Week 5 Blog Reflection: Charlottesville and Recent Ethical & Legal Issues in Digital Media

We opened up week 5’s Intro to Digital Media Communications class discussing how we kept up with the events in Charlottesville over the weekend. It wasn’t meant to spark political debate, but rather to get a gauge of how people first found out about the events and how often they had kept up.

As with seemingly everything I do nowadays, I first heard about the story on Twitter. While scrolling through my hundreds of basketball and pop culture tweets, I began seeing a trickling of images that seemed to be from years past. Once I realized the images were essentially live, and occurring on the campus of UVA I became pretty interested. Besides the despicable images, having gone to William and Mary for undergrad, I am decently familiar with UVA and Charlottesville. Also, living in New Orleans, I had another perspective around the rallying point of that group.

New Orleans recently removed 4 prominent confederate statues, and while in retrospect the process went pretty well, at the time it seemed like mayhem. Images on local websites and social media showed private contractors moving the statues at night, while wearing helmets, masks, and bulletproof vests. Heck, even the owner of the initial company pegged to do the moving had his Lamborghini burned in Baton Rouge. New Orleans saw some individuals with Nazi and white supremacist regalia, but certainly not to the magnitude of Charlottesville.

All of this is to say, that I followed very closely the proceedings. Saturday morning and afternoon, I mostly followed the happenings on Facebook Live and Snapchat’s Snap Map feature (more to come on that). The way in which news is shared, and the speed at which it is shared has become astounding, and I believe one of the biggest benefits of digital media.

Once we finished that discussion, we moved on to one of our assignments for the week, the “Internet Regulation Snapshot.” For the assignment, we were tasked with finding a recent article that discusses something related to legal or ethical cases surrounding digital communications, and make some notes for discussion.

Topics that students brought ranged from privacy (mostly) to issues with the appropriateness of footage streaming on Facebook live, to the targeting of advertisements. Specifically to targeting, an ethical issue brought up was anti-abortion organizations that use online advertising to target and show their ads to people within a 5 min drive of an abortion clinic. Working in a digital marketing agency this was particular interesting to me, because so much of the setup for paid advertising is determining your demographic and its location. We discussed whether guidelines should be put in place to protect individuals from ads similar to this. The professor mentioned a similar example, of how polling places don’t allow campaigning within a certain distance, sometimes 100 feet.

The ethical issue I brought to class was the rise in location sharing applications. Specifically, I looked at Snapchat’s Snap Map. Essentially, it is an opt-in ability within SnapChat to share your location with your SnapChat friends whenever you open the app. You can choose specifically who can see your location, or go into “Ghost Mode,” keeping your location private. It also allows you to find hot spots where a lot of activity is being recorded and watch videos of what has taken place there in the last 24 hours.

I actually like the feature, and have come to use it quite frequently, namely for Charlottesville, as well as the flooding in New Orleans from two weekends ago. There are two ethical issues that struck me and were mentioned in the story.

Firstly, this is an app used primarily by young adults, high schoolers, middle schoolers, and maybe younger childeren. This group tends to be less restrictive in its social media habits, and the app could be putting children unknowingly in dangerous situations. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a schoolchild shares his or her location with all their SnapChat “friends” and is as a result a target for stalking, home robbery, or violence.

The other thing mentioned in the article is its effect on counterterrorism. The hot spots or heat map section essentially shows you where people are gathering in large crowds in real-time. It’s one thing to defend against an attack at a place where you know a large group of people will be (think sporting event or concert), but it’s another when areas that suddenly become over populated are displayed for anyone with a smartphone to see.

With Apple rolling out its location sharing in the last year or so, and SnapChat adding this feature, it does appear that our future is headed towards more and more location sharing between people and corporation. Will the government be forced to regulate it?

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