Friday, August 3, 2012

Internet Community - An Ethical Consideration

Those of you who have been following my blog despite my seldom and spontaneous blog posts are likely to be aware of a pattern that I developed here. That is, although I write in both Korean and English, any posts that exceed a certain length or require a little bit of an in-depth thinking than my usual posts are always written in English. I know I've probably reiterated this fact a few times, but I only know how to perform academic or professional writing in English as I've spent my last ten years of education in the United States.

This post however, should probably be written in Korean as it directly addresses several peculiar situations that I have witnessed in our Fate/Another naver cafe. To my dismay, my Korean writing skills are far too pathetic to deliver the thoughts in my head to anyone with clarity. Actually, considering how difficult writing can be as there are people who spend their entire life just on learning how to write, I can't say I do such a spectacular job at writing in English either.

So for this particular post, I'm going to take a slightly different approach. Since I have to start from somewhere, why not with a language I'm most comfortable with? And then when it's time to make a post in the Korean language, I'll simply be translating what I have wrote on this post. Time consuming, sure but it's hell of a lot better than writing gibberish that could mislead the audience.

The money question I'm going to raise is the following: What the hell happened to manners on the internet?

I know, I know. Ever since the beginning of the internet, such concept was not prevalent at all but what bothers me the most is that people do not seem to be grasping the importance of principles of ethical conducts that need to be followed on the internet.

This is especially true in South Korea, a country often acclaimed as the most Internet-savvy nation. But such accomplishment does not come without a price. From a nation where a considerable number of celebrities suicide from being mentally distressed largely due to this so called "flame phenomenon", You would think that the citizens would at least try to refrain from making a similar mistake down the road.

But nope. I'm not seeing any of it, most prominently from our cafe but even for many people in other online communities (of Korea), the concept of ethical principles seems to be something they put on the back burner.

It's retarded. And frankly, I'm very frustrated. And because of this, it made me think that these people I'm dealing with in our cafe were very, very immature if not, mentally handicapped.

But nope. Such hasty and radical assumption would only drift my attention away from the fundamental problem that our admins of cafe needed to face.

I actually had a chance to meet with the troublemakers (those who flame, way, way, WAY too much for non-apparent reasons) and even a person that was permanently banned mostly due to me. Seeing how they behaved on the community, I intrinsically thought that they were going to act immature and god help us all - retarded, but SURPRISE! They couldn't be any more normal than what I had in my mind.

Maybe this god damned thing was our problem

This was truly an opportunity for me to go beyond the little morsels that were packaged to my taste.

Famous computer ethicist such as Deborah G. Johnson suggest that new circumstances caused by computers make for new questions about how ethical principles are to be applied. More specifically, are standard ethical theories such as utilitarian and Kantian truly inadequate to approach the problem I am witnessing here?

Floridi and Sanders on "On the Morality of Artificial Agents" argues that because classical moral philosophies do not accord sufficient attention or consideration to the recipient, (referred to as "patient" on the journal) the models of macroethical theories do not apply for the ethics for the computer age. Also, "biocentric" theories (moral status to biological life forms) and "ontocentric" theories need to be distinguished in order to properly assess the morality behind our subject.

Looking at it from a simplistic point of view, just as I witnessed the personalities of these "troublemakers" in real life versus in the community, the level of morality which the people are willing to keep is severely different. Perhaps it is something about our biological characteristics that we do not and cannot respond to when interacting with someone online. Seriously, if you've ever chatted online, chances are you probably didn't put much thought on the moral implication of what you were writing. So perhaps these ethicists had it right -  perhaps computer ethics is qualitatively different from any different forms of ethics.

This maybe the fundamental reason why a lot of websites imposes a guilt-free card to do whatever they want with their users. Take a look at one of the main policies of Teamliquid for instance:

You are our guests. We will make all attempts to treat everyone with due respect and to accommodate everyone's wishes as far as reasonably possible. But, this is a private site. We are not a "for profit" enterprise. We are not funded by any governments. This means we run the site the way we see fit. We are not obligated to observe anyone's notions of "free speech" or even "fairness." We try of course, and that's why we're consistently considered one of the best gaming sites on the web, and you are always free to give us suggestions (Website Feedback Forum). But, we have our limits. If we don't like you, we simply IP ban you. If we're really pissed off, then we IP ban you AND nuke every single post you've uploaded to the site - ever. It will be as if you had never existed here. This is our house. You've been warned.

I maybe making a radical assumption here, but it is probably logical to say that due to the unique nature of communication on this "internet medium", it is not only logistically infeasible to guarantee everyone's rights such as "notions of free speech" as listed above, but also fundamentally impossible to do so.

