Course Outline and Reading Schedule

Philosophy 2078G
Digital Humanities 2125G

Ethics for a Digital World

Western University, Canada
Undergraduate Course Outline Winter 2014
Thursdays 230-430 pm

SSC 3104

An additional online hour of your choosing—this course is a blended course with both in person and online components

Professor Samantha Brennan
Stevenson Hall 4127,,
Through social media, computer gaming, and virtual communities, we spend a considerable portion of our lives in the digital world. What moral considerations ought to guide our conduct as digital citizens? This class will consider the ethics of life online, exploring questions such as the following: What are our rights and responsibilities in the digital world? How is social media changing our relationships? How do we balance copyright claims against demands for open access? How do we trade off anonymity and accountability? What’s the relationship between our virtual identities and our physical identities? What constraints, if any, shape our digital identities? Is piracy always wrong? Does a hacker’s code of ethics make any sense? Is cyber bullying worse than other forms of bullying? How should we respond to sexism, racism, homophobia and other forms of hate and exclusion in online communities? Ethically speaking, are there events that we ought not to tweet about? Where do and don’t smart phones belong? Are there constraints on how we edit and present images online? Students will explore these questions and others through a study of both ethical theory and a series of cases in the burgeoning and important field of digital ethics.


All readings will be accessible through OWL.


Online participation, short writing assignments, questions, and responses (assignment details will posted on the OWL site)
Note: Some of the assignments will require classroom attendance and participation

Two short essays due 6th and 12th week of the semester. There will be different topics for those taking this class as a Philosophy credit and those taking it as DH credit.

Week 1: Intro to Digital Ethics
January 8th

What moral considerations ought to guide our conduct as digital citizens? This class will consider the ethics of life online. We’ll ask how ethics related to netiquette (a hybrid word combining “network” and “etiquette,” which refers to the social code of the Internet) on the one hand, and the law on the other. We’ll have a quick intro to ethical theories and the main issues at hand.

Background Reading:

What is netiquette?

What is ethics? For background in ethics, see the entries on deontology,, consequentialism,, , virtue theory,, and feminist ethics,, in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The 10 Commandments of Computer Ethics,
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

Week 2: Living Ethically in Virtual Worlds
January 15th

“Internet Ethics,” The International Encyclopedia of Ethics
Steve Matthews , Published Online : 1 FEB 2013, DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee130

Sin in cyber-Eden: Understanding the metaphysics and morals of virtual worlds
Ashley John Craft
Ethics and Information Technology 9 (3) (2007)

Marya Schechtman (2012). The Story of My (Second) Life: Virtual Worlds and Narrative Identity. Philosophy and Technology 25 (3):329-343.

Week 3: Privacy and anonymity
January 22

“The Internet privacy paradox revisited, “ by Alyson Leigh Younga & Anabel Quan-Haase
Information, Communication & Society, Volume 16, Issue 4, 2013
Special Issue: Communication and Information Technologies Section (ASA) Special Issue

“Privacy and the Internet,” The International Encyclopedia of Ethics
Norman E. Bowie, Published Online : 1 FEB 2013, DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee147

Week 4: The ethics of open access
January 29

The ethics of open access publishing
Michael Parker
BMC Medical Ethics 14 (1):16 (2013)

The Academic Ethics of Open Access to Research and Scholarship
Willinsky, J, Alperin, JP

Week 5: Piracy
Feb 5th

The Ethics of Piracy,

The Real Danger of Copying Music (It’s Not What You Think), WIRED,

The Ethics of Internet Piracy, Peter Singer

What’s Property? By Paul Graham,

The Right to Read,

You also might want to read, if you haven’t already, Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow,

Week 6: Hacking
Feb 12th

Ethics in Computing resources,

Is hacking ethical? By Marcia J. Wilson, Computer World 2004,

The Hacker Manifesto,

No class Feb 19th

Week 7: Digital death
Feb 26th

Facebook after death: an evolving policy in a social network,
Int J Law Info Tech (2013) doi: 10.1093/ijlit/eat012 First published online: September 25, 2013

Digital dust blog:

Digital death,
Online interactions with the dead,

Week 8: Ethics and mobile technology: Don’t tweet this! Food, holidays, conferences
Where do and don’t smart phones belong?

March 5th

Chefs vs. Cell Phones,, Centre for Digital Ethics and Policy

Alternet: 7 Places Your Phone Doesn’t Belong,

Mobile Technology and Social Media: Ethical Implications – See more at:

Ling, R. & McEwen, R. (2010) ―Mobile communication and ethics: implications of everyday actions on social order, Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics, Special issue on mobile/ubiquitous computing, Norway, Vol 4, No 2,

Week 9: Big Data
March 12th

Data mining: Proprietary rights, people and proposals
Dinah Payne & Cherie Courseault Trumbach
Business Ethics 18 (3):241-252 (2009)

CIA Chief Tech Officer: Big Data Is The Future And We Own It,

Scientists Used Facebook For the Largest Ever Study of Language and Personality,

How businesses can confront the ethical issues tied to massive aggregation and data analysis. June 2012,

Week 10: Gender and the internet
March 19th

“Does gender matter in computer ethics?” Ethics and Information Technology. 2000, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 37-47, by Alison Adam and Jacqueline Ofori-Amanfo

Cyberstalking and Internet pornography: Gender and the gaze, Ethics and Information Technology 2002, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 133-142, Alison Adam

Week 11: Disability and Access
March 26th

Perry, John, et al. “Disability, inability and cyberspace, Human values and the design of computer technology.” Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford, CA (1997).

Information, Communication & Society, Volume 9, Issue 3, 2006
(Special Issue: Disability, Identity, and Interdependence: ICTs and New Social Forms)
The disability divide in internet access and use
Kerry Dobransky & Eszter Hargittaia

Week 12: Virtual agents
April 2nd

Ethics and Information Technology
(2012) 14:53–60
DOI 10.1007/s10676-011-9279-1
Can We Trust Robots?
Mark Coeckelbergh

Ethics and Information Technology
2001, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 247-265
Android arete: Toward a virtue ethic for computational agents
Kari Gwen Coleman

Machine Morality: Computing Right and Wrong
Sherwin Yu May 10, 2012


The main purpose of this course is to familiarize students with the ethical challenges in the context of computer use and online interaction. The secondary purpose of this course is to familiarize students with a variety of ethical theories. A third goal is to assist students in producing clear, concise and logically structured written work.

Students wishing to audit the course should consult with the instructor prior to or during the first week of classes. The Department of Philosophy Policies which govern the conduct, standards, and expectations for student participation in Philosophy courses is available in the Undergraduate section of the Department of Philosophy website at It is your responsibility to understand the policies set out by the Senate and the Department of Philosophy, and thus ignorance of these policies cannot be used as grounds of appeal


The Web sites for Registrarial Services (, and the same for affiliated university colleges when appropriate, and any appropriate Student Support Services (including the services provided by the USC listed here: and the Student Development Services, should be provided for easy access.
Students who are in emotional/mental distress should refer to Mental Health@Western for a complete list of options about how to obtain help.
for a complete list of options about how to obtain help.


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