Peter Singer: ‘Ethical Issues in an Online World’

How has the internet changed our world for the better, for the worse? What are some of the ethical challenges that Singer identifies?

Write a 1 paragraph response to the Singer video either here as a comment on this post or in the OWL forum.

Due by next Wednesday, January 14, at noon.


15 thoughts on “Peter Singer: ‘Ethical Issues in an Online World’

  1. Nathan Fabiano says:

    The Internet has changed our world for the better by providing humans with a sense of social cohesion. By making it so that one can instantly talk to anyone who has an Internet connection, the Internet can help remove social isolation, which consequently brings us closer to the idea of a global community. However, I am of the belief that this ease of contact created by the Internet has indirectly changed our world for the worse. This is because it has made things easier for terrorist organizations by removing the physical aspect of a terror attack (ex. North Korea vs. Sony Pictures), and making communication within the group easier (ex. ISIS’ use of Facebook). One ethical challenge Singer identifies involves acts, stating that the Internet has made it easier for one to violate copyright. Thus the challenge becomes “do we adjust our copyright laws, or accept that things have changed”? Singer also brings up an ethical challenge that involves results, specifically with the consequences of leaking confidential documents to the Internet (as in the case of Julian Assange). On one hand, the leaking of these documents can expose political corruption, which can in turn increase utility (by motivating us to remove said corruption). On the other hand, the leaking of these documents can expose things that ought to be kept away from the public, such as the location of nuclear weapons. Thus the challenge becomes “does we always allow for these leaks to happen, do we allow for them to happen in specific circumstances, or ought we condemn them”?

  2. Marc Stahl says:

    I agree with Peter Singer that the age of digital copyright enforcement is over. Digital content will always leak out, and consequently, one will be able to get copyright digital content for free.

    I believe that most people are honest and do not want to steal digital content. However, as the middle class disappears and the lower class becomes poorer, they have less money to acquire and enjoy digital content. At the same time, content creators and distributors continue to raise prices beyond the reach of the masses. The poor masses are left with the choice of either stealing digital books, movies or music for entertainment, or going without.

    At the same time the ease with which digital content can be stolen has grown. Most people would be too scared to go into a store and steal a DVD. But if they can sit at home and anonymously download a movie or album with click of a button, they are more inclined to do so.

    These factors combined are forcing a new business model onto digital rights owners that they have long resisted. For example, while large music studios continue to push the sales of CD’s at ever higher prices, their revenues continue to decline as consumers turn to theft or services like Spotify. Services like Spotify allow consumers to pay a more reasonable fee for access to a wealth of digital content that they could never afford to buy (and the music studios must accept a more reasonable price for their music).

    The success of this new business model (and the ongoing collapse of the old model) proves that if digital content is made affordable then people will pay for it, and digital copyright enforcement becomes unnecessary.

  3. Elizabeth Ellis says:

    After watching this video of Peter Singer I agree that technology is a huge part of our daily lives and that the Internet has really changed the world whether this is for better or worse is a hard question to answer. As Singer says, if we include the Internet in the human rights there is an issue of poverty. 30% of the world has access to the Internet leaving 70% without. The Internet in this case could be a great tool of education. If using the Internet for bullying purposes or harm, this would be a negative for society.

    Peter talks about how the Internet crosses national boundaries allowing one world, everyone is able to connect so easily. Research is a lot easier and we can now work together with people being able to collaborate with people around the world, people can work from home where their office may be hours away. This is great because you can connect and work with someone across the world, also with Skype you can actually see and hear the person. The negative with this is that in person interaction is becoming less likely with technology surrounding.

    One ethical issue Singer talks about is copyright. When asking who has downloaded material from the internet knowing that it was illegal the majority of people including Singer put their hand up. To me, I think the big thing is that I would never go into a real store and steal a real item and then say, well i was not sure if I wanted to read the whole book so why not take it for free. Or, I bought it then I lost it so I don’t want to have to purchase this again therefore I am going to take it. These are two big reasons that I studied in a previous class as to why people rationalize that online stealing is different than in person stealing. If Singer asked the same question to the group of people, who has stole from a store in person the numbers would probably be eger says, if we include the Internet in the human rights there is an issue of poverty. 30% of the world has access to the Internet leaving 70% without. The Internet in this case could be a great tool of education.

