Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Ethical aspects of computer mediated communication

Yve Dougall gave an entertaining and informative talk on "The ethical aspects of computer mediated communication" at the ACS Canberra Branch this evening. She is undertaking postgraduate research in ethics and information technology at the Centre of Applied Philosophy and Applied Ethics (CAPPE) at ANU.

Yve started by relating Kant and Plato's Cave to the use of Facebook. She pointed out that research shows there are characteristic linguistic patterns used online which can be used to detect deception. Deception induces similar responses in the brain as being in a position of power over others. Yve pointed out that that there are only three centres of excellence in this field in the world: Department of Communicators, Cornell, Open University of Israel, and Delft University of Technology.

Yve claimed that the level of deception is related to the medium of communication: the faster the communication, the higher the rate of deception. Email is less subject to deception, perhaps because it is more likely that the messages will be used as evidence. However, even in the case of email, evasiveness may be used.

It occurs to me that this research could have practical application. Techniques could be used for business, government and education to encourage people to be more honest in correspondence, applying for funding or doing tests. This could be done by making the system seem less immediate and make it very clear that all documents are recorded. It might also be useful to make the system appear personal, for example by having a photo and name staff member which the client is communicating with.

One curious finding Yve reported was that online dating sites have low rates of deception. Also gender is not correlated with honesty online, although men and women have different views as to what is dishonesty.

Another aspect is that if the online user trusts the other party, they will reveal more information than they would do in person. This might be useful, for example, for patients to be more honest with their doctors.

In response to a question Yve Dougall described "Second Life" as "The After Life", being a failing system, with Facebook now taking over as the hot online place to be.

The ethical aspects of computer mediated communication

Exploring the interplay between deception and identity on: social networking sites (SNS); text (SMS) and email.

The ability to control what information one reveals about oneself over the Internet and to control that can access this information, only becomes an ethical issue when there is a causal concern for Internet privacy. Internet users may achieve an adequate level of privacy through controlled disclosure of both personal and factual information about themselves. The technological configuration underlying the Internet has a considerable bearing on its ethical aspects. The Internet blurs the boundaries between self and game, self and role, self and simulation, self and communication. Participants are whatever they can pretend to be. They enjoy the artificial social construct on social networking sites or the manipulated fa├žade of virtual worlds, without questioning where it comes from, who created it, or for what purpose. The popular culture that appropriates everything and turns it into a simulation and a story line becomes the model for the self, society and reality. Life becomes a symbolic arena for the acting out of manufactured identity selves that is then communicated in a contained and controlled storyline through selected ‘friends’.

The goal of this presentation is to inform and dispel myths with academic factual research on how prevalent online identity deception actually is and to examine the effects of and the conditions that give rise to it.

Biography: Yve Dougall

Analyst of ACS, based in Canberra. Prior to joining ACS nearly two years ago, she was working with the Office of Transport Security, heading the Aviation Security Technologies Team.

She initially studied Engineering back in the early eighties and was the first female civil engineer to be awarded a cadetship by then Telecom Australia. After working in Building Design Standards, for four years - she shifted gears and decided to embark on journalism. She was based with Reuters in Hong Kong as a war & foreign correspondent, returning to Australia in the late eighties to work for SBS.

A return to fulltime study followed with a major in Philosophy, where upon graduating she moved to Canberra with her husband in 1994.

She has held diverse Government contracts over the years specializing in addressing ICT Business Cases within the Federal Sector, her areas of expertise are in change management, project management, policy to program service delivery and stakeholder engagement. Other contracts have included Minter Ellison and Engineers Australia.

She is currently undertaking postgraduate research in ethics and information technology at the Centre of Applied Philosophy and Applied Ethics at ANU.

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