Antinomies of Net Ethics/Research

From: Iowa Journal of Communication. 31(Spring): pp 8-20.
For Class use only!

              Jim Thomas / Northern Illinois University
                             18 May, 1999

      Cyberspace is the funhouse mirror of our own society.
      Cyberspace reflects our values and our faults,
      sometimes in terrifying exaggeration. Cyberspace is a
      mirror you can edit.  It's a mirror you can fold into
      packets and send across continents at the speed of
      light. It's a mirror you can share with other people,
      a place where you can discover community. But it is
      also a mirror in the classic sense of
      smoke-and-mirrors, a place where you might be robbed
      or cheated or deceived, a place where you can be
      promised a rainbow but given a mouthful of ashes
      (Sterling, 1993).


     What surprises me  about online research is not  that there have
been so many  egregious violations of ethical  principles,  but that
there have been so  few.   There has been no lack  of commentary on
computer ethics and Internet (Net) behavior in general (e.g., Forester
and Morrison, 1990;  Stoll, 1995) or Net research ethics in particular
(King, 1996; Waskul, 1996).  Problems have been identified, solutions
proposed,  and the gravity of and rationale for appropriate behaviors
debated in  the context of  the standards  of this or  that ethical
perspective.   Yet, debates do not subside,  and scholars and others
continue to  look for  ways to maintain  the ethical  integrity of
research and other Net activity.

     Rather than debate philosophical issues of ethics and justice and
attempt to  establish explicit unambiguous  ethical rules  from the
top-down, we first might take a step back and examine the problem from
the ground up.   In this paper,  I offer an  exploratory account of
selected issues as  seen from the trenches.   My  premise is rather
simple:   Precise ethical precepts tend to be of little help to those
immersed in  Net and  other potentially  risky research,   and who
simultaneously also may be responsible for teaching research ethics to
students and others.    I argue that we need not  invent new ethical
rules for online research.  We need only increase our awareness of and
commitment to established ethical principles.

                          ENTER THE INTERNET

     Rapid and dramatic social changes, such as those accompanying the
"computer revolution"  of the past  decade,  often  bring problems
occurring because  technology-induced social  transformations outpace
our ability to immediately understand  and adjust to the corresponding
new social situations.    This lag contributes to  a perception that
technology challenges the  seemingly-solid base of norms  and values
that provides the cultural cement for civilized behavior.  The ethical
issues arising  from the  Internet's expansion  illustrate the  gap
between comfortable boundaries of  conventional research activity and
the actions of those who would test those boundaries on the Net.

     Conventionally,  we think of researchers  as academics or other
professionals for whom academic associations  and the funding agencies
that sponsor their work develop and impose rigorous standards defining
the rights of research subjects  and the obligations that researchers
owe them.   This has changed.  Now,  anybody with access to the Net
becomes a potential researcher.   For  some professionals,  such as
social scientists,  attorneys,  or  media personnel,  Net resources
provide tools that, while more sophisticated, are functionally similar
to traditional information-gathering methods.   There are textual and
other archives, personal documents, a myriad of informants, and places
either to lurk  and observe covertly or to fully  immerse and overtly
participate.   Further,  the Net empowers  more people to engage in
research.  For  example,  laypersons tracing their  genealogy might
discover that they  can easily snoop on their  neighbors' finances or
past  criminal  record  (e.g.,
Highschool students looking  up assignments learn that  they can also
snoop their peers' files to copy the assignment or,  better,  find a
similar assignment  on the Web  (e.g.,
Professors  who,  while  recognizing the  importance of  copyright
protection of  journal articles (especially their  own),  sometimes
believe that  protections of copyright  do not apply  to electronic
media.   The result  is that we must expand the  definition of "Net
research" and  develop a more  inclusive pool  of who counts  as a
researcher in order to reach a  wider audience for whom ethical issues
become increasingly relevant.

