The Ethics of Online Communication

Towards a new digital ethics

We are increasingly becoming aware of the dangers that digital technologies pose to us. Yet, the usual focus of legislators on the potential harms that online communications can cause is misguiding. What we should be focussing on is the wrongness of particular actions, rather than their potential consequences, which can be harmful in some contexts but completely harmless in others, argues Onora O'Neill.

 

A standard approach to uses of digital technologies aims to prohibit those that harm others, and to allow those that do not.  However, it is not always possible to identify which uses harm and which do not. In the early days of digital technologies, many hoped that they would prove highly beneficial—for example, by supporting the spread of information and democracy. Today there are widespread worries about the harms they can create. In the US, concern about their possible (mis)use to influence electoral outcomes illustrates the point. And in the UK, the <

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