    With this response I think that there are ethical issues for the positives and the negative use of the internet.

  4. Philip Thingbø Mlonyeni says:

    I think the most interesting point Singer makes in this lecture is towards the end with the idea of access to internet as a human right. As he states in the beginning and goes back to many times there is something about the internet that differs from other types of media in the way it connects people, as a source of information and even giving rise to its own culture, although what this culture is is rather hard to say. I think that among these the best reason for making access to the internet a human right is its potential as a resource for attaining information about more or less any subject. We consider education a human right, and with the internet as the primary source of information it can be made good arguments for why access to it ought to be available to all and especially students. In support of this one may argue that because states and businesses keep most of their public documents online, the right to internet access goes hand in hand with the idea of transparency of governments and businesses. On the other hand, I think the main line of thought shouldn’t be the positive sides of internet access, because it may fool us into thinking that because there are such huge benefits it will necessarily outweigh the negative sides. I think a case can be made that the positive sides do outweigh the negative sides, but it can only be shown by weighing the positives against the negatives. As a proper utilitarian Singer is indeed vary of this opposition and I think there are generally two things that Singer brings up, that will become increasingly important to look out for as the internet expands. The primary one is the abuse of the power which is inherent in the internet. The case of Edward Snowden is one example of how government can use information on the internet to spy on its constituents and we can imagine other cases where governments use the internet in unethical ways, like swaying public opinion and the like. Another example is abuse by terrorist organizations and hackers with bad intentions. Identity theft for example is a serious crime, and with the internet it has become much easier to acquire sensitive information from other people. Security measures will become increasingly important to stop such crimes, but the nature of internet is such that security measures will only work until a certain point at which other measures will have to be employed. What kind of measures that will be is hard to say at this point, but it will definitely be important in debates to come. Maybe we need to look at ourselves as a culture, and develop better educational systems that teach people respect and promote certain values that weren’t as relevant for other types of societies.

    A final note on this is that with the right to access to internet comes the right of not being on the internet, at least it should. How such a right is to work in a digital an online world is hard to predict, and I see this as a very interesting discussion in the years to come. There are already cases of people wanting information about them taken down from the internet, and services that can remove deceased people ‘from the grid’ are already in place, but I don’t think we’ve seen the half of it yet, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  5. Laura Pond says:

    According to Peter Singer, the Internet has changed our world for the better because it has demonstrated the potential to provide a mass audience with instant and convenient access to information, and it opens up new channels and methods for interaction and exchange between individuals and groups across the globe. Singer regards these qualities as a morally ‘good,’ because it provides an outlet for activism and other projects working for social change to flourish on a massive scale. The Internet also connects people in a historically unprecedented way: individuals can build communities, find support groups, and participate in projects online in a cooperative and engaging way. For example, the online astronomy project Zooniverse allows anyone with Internet access to study unexamined satellite photographs and wavelengths. If one happens to come across an undiscovered celestial body (like a star or a planet), the finder has the right to name it and contribute to the common goal of other Zooniverse users (knowledge production in the astronomical sciences). The particular ethical challenges Singer identifies are ethical concerns surrounding copyrighted material, piracy, the accountability and reliability of online sources, the value of leaked information, the potential for censorship, and concerns about privacy. I think privacy is a major concern, especially regarding the overwhelming (and often violent) backlash against women online. It is important not to characterize women and children by their potential vulnerability to abuse or by their victimhood, but the irrational victim-blaming of celebrities (such as Jennifer Lawrence) whose nude photos have been leaked teaches women and girls to expect their privacy to be violated, and to be blamed for this violation.

  6. Ruizhe Zhang says:

    Our world is being transformed by the internet every second as the internet allows information travel faster than ever, subsequently creating booming information technology advancements. There are many advancements the internet brings to mankind, just to name a few: the internet brings people closer, allow people to access information freely and faster, accelerating the research and development process of projects, collaboration with foreign country became easier and quicker, by providing vastly more information on the net; we learn faster as a result. And the creation of a mega global wikipedia where online forums and communities share experiences and support each other.