     The importance of reaching a wider audience was illustrated a few
years ago when a study of online pornography (Rimm, 1995)  became the
cover story in  Time magazine (Elmer-Dewit,  1995).    Riddled with
ethical lapses (Thomas, 1996a),  the research passed through at least
ten levels of potential gatekeeping, including attorneys, journalists,
researchers,  and media editorial staff,   without a single question
being raised (Thomas,  1996a).   The lesson?  Discussions of ethical
issues in online research should be addressed to the general public as

     I emphasize that I am neither  an ethical zealot nor a moralist,
and there is some  irony in my continued research in  and writing on
research ethics.    Perhaps my  own lapses  in field  research and
elsewhere have sensitized me to the complexity of "right" behavior and
made me more aware of the lapses of others.   As a teacher of research
ethics in methodology classes,  I emphasize to students the importance
of reflecting on  the consequences of their  research for themselves,
their subjects, and society.   As an ethnographer who studies culture
from the participants' point of  view by participant observation,  I
study the prisoner  culture created and maintained by  "bad guys." I
also  have studied  on-line conventional  and underground  computer
culture, including hackers and software pirates.   From my background
as a would-be philosopher in graduate  school,  I retain bit from the
ethical and moral  writings we ploughed through.    However,  while
philosophical  writings are  useful for  academic conferences  and
esoteric papers,   they too often  provide too  little substantive
direction to researchers and others  in the trenches.   Distinctions
between teleological and deontological ethical  systems are not always
useful for  solving the  nitty gritty  dilemmas that  occur without
warning,  such  as whether to turn  in a hacker informant  who has
illicitly obtained  government proprietary  software or  hacked into
corporate computers.   After all, Ferrell (1997)  makes a compelling
case to justify research based  on researchers' direct involvement in
illegal activity.


     Most people, I believe, want to "do the right thing," even on the
Net.   But, while writing this paper two weeks before the deadline, I
was interrupted by  four incidents that challenged  my belief.  The
incidents suggested that,   while people may generally  prefer doing
right,  the Net may  be like bars and other social  settings where a
"time out" ethos exists,  excusing participants from many conventional
social obligations (Cavan, 1966).   The issues raised here are not so
much whether the behaviors are wrong,  but where the line lies between
right and wrong, and how the line is defended.

     In the first incident,  a persistent hacker broke into several of
our University computer systems.  The Unix  server of about 200 users
that I maintain  was among them.  There was no  evidence that users'
files were compromised or that  file systems were damaged maliciously.
Doing so,  of course,  would be an egregious violation of the "hacker
ethic" (Levy, 1984).   However, over a seven day period,  I invested
over 30 hours of increased  system monitoring and tightening security.
The two colleagues  who did the bulk of the  technical work invested
more. The incident dramatically ate into the time required for grading
student work  and meeting deadlines.   Evidence suggested  that the
intruder was participating in a popular  hacker game,  and likely saw
nothing unethical about the conduct.  To  me and my colleagues,  the
intrusion was an  unethical violation of trust  that was demonstrably
unfair to our students who needed  our time and attention.   It also
unjustly added to an already heavy and uncompensated work burden.

     In a second  incident,  students in my courses  turned in their
final papers.  Among a batch of about 40, I verified two lifted nearly
verbatim from Internet sites,  and a  half dozen more that contained
substantial "appropriated  discourse." When  confronted with  what I
considered an egregious ethical violation,  two students acknowledged
that they knew they were violating a  norm,  but neither saw it as a
significant ethical lapse.  In their  view,  they knowingly violated
university policies,  but both--each A-/B+ students,  felt that their
need to complete the assignment  under end-of-term pressures to excel
mitigated against ethical culpability.   Cruising the Net for papers,
they felt,  was  not an ethical violation,  because  they were good
students who could do superior work  on their own.  Were the students
being unethical?   Or,  were they engaging  in what Matza and Sykes
(1961)  called  "techniques of neutralization" to  recast challenged
behaviors as acceptable?

