The digital world or "cyber world" is a real world. Just as we have ethics, values, and principles that guide our behavior in the real life, likewise our behavior in the online world needs to be guarded by virtues and values. Let’s get to know more about Digital Ethics.

  • Digital ethics consist of a the set of moral principles, virtues and values that govern what is considered acceptable behavior in the digital world.
  • While it is true that different cultures tend to embrace different sets of values and that the digital world is an increasingly globalized world, there are still universal virtues such as self-respect, respecting others, integrity, honesty, empathy, kindness, tolerance and acceptance of diverse cultures, etc. that are essential for the maintenance of a positive, productive digital environment.
  • It is the independent responsibility of every digital citizen to own, embrace, and act ethically in the digital world, and of course, in the real world. 
  • Just as there are universal virtues to govern acceptable moral behavior in our ‘real life’, so too digital ethics govern acceptable moral behavior in the digital world.
  • Digital ethics are an integral component of being a positive digital citizen, who contributes to a positive online social environment.
  • In short, digital ethics can be summarized by the ultimate golden rule: let’s treat others the way we would want to be treated.

The digital world is the real world

  • Often users tend to observe a different set of behaviors between the digital and real world.
  • To understand digital ethics, it is essential to recognize that the Internet is an extension of society.
  • The internet isn’t a new world in which anything is acceptable, but rather, a new dimension of the world around us.
  • It is critical to understand that more and more, any behavior that is deemed unethical or can lead to an arrest or a crime in the real world can be dealt with the same way in the virtual world.
  • Therefore, as ethical digital citizens, we must apply the same standards online as we do in public.
  • This means that the values our existing society has in place remain intact. 
  • Values around courtesy, kindness, openness, and treating others with the same respect we wish to receive should also be adhered to.
  • In addition, we must refuse to empower abuse and harassment while online. We must understand and accept that the laws which are currently in place apply online and that where needed, laws are updated to reflect these rights in the extended environment. 
  • Again, theft, harassment, and bullying while online is still theft, harassment, and bullying.

We need digital ethics to contribute to positive digital citizenship, and to protect our digital footprint. 

  • By nature, we should all strive to apply “netiquette” or digital ethics, and be a good digital citizen.
  • Why should we protect and preserve our ethics in the digital world…?
  • Without digital ethics, we would be compromising our image and tarnishing our digital footprint.
  • With a damaged digital footprint, we would lose trust and respect of other users, impacting our education, work, and even business opportunities.
  • Therefore, it is essential to abide by reasonable ethics in the digital world.

A few examples on how to embody ethics in the digital world:

Maintain honesty and integrity:

  • losing honesty will automatically cause us to lose other users’ trust.
  • Impersonating (or pretending to be someone else) through a ‘fake identity’ would be an unethical counter-example to honesty and integrity.

Respect privacy and confidentiality:

  • It is crucial to ask for others’ consent when sharing personal details about them online, including personal images and information.
  • Always ask for permission prior to using other users’ original content. 
  • Remember that copying other people’s intellectual content and posting or sharing it as your own is equivalent to stealing in the ‘real’ world.
  • Refer to the Digital Footprint and Digital Citizenship sections for more examples on how to promote ethical digital behavior.

How can we handle unethical behavior in the digital world?

Most internet users automatically and naturally apply the same responsible respectful behavior online as they do in every other environment. 

  • The minority that fails to apply societal values in some or any environment- including the Internet- should be quickly identified as exceptions to be dealt with on a social, or criminal level.
  • Make sure to report unethical behavior through the respective platforms.
    • There are ways to report unethical behavior such as inappropriate content, hate speech and impersonation on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, usually through the “flag” or “report” icons.
  • It is advisable to manage and clean up one’s Digital Footprint regularly to remove any unethical content that may have been posted by oneself, or by others.
    • Refer to the Digital Footprint and Digital Citizenship sections for more examples on how to clean up Digital Footprint