digital ethics

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, 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.


Digital Ethics & Policy Symposium 2014

The 2014 Digital Ethics and Policy symposium brought to light many ethical problems that take place in the digital world. I started the day various speakers and stayed through till the keynote speaker Anita Sarkeesian. This keynote speech gave insight on the power online platforms have on harassment, slander, and much more. Anita gives us a look at how she is affected for simply stating her opinion on video games.

Anita Sarkeesian is known for being one of the main supporters of “GamerGate,” which is a controversy that concerns misogyny, sexism, and harassment in video games. Since stating her opinion, Anita has been the victim of shameful and disgusting harassment by gamers. From what I understand, Anita believes that these games act out this way because they feel threatened by women gamers and what their presence can do to influence the games. She has been unfortunately harassed through direct threats online, being superimposed on pornographic images, and much more. This online community has the idea that if they bring her down through these threats and harassments, she will give up her fight for equality in video games.

However, Anita is almost fueled by these negative comments. What this has done is expose her work and research to a larger group of people. It has essentially made her the face of women equality in video games. She also tackles the main idea of digital ethics. Why do these things happen? Why are they allowed to happen? There is no clear answer to these questions. Loopholes in the legal system along with the community the internet allows users to build, plays a big part in allowing these people to continue their agenda.

Cyber civil rights is being affected by these people online who believe it is “okay” to do these things with no consequences. Anita then spoke about ways to change these things and help improve cyber civil rights. Some of the suggestions she gave included: having a sharable block list, allowing friends of targets to report harassment, option to block any accounts that been recently created, option to block any user who has also been blocked, and blocking anonymous users. These are just some of the simplest changes that can be made in order to stop the harassment and violation of digital civil rights.

Overall the Digital Ethics and Policy symposium was very insightful. It was interesting to see the various views on digital ethics and what can be done to ensure that they are not violated. The event ran smoothly and the speakers were very knowledgeable on their topics. There was a lot of information I was exposed to that gave me a better idea on how communities online can have an impact either negatively or positively on various things. I did wish that Anita had been available for a public Q & A as opposed to the private Q & A. At times the event seemed like it would focus on one particular topic without expanding and giving a more thorough explanation of things. However, I did find the event informative and useful in providing insight on the digital world.

Anita Sarkeesian at Loyola University Chicago: Disney Villian or Gaming Hero?

On Friday afternoon, I had the opportunity to see Anita Sarkeesian give a presentation as the keynote speaker at Loyola’s Fourth Annual International Symposium on Digital Ethics. Sarkeesian is a feminist media critic who is the founder of Feminist Frequency, a video blog which provides commentary on misogyny in video games and other related media. Response to Sarkeesian and other female video game figures such as creator of Depression Quest, Zoe Quinn, have led to what is now known as GamerGate.

AnitaThroughout her presentation, Sarkeesian provided thorough examples of the cyber abuse she had had to endure as a result of her feminist commentary – harassment, conspiracy theories based around her supposed denial of her Armenian background or based on ideas that she herself is behind the abuse, death threats, rape threats, online impersonation and hacking. She also brought up the idea of an “information cascade,” which is when information spreads without validity and the idea of “loaded questions” which is when media outlets phrase slander in the form of questions in order to “justify” their accusations. A lot of the images she showed were quite shocking and graphic.

Sarkeesian labeled the people behind GamerGate as a “misogynist cyber mob” and seeing the abuse she has had to go through based on simply expressing her beliefs, it is easy to understand why this term is appropriate. She mentioned in her speech how the gaming industry, which she says is bigger than Hollywood itself, has faced a new reality where it has become a more inclusive environment. She said this cyber mob has “figuratively and literally concluded that I am some sort of Disney villain responsible for the shift in the industry.”

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

In many ways it does appear as though Sarkeesian has been created into a scapegoat by those behind GamerGate. It is inspiring to see how despite continuous harassment, she has not once backed down from stating her opinions. This endurance, in my opinion, matches some of the key points from her presentation.

Sarkeesian used her speech to state that neutrality is impossible when it comes to fighting sexism. One quote she said that I found powerful was that “one of the most radical things you can do is believe women when they tell you about their experiences.” She described sexism as a “big, toxic cloud we are all breathing.” While only a select few may be the cause for this cloud, we all hold a responsibility to help out. This notion explains a quote she used from social activist Howard Zinn: “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.”