     A third incident  involved a university homepage  competition in
which the winning page would be  determined by tallying the electronic
votes of university computer users.  The intent of the competition was
to encourage the university community to browse each homepage and vote
on the merits of the  pages.  The competitions' nominees represented
individual users, small staff units,  academic departments,  and one
large student computer research laboratory.   Representatives from the
computer laboratory  staged a "vote-in"  by mobilizing  hundreds of
students who used the lab to vote  directly for the lab's page without
viewing the others.   There was heated debate  within the offending
department  over whether  this constituted  an ethical  violation.
However,  the more interesting issue was that few of the department's
faculty or lab personnel considered  that stacking the electronic vote
might raise an ethical issue.  It did not occur to those involved that
it might be unfair to web  page authors without a large constituency,
or unjust  to authors  who chose to  adhere to  the spirit  of the
competition,  to win  a competition by violating  its intent.   The
special relevance here is that  the participants,  from the homepage
author  to the  lab's director  and  the technological  committee
ultimately responsible for lab oversight,   initially saw nothing to
question about the behavior.

     The final incident involved a  senior professor respected for his
integrity and  sense of justice,   who posted an  entire copyright
protected article from a national newspaper on a university discussion
group accessible  by students and  faculty.   He included  a three
paragraph justification offering  four reasons for the  full repost.
First, the work had been published two weeks previously;  hence it was
dated.  Second, the repost was intended for "scholars" in a university
medium; hence, it was fair use. Third, the work was a small portion of
the entire newspaper; hence, it was a negligible infraction.  Fourth,
old newspapers have no value,  "fit  only for wrapping fish;" hence,
there was no commercial loss to  the paper.   Did the professor stray
over the boundary of ethical behavior?  This is a thin line.  However,
as one  who runs online discussion  groups for students,   I often
admonish them  for reposting copyright  protected articles.    As a
consequence,  while I find no reason  for ethical outrage against my
colleague,  I do find the questions raised to be of specific relevance
to the issues of Net ethics.

     Each of  these incidents arguably  subverted such  core social
values as trust  and honesty,  respect for  privacy,  principles of
fairness and  justice,  and  protection of  intellectual property.
However,  what I find most interesting  about these incidents is that
there is no consensus on whether there was an ethical violation or, if
there was,  that  it constitutes "any big deal." The  reason for the
disparity in judgment likely reflects not so much a decline of concern
with ethical  issues as it illustrates  the degree to  which ethical
precepts and appropriate social responses to  them are,  at root,  a
social construct.   As a consequence,  we cannot examine Net research
ethics independently from the larger settings in which they arise.


     To the extent that ethics are  a social construct,  all ethical
systems reflect an ideological component  that supports an underlying
cultural value system.    Ideology refers to those  shared beliefs,
attitudes, and basic assumptions about the world that justify,  shape
and organize how we perceive and interpret the world.  As a set of the
most-basic collective  assumptions and  rationalizations about  our
social world,  ideology provides the basic framework for decisions and
policies  pertaining to  social  and  political activity.   More
specifically,  ideologies  are the relatively  invisible conceptual
machineries for maintaining social order.

     Examples  of ideological  preferences include  belief in  "due
process for  all," which guides  our criminal justice  system;  "my
country right or wrong," which underlies such corresponding beliefs as
"flag  burning is  wrong" and  "it's unethical  to avoid  military
conscription;" or adherence to the principle of free enterprise, which
guides our economic system and  generates ethical criticisms of people
who advocate  political alternatives  such as  socialism.   Because
ideologies are preconscious, emotionally charged, and pervasive, their
substance tends  to be less visible  than other beliefs  and shared
tenets. Because ideologies function to preserve and justify the status
quo by reproducing basic cultural conceptions of social order,  right
and wrong, and who does (or does not)  have the right to enforce or be
protected by ethical  precepts,  the ideological basis  of research
ethics cannot be ignored.

Ethical Theories

     Each of the four incidents  above reflect competing ideologically
based value  systems that generate  ethical precepts  justifying or
proscribing the behaviors in question.    They can be examined within
the context of two standard ethical  positions.  The intent below is
neither to  defend or attack  the ethics  of those involved  in the
incidents nor  to map  out a detailed  ethical position  for making
judgments.  Rather, with acknowledged over-simplification, the goal is
to illustrate some of the  ideological influences on ethical thinking
as a way to underscore the relationship between each.