    There are several negatives about the internet Peter Singer mentions and these are some ethical challenges revolving the use of internet. The first and foremost is the breach of copyright, piracy, the stealing of intellectual works. Internet has made copying information much faster and more accessible than ever, this hurts the creator of intellectual works, especially publishers living on royalty. Piracy is very powerful as it can take businesses and individual creators out of business, worse taking away the ways people make money to support their families. There are other forms of copyright issues mentioned by Peter Singer such as the Wikileaks disclosures which caused violent reactions among protesters against governmental secrecies. The most striking statistic from the video is that only 30% of world population has access to the internet and some impoverished countries are struggling hard to keep pace with technology advancements. This lagging effect of not able to keep up with the technology will open these impoverished countries to possible exploitation from other resourceful countries. After all based on the efficient market theory developed by Eugene Fama where he states “price reflects all relevant information” in other words the lack of information can cause price fluctuations so great that other countries with more advance methods of information attainment can possibly exploit the unfortunates.

  7. Lucas says:

    The digital world is constantly evolving, subsequently providing more efficient ways for people to access information. Nowadays, one can access any song or book at the convenience of their fingertips at no cost whatsoever. Singer targets this issue by mentioning that singers have had to move from relying on album sales to performing live, in order to make a living. However, this is not so easy for authors, specifically of creative work. University professors can rely on their university salaries (instead of purely making money off textbook royalties), but what about writers of novels and fiction? As Singer mentions, the appeal of authors giving live lectures of their novels seems minimal at best. This new age of access to digital information therefore will require a method for many to have the motivation to pursue these creative careers.

    Ultimately there seems to be a dilemma to the whole situation. The world, as Singer mentions, becomes better in terms of ease of access to information. However it also becomes worse, as it is harder to provide incentive to authors since their work can be easily read at no cost. Perhaps as a result of this, we will see less creative work in the world for the years to come. It will be interesting to see how society adapts to this new change.

  8. Megan Craig says:

    The Internet has changed our world in profound ways, not easily categorized into good or bad. For example, it has given us an accessibility to and accumulation of knowledge that wouldn’t be possible through any other means. Also, it has allowed for communication and connections between people and groups much more easily than through offline contact. However, there have been adverse outcomes as these properties also allow for negative topics to be discovered and expanded upon (for example, a teenager researching suicide or radical groups) and for people with similar destructive interests to rally together and follow-through with extremist plans.

    Ethical challenges arise when these different groups are created and socialize. It can be used for philanthropic results like Kickstarter campaigns, but it can also lead to unethical situations like terrorism. Additionally, although it has created this wonderful, universal library of knowledge, it frequently violates copyright laws. Ethically, do we continue to consider this as immoral, or do we adapt to a new idea of better access, but less financial return to the creative bodies who own the copy rights? Furthermore, there is an ethical challenge when we consider who controls the Internet and whether censorship is valid. When asked if there should be some regulatory committee who decides what the public good is or what information should be used, Peter Singer recommends that this would not work because the information could not be recalled once this authority received it. He suggests having an advisory body or more prominent privacy policies would help individuals to make informed decisions about the data they release. Issues of control, copyright, and privacy often have both advantages and disadvantages, based on how they are used by the individual or group.

    • Konrad Pfundner says:

      It is quite clear that the internet has changed the world for the better, as it has connected and united people from all around the world. Also enabling people access to all the information they could ever wish for. As a result of the internet there have been consequences, such as copy write material and classified data being leaked to the public, these are also both ethical challenges discussed by Singer. With the internet becoming a bigger part of our everyday lives we need to adapt to it, which means taking extra precautions and even changing the way we go about protecting and selling digital content. Either this has not been done properly or nobody has bothered to take their time to try to fix these issues. Another way to look at problems caused by the internet, is that these problems were bound to happen one way or another, meaning they may not be exclusively the result of the internet, but a problem that would appear on its own eventually. In either case a solution needs to be found whether it be censoring sites from the public or going to a powerful group such Anonymous to be the “Police” of the internet. A more subtle approach would be general internet training courses, as these could help people identify scammers emailing them or protecting their computers against viruses. One last more extreme way of enforcing internet activity, going against Singer’s point of making the internet a basic human right, would be treating it similar to driving, as a privilege that can be revoked. For if we can properly control everything happening on the internet it will no longer be a threat to people’s jobs and lives.