In my opinion, I thought it was great that she put attention on the fact that she cannot be the only person speaking out against the treatment of females in the gaming industry. GamerGate has shown the public that there is a problem and while the industry may be becoming more inclusive, there is still a ways to go as long as this type of harassment continues. The events that took place on Oct. 17 make this most evident. Sarkeesian was scheduled to give a presentation at Utah State University when the school received threats of a school shooting. Due to concealed carry laws, the university said they would not be able to protect Sarkeesian from concealed weapons so she cancelled.

During her speech, Sarkeesian also referenced Danielle Citron’s Hate Crimes in Cyberspace to advocate for cyber civil rights:

  • Stalking laws should include online social networks.
  • Non-consensual publication/distribution of sexual photos and videos should be considered a criminal act.
  • Civil rights need to include gender bias.
  • Plaintiffs should be able to sue under pseudonyms to avoid further harassment.
  • Social media websites should have options for sharable block lists, allow friends to report harassment, have options to block new users and autoblock users who use certain words.
    • Sarkeesian said “these sites need to make reporting functions actually functional” or they force victims to relive their abuse.

Overall, I found all of her points to be effective. Change can only occur when an effort is made by others to advocate for what is right.

My questions would then be: What do you believe was the most meaningful quote from Anita Sarkeesian’s key note speech, and why? How effective do you think the cyber civil rights laws would be if put into effect?

By William Tolan

Digital Ethics Symposium

The first speaker I heard was Sara Perry from University of York. One of my favorite parts about Sara Perry’s talk came right at the beginning. She has an intimate and extensive understanding of social media, and the use and risks of social media. She encourages and teaches her students to use and master a variety of media outlets. She told her story about being harassed online based on her gender on sexuality, but unlike Anita Sarkeesian, she knew all of her harassers. I can’t help but notice the similarities between these women’s stories and the statistics on rape. While we often see in the media stories about women who are publicly raped and abused by random people, we very rarely hear stories about women who are raped by people they know, even though those cases are far more common. We have spoken extensively in class about the kind of unwelcomed attention received by Anita Sarkeesian, but haven’t mentioned any cases where the victims have known their online abusers. I was pleased to hear Perry use examples of men being made uncomfortable online in the same kinds of ways that women are because men are often ignored entirely in these kinds of discussions.

The second speaker I heard was Lindsay Ems, from Indiana University. I was really pleased by the general concept of her talk. While Perry spoke about gender minorities in the academic field, Ems spoke about a religious minority- the Amish. It was really interesting to hear about the people at the other end of the social media use spectrum. Many of the participants of the conference, including the prior speaker, are social media experts, addicts, and devotees. But the Amish of this particular study were skeptical of any media use, and represent a community living at the opposite end of social media use.

The third speaker was Burcu S. Bakioglu from Lawrence University. She spoke about virtual worlds like the ones presented in online games. She spoke about “griefing”, when players intentionally harass other players. Bakioglu spoke about LambdaMoo and an incident of an online rape that occurred in the community, and the community’s desire to legislate these kinds of incidents in their space. I found it really interesting that she spoke first about LambdaMoo, and I felt very knowledgeable because I had spent time playing in this community. One thing that I found particularly interesting her talk was how these kinds of world were governed. Some of the ways that people can control these online worlds are the rules that users accept when they log on, like the terms and conditions on Facebook or other websites. Another way to control online worlds is to limit actions by code. Creators could write an action out of the code so that users just simply didn’t have the ability to do it. She also mentioned the concern of local and federal government agencies that would want to limit the actions of community members to prevent illegal activities like money laundering or child pornography.

I enjoyed all of the speakers that I saw. The women who spoke each spoke on a different aspect of the internet and technology, but each one had something insightful to say about how these subgroups or subcultures of society uses and operate within- and without-technology.

Finding Justice on the Internet

It was almost impossible to walk though Loyola’s Water Tower Campus last Friday, and not feel the exciting pulse of Anita Sarkeesian’s presence. With the disappointment still lingering from her last scheduled appearance at Utah State University it was, in a way comforting to know that Loyola University Chicago was doing everything possible not to repeat the same outcome. Frankly to see the increased security measures during the Digital Ethics Symposium made me feel special to be a part of something so controversial. However I was also saddened to think that people like Sarkeesian, who has only voiced her opinions and brought light to uncharted topics can still face harassments in the United States by doing so.

