Monday, May 24, 2010

Images of Dead Children, the Internet & Values Myopia

"In a free society any free person should be able to choose what site they want to visit or not. If they do not like what they see they just close the screen and go on with their life. Who wants a Big Brother to tell them what to see or not to see?"

JohannaXn (screen name) owner of a gore website being interviewed by Channel 9

This week has seen at at least two issues hit the media in Australia regarding privacy, confidentiality and freedom of speech; Google's gathering of personal data with its 'street view' cars and the online publishing of a murdered Australian child by a gore website.
As a social liberal the latter incident concerns me. It concerns me because JohannaXn uses social liberal values to justify what I would regard as unethical. It concerns me because people like JohannaXn seem to use very important values such as free speech as though they can be applied without consideration of context, without respect for the rights of others and as though they are an ultimate good. The internet provides many huge benefits in relation to freedom of speech, especially for those living under oppressive states, but there is a downside and it seems to be a problem similar to the problem created by large organisations and corporations; while they allow us to achieve very positive things, they also have the potential to create an environment where accountability and responsibility can be lost and in turn allow unethical actions to go unchallenged.
My position is this, freedom of speech is not a blank cheque, it is not an ultimate freedom which trumps all other moral considerations and the rights of others. We have to anchor our ethical mores in a societal and cultural context and also consider the purpose of a particular value.
Freedom of speech does not offer carte blanche and moral absolution in all instances; child pornography cannot be tolerated on the basis that it is a freedom of speech issue, you cannot yell 'fire' in a crowded cinema when there is not one, and having freedom of speech does not mean you cannot be held accountable for your actions.
To me some very important moral considerations are being buried by JohannaXn, privacy being one- privacy for both the people whose images she trades in and their families and friends. If one wishes to claim some journalistic intent as JohannaXn has then she also needs to show how the public display of murdered children is in the realm of the public's 'right to know'. I think there needs to be a high standard of proof for this given the nature of the images and given that once they are released it cannot be reversed.
The issue of confidentiality is another moral concern here. JohannaXn claims access to images that may not be in the public domain, which means that someone involved with processing such cases is breaching not only their duties to the public if they hold public office but also to the victims and their families and friends. Respect for the cultural and personal values of those whose image is used does not appear to be a consideration.
And all of this is being done by someone who will not even tell the world her real identity, yet seems to want to claim some moral high ground.
As such I think in all moral deliberation, but particularly in arenas such as organisations and the internet where there is a potential for greater harm and weaker notions of personal accountability and responsibility, we must be wary of having values myopia.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder how sincere this person's values myopia is anyway... or whether "free speech" is just being used as a bargaining chip here.