     Mapping  out the  broad brush  strokes  of competing  ethical
perspectives helps us more easily  understand the principles by which
ethical problems are identified and solutions to them sought.  It also
helps us understand  the fundamental premises of our  own and others'
positions.  Parenthetically, although many of us tend to use the terms
"ethics" and "morality" as synonyms,  they are not the same.   Ethics
refer to the  character or conscience of  a person in relation  to a
group,  and morality refers to the value system of a group in relation
to  the  individual.   Stanage (1995)   summarizes  ethics  as
person-in-culture, and morality as culture-in-person to remind us that
the two may not always coincide. Here, I maintain the distinction.
two broad  philosophical perspectives.   The  first,  deontological
positions,  is based on "rule  following" and proceeds from formally
specified precepts that guide how we ought to behave. An example would
be professional codes of ethics in the social sciences,  which codify
researchers' obligations  and responsibilities to  research subjects.
Deontological positions are further  subdivided into act-deontological
and rule-deontological.  In the former,  basic judgments of value are
particularistic or situational, drawing on shared principles of,  for
example, "justice" to establish the proper course of action in a given
situation.  In the latter, behavior is guided by concrete,  universal
rules, such as "thou shalt not lie."

     Second is the teleological perspective, associated with,  but not
exclusive to, utilitarianism.  Teleological perspectives operate from
the premise that ethical behavior is determined by the consequences of
an act.   The goal or end of an act should be weighed with a calculus
that, on balance, will result in the greatest social good or the least
social harm.  Utilitarianism,  the most  common form of teleological
theories, is also divided into two variants:   Act-utilitarianism and
rule-utilitarianism. Act-utilitarianism holds that correct actions are
contingent on the particular nature of the situation,  and the guiding
principle is the  degree to which the specific act  will maximize the
greatest balance of good.  Rule-utilitarianism emphasizes the primacy
of general rules  of conduct,  but these rules are  derived from the
principle of the greatest universal utility.

     Ethical egoism,  a  variant of utilitarianism,  holds  that an
individual's primary obligation is to  self-interest,  and that even
when making second or third  person judgments,  the guiding criteria
remain those of personal self-interest (Frankena, 1963).

The Ethics of Hacking

     In the first incident,  a  tension exists between the professed
hacker philosophy of freedom of exploration and system administrators'
goal of protecting the integrity of  the system for users.   Hacking
behavior  has been  justified as  ethical  by defining  it as  a
knowledge-producing activity that confers upon "intruding researchers"
the right to explore systems to see  how things work.  A corollary to
this view is  that hackers actually enhance Net  ethics by ultimately
requiring tighter security to protect users.   A second rationale for
hacking is the adage that "information  wants to be free." Hackers are
a  type of  freedom fighter  intent on  liberating knowledge  and
preventing it  from becoming  monopolized by  potentially malevolent
corporate or governmental forces.  Hacking  is justified by a narrow
utilitarian rationale that takes two forms.   The first derives from a
primitive act utilitarian  view in which the  exploration underlying
computer intrusion, as a type of research, contributes to the stock of
public knowledge (e.g., 2600 Magazine;  any "hacker" homepage).  In a
less noble and more primitive variant,   hacking is simply a form of
Nietzschean ethical egoism in which  individuals pursue the course of
action most likely  to fulfill individual self-interests,   such as
Maslow's concept  of self-actualization  and knowledge  enhancement.
Both views can be justified by an  appeal to a social context in which
hacking, on balance, provides greater long-term good than harm.

