Re-visiting an old college textbook of mine, Media Ethics: Issues and Cases, I stumbled upon a piece on early Facebook. This particular chapter focuses on privacy and highlights a change Facebook made to its newsfeed in 2006. The synopsis goes like this, Facebook changed its newsfeed so that all information shared on Facebook was now broadcasted to a person’s network. Messages intended for one person were soon available to everyone in a network. People were outraged and upset and users were calling for a day without Facebook. If you remember, Facebook was only available to college students with a college email address at this time and social media wasn’t what it is now.
Oh how the times have changed! In a world where social media is how a majority of the population receives their news and keeps up with their friends and family, we now share many intimate parts of our lives with each other through technology. My feeds are currently filled with engagements, weddings, and babies. We have an ownership of the content we share and with that ownership, how often are we thinking about the harm that the media we publish can bring to another human or an endangered species? I recently saw a photo on twitter posted by Tim Bennett in Australia asking those on a tour to remove geotagging and any notation of where the photo was taken from social media in an effort to save rhinos from being poached. In a time where everything is readily available and it appears that rhino poachers are using social media to find their next kill, is it my responsibility to keep the rhinos safe?
John Stuart Mill’s direct utilitarianism focuses on the outcome of an action. As Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy states, “any object of moral assessment (e.g. action, motive, policy, or institution) should be assessed by and in proportion to the value of its consequences for the general happiness.” So what happens if I take a photo of the rhino and post it to my social media accounts with geolocation turned on? Does this act affect my happiness? Is it my duty to put the rhino’s happiness above mine? I want to show all of my friends what an awesome trip I’m on, so do I forego the fact the picture I share could lead to the death of a rhino? By posting the photo online and not removing the geolocation, I have contributed to my happiness. It makes me happy to share these moments with my Facebook friends, Twitter followers, etc. Conservationists and the rhino may not be happy, but I am. On the other hand, are there legal repercussions for sharing a photograph that leads to poaching? Do I know this when I post the photo? If there are legal ramifications, what will happen to me? Will my photography be used against me in court? If that is the case, I will not be happy.
We can always take the rhino’s side too, and determine that by not posting the photo, the rhino will have another day to live and that I did not contribute to the rhino’s death whenever it may occur.