  9. Max Donsky says:

    In Peter Singer’s lecture “ Ethical Issues in an Online World” he outlines the tremendous benefits of the Internet, while considering the consequences, and ethical issues it carries. Singer makes it clear that the Internet is more than just a useful research tool as it allows people to connect and learn through endless possibilities. The beneficial features of the internet that Singer focuses on all explain how the communication and research processes of today have been greatly advanced. With the use of various online tools including, E-mail and the ‘universal library’ – a scholars dream come true, communication and access to information is achieved easier and more instant than ever before. Instead of making a phone call or sending a letter in the mail as done in the past – we now have such vast and immediate communication methods available to us which allow for online collaboration including, but not limited to, E-mail and Skype (along with Facebook chat, Google hangouts etc.). This allows people to share information, publish new works, listen to music and watch videos regardless of where one is located. Singer states that the Internet “brings us closer to the idea of one world” and with the ability to communicate across national borders the Internet has made this connection not only simple and entertaining, but also free. Along with all these benefits also come faults, as Singer discusses negative components of the Internet by stating that as an open tool for anyone to use, there are often various scams online that can be harmful and should be avoided. Singer raises ethical issues of piracy and copyright, which occur as a result of the various online tools providing ample amounts of free information at such ease. He discusses copyright in terms of stealing other people’s works through illegal downloading, whether music or books/articles without giving the musicians or authors credit (money). Although we are all fascinated by the simple access to information online and the majority of us are guilty of illegally downloading it, the creators are the ones who are paying the price in terms of declining sales of their music or works due to these online breaches. The main concern is that people will always find ways of navigating the Internet, leading to more serious breaches of information, which may or may not be entirely legal or ethical and this is something that should be more heavily debated.

    Interesting Further Read:

  10. Jen McKibbon says:

    Peter Singer notes that overall the internet has changed our world for the better. He states that can be seen in the academic world in the internets ability to connect people around the world with each other and thereby giving the opportunity for international research. Not only does the internet do this but it also creates a sense of community among people; the internet allows people to communicate about situations which they are in. However the internet can also have a negative effect on our world, as it is open for negative use. Singer notes that the internet is used to promote scams and, as most apparent currently, it can be used for terrorism and the creation of negative communities. According to Singer there are two ethical challenges which the internet faces, that of copy rights and the breach of confidential information. In regards to copy rights there is a ethical question regarding an individual’s property rights and the public goods, those of making knowledge available to all. Singer admits that there are widespread breaches of copy rights and it can be seen by the ease by which the materials are readily available. The question is the breaching of copy right laws are actually harmful to the individual, are they losing income which cannot be recouped else where. The second ethical challenge which the internet faces is the breach of confidential information and making it available to the masses. This was seen in the Wikileaks where the site uploaded, and continues to do so, government confidential document onto the internet where they can be viewed by all. This creates an issue for people by making it more difficult for them to speak freely to the government, they no longer feel that they are safe talking about things which may endanger their lives. Wikileaks allowed us to question if everything which happens within a government should be public knowledge, but more importantly it brought questions of the purpose of a site like this and if censorship has a place in these type of situations.

  11. Andrew Hakes says:

    The Internet has changed our world for both the better and the worse; however, I would argue that the positives heavily outweigh the negatives. The Internet has increased human efficiency by an unfathomable amount. Messages can be sent across the world in a matter of seconds, money can be sent digitally from country to country, and we can order products from anywhere in the world with the click of a button. The Internet also has the capability to greatly increase awareness of current societal or global issues and can bring about massive social change. Further, Singer brings up an extremely important point; the Internet is literally a universal library accessible by virtually anyone. For the most part, this is a beautifully positive concept, however, the wrong information in the wrong hands can have horrific results. For example, terrorist organizations recruit many of their members via the Internet and provide information on how they may carry out their own terrorist activities.

    The Internet also brings about many ethical dilemmas such as personal privacy and copyright issues. In today’s digital world, it is extremely easy to access info and images of almost anyone via social media, however, privacy settings may be adjusted based on personal preferences. In terms of copyright issues, piracy is abundant. Although this is a problem, the Internet makes it much easier for artists, musicians, photographers, etc. to gain exposure. Such professions are beginning to adapt to the fact that almost anything can be accessed online for free and are adapting new ways to remain profitable, such as online advertisements.

