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Cyber Ethics Education is a Must in Today's Environment

Principles of Cyber Ethics Education

Today young people learn all too often that ethics is relative to who they are, what they believe, and their personal situation. Long gone are the days when well-established societal ethical values are taught: honesty, integrity, respect, responsibility, and civic virtue to name a few. Given the very early and impressionable age young people begin to go online, the influence of their peers, and the lack of standards such as a code of cyber ethics, young people come to believe that anything goes on the Internet. They treat others who may be the target of their postings as anonymous individuals – they are faceless people and that de-sensitizes the process.

Everyone knows someone who has committed a cybercrime. Perhaps you downloaded a song you shouldn't have, used someone else’s research to meet a classroom assignment, copied software without proper licensing and approval, or engaged in a socially repugnant act such as cyber-bullying. Students use the Internet to engage in inappropriate activities every day. The educational and ethics questions that must be asked are: Are our schools filled with budding cyber criminals unaware of the consequences of their online activities? Should educators scramble to institute a formal cyber ethics curriculum? Or should schools ban the use of the Internet?

The Computer Ethics Institute identifies “Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics.”

1.      Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.

2.      Thou Shalt Not Interfere With Other People’s Computer Work.

3.      Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's files.

4.      Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.

5.      Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.

6.      Thou shalt not copy or use proprietary software for which you have not paid.

7.      Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without authorization or proper compensation.

8.      Thou shalt not appropriate other people's intellectual output.

9.      Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you write or the system you design.

10.  Thou shalt use a computer in ways that show consideration of and respect for your fellow humans.

These are valuable standards but I prefer a set of aspirational statements or ideals that emphasize responsibilities rather than the define ‘thou shalt nots.’ Here is a basic Cyber Ethics Credo.

1.      You have a responsibility to others who create original material and post it online to respect their intellectual property rights and not violate copyright laws.

2.      You have a responsibility to post material through the use of social media and online videos in a way that does no harm to others.

3.      You have a responsibility to contribute to the learning environment created by online discussion and debate and foster civic virtue.

For teachers, it is important to set the tone earlier on and establish a culture of proper use in the classroom. I believe the middle school is the ideal place to focus on cyber ethics because that is where kids begin to develop their awareness of ethical behavior and are mature enough to translate learned values to responsible use of technology. A positive set of standards can be used to teach ethics in other areas of the curriculum and provides an opportunity to point out to students there are societal norms that civilized and responsible people are expected to follow. Teachers should explain how the Internet is used in classroom learning. And students should be asked to sign a pledge to adhere to standards of behavior. One place to look for help is the Pledge for Online Video Responsibility.

Resources are available to help. The Justice Department and the Information Technology Association of America, a trade group, has launched the Cybercitizen Partnership to encourage educators and parents to talk to children in ways that equate computer crimes with old-fashioned improper behavior. Students should be taught about computer law, software piracy, and online cheating. For example, they need to realize that when copying someone’s product they are cheating the other party out of hard earned rewards of individual initiative Students must be taught to place themselves in the position of the harmed individual and ask: “Is this the way I would want to be treated had I developed a product or someone targeted me with their postings?” In other words it’s just a modern version of timeless ethical issues that can be discussed in the context of The Golden Rule.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 29, 2011