This isn't just limited to Teamliquid. Even forums ran by large corporation follow the same principle: enforcing ethical conducts to individuals on the online communities is virtually impossible. Hence, while the code of conduct written in other major sites may not explicitly give themselves a guilt-free card to do whatever they want, reading between the lines gives them the "vested power" of punishing the users in however way they may seem fit. Oh yes, you would be really surprised on what grounds they delete posts and ban their users.

Discussing whether this process is fair or unfair is moot. If we HAD to follow something like a due process for every user on the online community, there's no question that you would see a gigantic set of rules that parallels the monstrosity of EULA that I am sure none of us read when installing a new software. In other words, there's also practical considerations we need to abide by.

And that is exactly the point the ethicists were trying to make - they are pragmatic people. They knew first hand that our approach must stay as practical as possible when dealing with a uniquely manmade communication medium.

So then you may be asking, should we give our cafe the same type of weapons to exterminate these "troublemakers"? Because of my previous experience from running Clan UFW on East, my sentiments to this was and still is a no-no. But I am strongly reconsidering this mode of thought for the prosperity of our cafe.

Amongst the many computer ethicists there are many that maintains the position that computer ethics are not qualitatively different from any other forms of ethics: medical ethics and legal ethics to name a few. Even Floridi and Sanders agree that good or evil can be determined despite the absence of biologically sentiment participants. I guess from a consequentialist's point of view, there's merit in re-evaluating my mode of thought.

But my reasoning is a bit more rudimentary than what I wrote above - and probably very archaic at the same time. The things I discussed until now is solely based on logic. While there is nothing wrong with Western philosophy and adopting their ways of pragmatism, it can also easily blind us from one of the greatest virtues Asian philosophy can adopt in our life. To best understand how Asian philosophy (more specifically, Confucianism) can help us here, I will quote a paragraph from a blog that best explains what Confucianism really is:

For example, much of what the Wall Street banks were doing previous to the financial crisis was all completely legal. They hired an army of lawyers to make sure that what they were doing was legal. One can make an effort to punish them through the law somehow, but the banks' technical compliance with the law makes it nearly impossible. (As a result, not a single major corporation/financial institution is held liable under the law for anything that happened.) That's the shortcoming of the rule of law that a Confucian would point out -- people will attempt to get around it somehow, and would not feel ashamed in doing so. What if the banks had focused more on the moral consequences of their actions rather than the legal ones? This question does not even occur to the Western Democrat, who will continue to tinker with the law which will be surely overcome by the next wave of creative lawyering.
Master said:
道之以政 齊之以刑 民免而無恥
If led by the law and enforced by punishment,
people attempt to escape and do not feel ashamed.
道之以德 齊之以禮 有恥且格
If led by virtue and enforced by rituals,
people grow a sense of shame and become good.

Let's put the above example into our perspective. About a week ago, a user was banned from our cafe because he apparently uploaded a photo of what people referred to as "private parts of a baby". Then, he was rightfully told of the banning reason but he disputed the claim on the following grounds: "but it is allowed! there is no rule stating that this community cannot ban me because I've uploaded such photo!. While his dispute is technically correct as we didn't specify any rule about "not being able to upload a minor's private parts", there is no doubt that it is unethical to do so.

As we admins are logical-sane human beings, we went ahead and did the right thing of not repealing his ban but, SURPRISE AGAIN! many users wrote paragraphs of posts on our cafe about how unjust this ban was and how we were acting like "dictators intentionally harming innocent citizens". While we do make some dumb mistakes that users rightfully can call us dictators for, you'd be insane to consider this situation as a logical basis to call us that name.

I mean, really if there were only a complaint or two, I seriously wouldn't care. Maybe these people were misinformed or maybe they are.. a little bit insane and really needs to be institutionalized for the sake of our society. However, the complaints that I saw was en masse and raised some serious concerns for me about where our ethical standards were heading towards.

The reason why many communities are adopting the rule "Community-Over-All" lies on the foundation "users cannot be trusted". It doesn't have to be that way. Believe me, nearly all admins of online communities do not want to suppress you. They don't want to have to take away your freedom of speech just so they can keep themselves from danger.

So what the hell is my point? I don't know. Maybe I didn't have one to begin with. But perhaps maybe I need to give in to the evil and.. become one of them.

But I haven't made that decision yet. So I'm hoping to see some change in between but perhaps that change can only occur in a utopian society.

It doesn't take more than a child to know whether the things you are saying is good or bad.

We are doing our best to keep this community an enjoyable place for everyone to be in.

Now it's time to do your part. Ask not what the community can do for you, but what you can do for the community.

And we aren't asking much.

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