  12. Jordan Tite says:

    Peter singer did well in identifying the pros and cons of a digital world and its ramifications on society. Some of the issues he identifies are anonymity, the underwhelming barrier of copyright laws, who guards the guardians, as he questioned whether the internet could be viewed as a fundamental human right. This post will be mostly concerning anonymity on the internet. Much like most emerging technologies, it is defined by its shades of grey, meaning that it can be used to better mankind, or hinder its progress. One such aspect of the internet that serves as a double edged sword is its ability to provide anonymity to its users. This grants people the freedom to express themselves, without fear of punishment, to some extent. This form of expression allowed many users to find others with similar beliefs (some of the examples that are most prominent in my mind are LGBTQ communities and support groups for people who needed an outlet to discuss mental health problems). However, as we have seen with the evolution of chat rooms such as the YouTube comments section, Twitch Chat 4chan and etc., the internet isn’t always a medium that breeds tolerance and acceptance. Needless to say, the internet as a whole has provided countless opportunities for the betterment of the human race, yet it also provides us with new, unique challenges that bring into question the morality of some users, and certainly identifies a gap in current law practices and jurisdictions.

  13. Ellie Palikko says:

    I certainly agree that internet has completely revolutionized the way we interact, and the ease with which we are now able to access information. Singer identifies the scholar’s approach to the internet, how it can be used as a useful tool to amass the world’s knowledge into an online model of the Library of Alexandria. This however lead him to identify the issues that arise with copyright laws, and how easy it is for those laws to be disregarded, considering the availability of materials on the internet. He explains that for certain types of industries this will just lead to adjustments – such as musical artists going on tour more often – but alternatively, this could be devastating to the publishing industry. As someone who tried to follow the WikiLeaks story closely as it was unfolding, I find Peter Singer’s take on the situation very interesting and positive. He argues that WikiLeaks set off a chain reaction which lead to social progress in places that perhaps wouldn’t have been able to move forward without the empowering information that those confidential documents provided. I also found it very interesting when he claimed that WikiLeaks took relative care with respect to the articles and documents that they posted, that they were more responsible than an opposing hacker site might have been. I believe that internet has definitely changed our world for the better. As Peter Singer explained, the use of mobile phones in remote parts of the world has already benefitted trading and economic circumstances (to an extent), and it provided rural areas with information that was much more difficult to obtain without the use of internet. Although the internet has lead to issues regarding piracy and copyright laws, the benefits far outweigh these problems. It is also a resource for positive political change, the abolishment of corruption, and at a far more basic level, an accessible platform for collaboration and communication.

  14. Madeline Dewson says:

    There are many different opinions about whether the Internet enables a more positive or destructive world. For Peter Singer the Internet is an amazing tool that aids communication and research, however there are many unethical practices that it also makes possible. The Internet increases globalization across boarders, which allows people to connect and collaborate on a creative level. It creates an online Universal Library accessible by anyone in the world in a matter of seconds. However there is a large amount of copyrighted illegal material being accessed. Singer says that there are new practices that can be put into place so that authors could actually benefit from this new way people access information. Online databases could track how many times each work is looked at, and paying the author accordingly. Singer argues that there must be a balance public goods of knowledge versus the private rights of companies. Although breaching copyright hurts the private corporations, the world is changing, and instead of trying to resist theses inevitable changes the private sector will just have to adapt. Another controversial issue raised by singer is the website Wikileaks. The US government is strongly opposed to the website and calls their actions a type of “cyber vandalism” that is not beneficial to the public interest. Wikileaks is accused of endangering the lives of activists, however there is no solid proof, and I believe that they are actually giving the public the information that enables them to make more informed political decisions. Wikileaks made Tunisians fully aware of the political corruption of the royal family, which contributed to the major uprising focused on fighting for a better political system. The similar instance in Kenya where 13,000 people died in riots because of the Wikileaks, singer says that “is a small price to pay” for the 40,000 children that die annually from malaria as a direct result from this unopposed corruption. We need to have boundaries between what information can be open and what cannot, as the Internet creates a “potentially better but more dangerous world” says Singer. The Internet is not a world wide web, there is not a free flow of information, for example Google owns a large share of the internet and can direct us to the sites it wants us to see. In order to have a more ethical internet experience we need to find a way to get the other 70% of humans involved in the discussion, for a more just world.

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