Some folks from Harvard did a study about teens and their online ethics, and shared some results at Mashable’s Social Good Summit.

The video is below, it’s 11 minutes long and I suggest starting at 2:30. I was skeptical at first, thinking: of course students aren’t ethical online! What about adults, are they ethical? Why is action needed here and not somewhere else? Why not take action against kids who cheat in school…or some other moral problem facing teenagers…anyhow, I watched the presentation, and here are a few thoughts:

Carrie James, a research director at Harvard, listed five key areas: identity, privacy, ownership/authorship, credibility, and participation.

Listening to a speech on ethics divorced from a belief in God and the authority of scripture is problematic, as there is no such thing as universal ethics (sure, CS Lewis disagrees with me, but what does he know!) (a lot more than I do…). Anyhow, after listing several “safe” unethical actions, she includes a “grey area” and quickly follows up with “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” (4:09).

What’s right? What’s wrong? And by what authority are you defining these? Those are my questions… but here are the questions that guided this study:

What are youth’s dominate ways of thinking about new media?
Where/when/in what kinds of online situations do you think ethically?
How do they act?

5:37 has an interesting quote by a student…although I doubt the selfishness would surprise you.

She paints a bleak picture, but I don’t think it’s any different from a teen’s non-online life. According to the study: for the most part, teen’s think ethically in terms of what a decision means for them, and them alone. Some teens think ethically in terms of what a decision means for their circle of friends. Very few are able to think (or make decisions) in a larger context beyond their immediate circle.

By the way, she does cite an authority: the advice given to spiderman, “with great powers come great responsibilities.” (seriously, this is from Harvard)

Safe and ambiguous, open to personal interpretation and manipulation….allowing for a masquerade of comfort.

Forward to 11:25 for her solutions…not bad ideas, but lacking power for real change.

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