Unfortunately, I was unable so hear Anita Sarkeesian speak, but I did hear other guest speakers who helped me to understand the serious ethical breeches that continue to trouble our technologically advanced world. Dara N. Byrne, PhD, has researched what she calls digilantes, or digital vigilantes. This term is used for people who seek radical justice intended for the digital world. Think of this as the Batmen and women of the internet. However, instead of maintaining justice and peace throughout the online world, these specific digilantes find extreme pleasure in humiliating and dehumanizing those whom have victimized others on the internet. Byrne used the digilante group 419’s response to the popular Nigerian e-mail scam in the late 1990’s as a way to illustrate her argument.



Dara N. Byrne, PhD

She used this scam as an example to legitimize her argument because the Nigerian e-mail scam marks the first time “National Consumers League’s National Fraud Information Center launched (an) Internet Fraud Watch to focus much-needed attention on cybercrime.” Byrne said.

419 Digilantism emerged because this group saw the measures taken by law enforcements to fight cybercrime as inadequate. The Digilantes in this group would force those who were known to cyber scam artists to commit humiliating and dangerous acts such as branding themselves and taking nude photos and post them on the internet. In a way this satisfied the Digilantes need for justice.

I will not go into complete details of Byrne’s brief presentation last Friday, but her argument does raise a few questions about how victims of internet scams and bullying can achieve a sense of justice. Where can the lines be drawn to indicate that someone has completely gotten even with their offender?

Because there are a lack of laws to protect people from becoming victims of scams and harassment on the internet, I can understand why someone, wronged through this medium would want to seek justice done on their behalf. Anita Sarkeesian comes to mind. However the justice sought out by the Digilantes described in Byrne’s presentation, portrays a very primal “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” approach. Can it be considered justice to harass a harasser, or does this method further the harassment?

Unfortunately, as a person who has not gone through such hardships on the internet, I do not have an answer for any of my questions, but I suppose that this is the issues here. No one, not even law makers have an idea what to do about crimes committed on the internet. In a way each time we enter this medium, we are entering a world of potential unprecedented crime with no answers. So while I understand why a group of people, who have been victims of crime on the internet, feel forced to take the law into their own hands I am also skeptical of their definition of justice.

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 – Anita Sarkeesian

I managed to catch the second half of Anita Sarkeesian’s presentation during the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy. Right off the bat, she caught my attention and had me scrambling to take proper notes when she began to explain the view people have for themselves who stand against the improvement of female portrayal in video games and online in general. She stated that they don’t believe they are in the wrong or that they’re beliefs are outdated and disrespectful. Rather, this group of people who are fighting against the change in female video game portrayal see themselves as warriors. They consider their opposition as righteous because it’s standing up for the history of video games and the tradition that lies with it.

Although I am supportive of keeping tradition alive when it comes to holidays, school spirit, and family parties, I don’t think this form of “tradition” can be justified. At this point, using tradition as an excuse just seems like a reason this group of people needs in attempt to make their case stronger. Tradition is no longer relevant when groups such as Gamergate evolve and threaten others for standing up for their right as human beings and women. Tradition is no longer applicable if a balance cannot be found between that and modern day beliefs.

Sarkeesian also brought up the fact that there are those who believe women are “asking for it,” which I personally think is ludicrous. Why would anyone want to be portrayed as sexual objects, degraded to physical representations that exploit the human body? In addition, women clearly are not “asking for it” when people like Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn are consistently being attacked online and in the physical world. If you believe that they would risk their families, friends, professional lives, and safety all for the sake of getting attention or “asking for it” then – excuse my bluntness – you’re wrong. These women are putting their safety at risk for something much, much bigger than that and I think others are shallow for believing otherwise.

Another point of discussion that Sarkeesian touched on was ways to fight and end the hatred and harassment. It shocked me that she experienced times when she had to explain to law enforcement what Twitter is and how it works, so I definitely agree that legislators and law enforcement need to have a basic understanding of the various social media outlets. It would allocate their time toward finding a solution rather than attempting to understand the foundation of sites like Reddit and Twitter. Sarkeesian also brought up ways perpetrators are indirectly encouraged to continue their terrible actions. Due to the nature of being a victim of harassment people often don’t release their names in media like the news or even courtrooms in shame or simple rights to privacy. Because of this attackers are indirectly encouraged to see no wrong in their words or actions because consequences are few and far between.

With that said, Sarkeesian managed to wrap up her presentation nicely with an analogy to air pollution. Like she states, we may not all be contributors of these belittling deeds but we all need to work together in order to end the problem. It’s not only up to women and those who are victimized, but it is the responsibility of all genders. Sarkeesian declares, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”


Christine Chu