     For system administrators,  on the  other hand,  hackers are a
malevolent force  whose behaviors unfairly  sap their  limited time,
fiscal,  and other resources.  System administrators are charged with
assuring the users' private files are secure. Even if intruders do not
target private files, once the potential for compromise exists,  user
trust in  the integrity  of the  system dissolves.   Opposition to
intrusions and other disruptions can be based either on utilitarian or
deontological theories. For utilitarians, uninvited explorations cause
short term harm by draining system and personnel resources, and result
in long term  harm by subverting user trust.  Worse,   they lead to
decreased system openness by restricting  users' rights and privileges
in the name of security.  An  alternative rationale by which hacking
would  be judged  unethical  is  based on  a  rule-deontological
perspective.  This view, Kantian in nature,  establishes as a type of
categorical  imperative a  principle that  would be  held by  any
reasonable person similarly situated:    Intrusions are a fundamental
violation regardless of context or perceived utility.


     Using the incident of the  professor's copyright transgression as
a second example,   both defense of and opposition  to reposting the
intellectual property of another can  be made on utilitarian grounds.
For the professor, the context of the situation and motive for the act
trumped the laws protecting intellectual property. As with the hackers
who publicly  distribute information  about the  security holes  of
computer systems  or make available  proprietary information  in the
belief that "knowledge wants to be free," the professor, too,  argued
that the utilitarian ends (contributions to knowledge)  outweighed the
normative and  legal prohibitions  protecting others'  intellectual

     Conversely,  utilitarianism also provides  two reasons why,  on
balance, reposting causes more harm than good.   First, reposting may
reduce the commercial  or other value of the  work.   Second,  the
professor's action,  on balance,  subverts principles of fairness and
long-range respect for ethical Net  behavior by symbolizing the wrong
ethical message to students and others.

     Although cursory,  this overview should nonetheless be sufficient
to illustrate that the behaviors themselves do not necessarily reflect
an inattention to ethics.  It also suggests that,  at root,  ethical
arguments tend  to be used to  provide an account for  justifying a
preferred ideological perspective rather than  an attempt to determine
a universalistic guide to "what's right."


     One dominant  theme of existential  literature centers  on the
delicate balance required when navigating between the Charybdis of our
behavioral demons  and the  Scylla of  ethical,  normative,   and
institutional obligations.   Typified by Camus's Sisyphus (1955)  and
his view that the human condition is necessarily an indelicate balance
between uncertain alternatives, or Michel,  Gide's (1958)  immoralist
who rebels against conventional norms of appropriate conduct,  we are
reminded of the  often irreconcilable choices when  weighing what we
prefer to do against what we ought to do.   The lesson, of course, is
that rigid  adherence to scripted ethical  or moral precepts  may be
neither a virtue nor a beneficence.

     Those of us involved in the type  of research that may skirt the
edge of ethical propriety often come  away with muddy shoes resulting
from unsuccessful  balancing attempts.    When this  happens,  two
consequences ideally follow.  First,  it provides the opportunity to
constantly reassess the relationship between the goals of research and
the means of gathering and processing data.  Second, it reinforces the
need to constantly raise ethical issues with colleagues, students, the
media, and the general public.  But, we ought also take care to avoid
self-righteousness by  presuming that ethical standards  are absolute
and can be  applied to every situation.  Several  caveats arise when
discussing  implementation of  research ethics  through policy  or

     First,  reification of ethical principles  tends to do more harm
than good.  Reification gives primacy to rules, which relegates their
context  to secondary  status.   Even  if  consensus on  ethical
prescriptions and proscriptions could be attained,  elevating absolute
principles to  some standard of  immutable "realness"  risks several
consequences that, ironically,  could subvert ethical awareness in at
least two  ways.  Not  only could research  become subject  to the
religiosity of puritanical gatekeepers,  but excessive control invites
existential rebellion (Milovanovic and Thomas, 1989).

     Second,  we should remember that  ethics are distinct from other
forms of socially preferred behavioral guidelines.  Conflating ethical
principles with legislation, institutional policies, or basic courtesy
norms as if the same obligations were  owed each dilutes the power of
ethical principles by  making "thou shalt nots"  equivalent to "don't
wear grunge  to the  opera." This  result is  a weakening  of the
foundation of  fundamental standards  for all  behavioral standards,
including computer-centered research.

