Everyday Ethics

Everyday Ethics


Coding Ethics…

posted by Joan Ball

Internet activist and New York Times bestselling author of The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Eli Pariser is concerned that information gatekeepers of the past (i.e. editors/reporters) have been replaced by algorithms that individually tailor information based upon a host of variables that are being collected from you with or without your express knowledge or permission. The upshot is, you and your neighbor can complete a Google search on the same term at the same moment in time and receive completely different results that may or may not point to the news that is most important. In fact, given the nature of the algorithms, it is more likely that we will receive the news we want (safe, fun, comfortable) rather than the news we need (challenging, uncomfortable). What are the implications of such information pruning if the foundation of a free society is access to accurate information? Do you think most people know that editorial “middle man” of the 20th century has been replaced by an algorithm?

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Cat Huss

posted January 27, 2012 at 10:38 am


Joan,
You make an excellent point in referencing the new search algorithms in terms of being middlemen, and as I read your blog I couldn’t help but contemplate a similar situation in television news journalism. The truth is, we think we have a free press, and perhaps law makes it free but it is not free of the influence of powerful advertising money. Each news network seems to now reflect the advertising company’s point of view and what their prospective client wants to see instead less biased versions of the real news. In the end, the content of both the search engine and the news networks is consumer driven. The ethical question here is: Where is the power? Is the power and influence in the hands of the consumer? Or is it in the hands of the advertisers and algorithms? To know the answer to this, we must ask ourselves; do we want the truth or not? In the Handbook of Communication Ethics, authors Cheney, May, and Munshi (2011) state that “truth, or what counts as truth, has profound ethical implications that must be closely examined and challenged” (p.94). In the same book, Michael Hyde’s essay on Ethics, Rhetoric, and Discourse enlightens us on the answer to the questions posed here. As human beings we are constantly faced with an “awesome uncertainty” and in the face of this is our “ call to conscience”. “We are called to think, act, and construct dwelling places where moral consciousness can be cultivated. It is a heroic thing for us to do: create those habitats or openings where collaborative deliberation, moral consciousness, and civility become possible and where a life-giving gift can be shared with others” (p.42). I propose that instead of calling for more regulation, those of us who oppose the search engine algorithms and advertising power should look to ourselves as a new consumer who consumes, thinks, and acts with moral responsibility, remaining open to, and driving content and searches through ethical character. You and many others are part of this process by spreading the word here. Thanks for bringing to light a reality that many have overlooked.
Cheney, G., May, S. & Munshi, D. (Eds.) (2010). The handbook of communication
ethics. New York: Routledge. (HCE)

Cat Huss
Graduate Student in Communication
Drury University



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