically anyone can buy this info. There is currently no regulatory structure for this, yet there should be. I found it disturbing just how much of our personal info could be bough by just anyone!


Jonathan Peters, University of Kansas

The Internet, Free Speech Chokepoints, and Government Regulation

Jonathan talked about a paper he had written and the main points of his paper.  His paper argues that the internet is the greatest threat to free speech because it is currently unregulated.  Privately owned companies like Facebook, Google, etc. are shaping an important time in our history with no rules on them, they make their own rules. They serve as intermediaries, but how do they get to dictate what we can and can’t say? They make up their own rules as to what content needs to be removed, blocked, etc by their moderators.  But what right to they have to say what we can and can’t say online? We need stricter rules to govern this online playing ground for the sake of our free speech. I sure don’t want Facebook telling me what I can and can’t say!


Caitlin Ring, Seattle University

Hashtags and Hate Speech: The Legal and Ethical Responsibilities of Social Media Companies to Manage Content Online

Caitlin talked in her speech about hate speech online and how it was enforced.  She looked at Twitter, Facebook & YouTube.  She showed us many examples of hate speech on all three and it made you worry for mankind just how much hate speech is out there! YouTube is the best at reporting hate speech apparently and Facebook is the worst. Again, the internet has no regulations so many times these threats and such go ignored. It made me disgusted to see just how much hate there was projected on the internet and for there to be nothing to control it.


David Wolfgang, University of Missouri

Opening the Marketplace: A Case for the Protection of Anonymous Online Comments

David outlined the concept of being anonymous online.  He looked at both sides, how it could be good and bad.  It is good because it protects minorities, whistleblowers, etc. who might be afraid to speak out otherwise.  Yet, it can obviously be bad as well because it can generate hateful, negative things as well.  He brings up though the question of who should be allowed to be anonymous and brings ethics into it. He brought it down to social responsibly and how people should be educated to make good choices, because taking away anonymity wouldn’t solve the problem.  He made some very good points and insights and I liked how he saw both sides of the story.  Overall, I feel that we do need anonymous.


Overall, I enjoyed each of these speeches and it was great that they tied in to perfectly with ideas, terms and topics from both my Comm 200 and my comm 215 (Media Ethics) classes! Did anyone else happen to attend these? What were some points you found interesting?