     Third,  there is a danger of confusing ideological predilections
with ethical predications.   It is  helpful to remember that,  while
most of us agree that we ought  not do that which is ethically wrong,
we often disagree on what counts  as "ethically right." The principles
by  which we  assess value  judgments are  normative and  socially
contingent, and rarely as clearly defined as they seem.  We can agree
that it is wrong to take a life  without cause,  but we may not agree
that it is also wrong to copy  a commercial software program or never
to observe research subjects without permission.   Often enough,  our
views of personal privacy,  our definitions of public/private spaces,
and our conception of social or personal harm are based not so much on
ethical  principles as  on ideological,   or even  idiosyncratic,

     Fourth,  it is useful to distinguish between "pseudo ethics" and
legitimate ethical  imperatives.  An ethical imperative  is,  very
broadly, an "ought statement" (distinguished from convention and value
judgments) that, if not followed,  would cause demonstrable harm.   A
"pseudo-ethic" is  a behavioral dictate mandated  by the norms  of a
particular group that,  if not followed,  potentially challenges the
interests of  that group.   Many  of our institutional  policies on
research ethics derive from the latter.   Organizational self-interest
and liability concerns become translated into ethical discourse,  and
the  ethical discourse  becomes translated  into  the rhetoric  of
self-interest based policy formulation, legislation and enforcement.

     Does this all mean that ethical  decisions are relative and that
discussions of research ethics are of  little use?  Not at all.   My
intent has been to suggest the complexity  of Net behaviors as well as
to illustrate some of the ambiguities underlying any set of definitive
rules.  I have always followed two broad principles in my own research
(Thomas, 1996b,  Thomas and Marquart 1988):  First,  always protect
informants.  This precept includes keeping promises and never putting
them at risk.   Second,  always protect the  integrity of research
inquiry. Although this precept is complex in the abstract, in practice
it simply means  that,  if the researcher  cannot protect informants
without sacrificing scientific principles, then stop the project.

     There are  two broad  courses we  can pursue  in implementing
research ethics.  The first,  a rather Sartrean approach in which we
identify explicit ethical  rules and commit ourselves  completely to
their realization  and accept  responsibility for  the consequences,
seems a  bit dogmatic.  At best,   it entails little  latitude for
discretion,  and offers too little recognition  of the world of greys
that blur most black and white images.

     For those who prefer Camus (1956),   a second course seems more
beneficial,  or certainly more viable.  In this view we recognize the
ambiguity of social situations in which  most value decisions are made
and commit ourselves not to rules,  but to broad principles of justice
and beneficence.  While  this view makes establishing  formal rules
impractical, if not impossible,  it does allow an act-utilitarian and
somewhat pragmatic set  of guidelines to steer us  through the murky
situations we often encounter.

     The policy  implications for  this latter view  do not  lie in
establishing  more stringent  policies for  human subjects  review
committees or in creating and enforcing new rules.  Instead, we could
adopt a number of strategies, including the following.

     First,  educational  institutions at  all levels  could expand
discussions of ethics across  the curriculum.  Second,  professional
organizations  should build  ethics  sessions  into their  annual
conferences.  Third,  journal editors  should assure that editorial
boards and peer reviewers are attuned  to the subtle ways that ethical
issues creep into  research,  and publish periodic  special journal
issues on ethics.  Fourth,  professional associations should increase
the visibility of  ethical issues by systematically  and aggressively
sharing with media,   politicians and others the  results of ethical
deliberations and critiques, as well as by monitoring governmental and
media lapses in reporting or using research.   Fifth,  professionals
should more rigorously police themselves,  not by punitive responses,
but by open challenge and remedial debate when perceived lapses occur.
Finally,  we  must recognize  that Net  research ethics  cannot be
separated from broader social milieu.  Hence, we should take a global,
rather than parochial, view of the problems.


     Once,  when invited  to participate in a  forum addressing the
presumptively  new challenges  of Internet  technology to  ethical
precepts,  I recalled an exercise many of us experienced as children.
We are first asked to look around  the room and silently identify and
remember as many blue items as we can.   Next,  we are asked to close
our eyes tightly. No peeking! Then, with our eyes still closed, we are
asked to name anything we recall that  was colored red.   Most of us
either could  not identify a red  object,  or named one  only after
considerable cognitive and mnemonic strain.   The exercise illustrated
the manner in  which perception,  cognition,  and  memory are often
pre-patterned by assumptions, suggestions,  and preformed conceptions
that channel our gaze and corresponding responses in narrow directions
that cloud our perceptions, understandings, and actions.

     The fundamental ethical questions posed by new technology are not
new.   Basic beliefs in the precept that it is better to do good than
ill do not  change.  What changes is that  the relationship between
behaviors and the ethical conceptions by which we judge them shift and
become ambiguous,  vague,  and perceived  through a sometimes foggy
prism.   The problem for those involved in Net activity, then, is not
one of deriving  new ethical principles or (for  the Kantians amongst
us)  revising or identifying new  categorical imperatives.  Our task
instead is one of understanding the  social bases of the relationship
between  technology and  conflicts over  the  meaning of  familiar
concepts,  and how changes in one  affect the images and language by
which we define and act upon the other.

     If required to sum the above in a paragraph,  my points would be
these:  First, we ought not assume that all researcher peccadillos are
ethical transgressions.   Accidents, errors in judgment, or misreading
of a situation may account for seeming lapses. A safe adage is, "Never
attribute malice to that for which stupidity will suffice."

     Second,   we ought  not  assume  that formal  responses  to
transgressions,  especially those that are punitive,  are necessarily
appropriate or ethical responses.  We must more carefully debate what
it is we are trying to control  and more carefully devise a concerted
social response.

     Third,  We ought take special care when considering what we want
policies to  prescribe in  the new electronic  age,  and  we ought
recognize  the   reciprocal  relationship   between  individual
responsibility and  the legal and  organizational power  utilized to
enforce it.

     Fourth,  we should remember that we  are living during a time of
dramatic social  changes.  Although fundamental  ethical principals
remain reasonably constant,  the context in which we apply them shifts
ambiguously.  Rather than resort  to comfortable,  but inapplicable,
standards,  we  ought more aggressively  confront the  shifting new
contexts in which we are required  to act and more aggressively debate
these issues as a society.   It seems unwise to relinquish the terrain
of discourse primarily to those with  a vested interest in maintaining
their preferred (but limited) view of ethical boundaries.

     Fifth, as participatory researchers remind us, our view of ethics
may reflect the class,  race,  or ethnocentric biases of white middle
class males.  This is, of course, not necessarily bad.  But, it does
mean that we ought not take our value preferences as universal.

     Finally,  we ought remember that the ethics of cyberspace do not
begin in cyberspace.   They begin--among  other places--in the homes,
the classrooms,  the workplace,  boardrooms,  legislatures,  and on

     Like the Golding  novel Lord of the Flies,  too  many areas of
cyberspace are left to intellectually, emotionally,  and existentially
immature colonizers (of all ages)  who discover freedom without having
developed a  corresponding sense  of responsibility.   Issues such
privacy,  sexual harassment,  racism,  or courtesy are,  for some,
esoteric irrelevancies.   I do not think that the ethical standards f
social scientists are weakening.  Nor do I see ethical depravity among
Net or other researchers.  What I do see is ignorance and unreflective
pursuit of egocentric goals, often without corresponding consideration
of the ethics underlying the means toward those goals.  As a society,
we need a more systematic and  unifying system of integrating--at the
societal level--our ethical expectations  within the rapidly changing
technology that clouds the current system.


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____.  1956.  The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt.  New York: Vintage

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Animations Downloaded  8.5 Million Times  by Consumers in  Over 2000
Cities  in and  Territories." Georgetown  Law Journal,   83(1995):

Milovanovic, Dragan and Jim Thomas.   1989.   "Overcoming the Absurd:
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_____.  1996b.  "Introduction:  A Debate  about the Ethics of Fair
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