Ethical aspects relating to cyberspace


Active research on virtual communication has been conducted relatively recently – since the early 1990s – and is becoming increasingly intense. The growing interest of representatives from different humanitarian subjects (philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, culturologists, linguists) in this topic is explained not so much by the unprecedented dynamics of the development of the subject matter of research, but rather by the fundamental role that communication plays in the 2000s.

The current telecommunication technologies and, first of all, the global IT network Internet and the related cyberspace, are one of the most important factors in the development of the world community, as it has a decisive impact on the public, political, economic and socio-cultural spheres. There is therefore a clear need for a comprehensive philosophical understanding of the consequences of global computerisation and today’s society, which makes it possible to synthesise the varied data of applied sciences.

Since virtual communication is a relatively new cultural phenomenon, no comprehensible, distinct and effective system of moral regulation has yet emerged in this area. Furthermore, virtual communication has such characteristics that it can be regarded as the embodiment of a libertarian, even anarchist or apparently anarchist ideal, so that third parties are allowed to express themselves in order to control those who do so on the part of the establishment.

Virtual communication offers people unprecedented opportunities for fulfilling personal freedom, challenging its moral nature, which gives rise to many ethical problems of both a theoretical and applied nature that generally require an adequate solution.

The relevance of the problem is therefore determined, on the one hand, by the scientific and theoretical need for a holistic and systematic study of the ethical aspects of virtual communication, and, on the other hand, by the practical social need to bridge a regulatory gap in this area.

Research is mainly focused on the individuals’ activity and behaviours during computer-mediated communication, but more so directed by the web in its essence. That is, the set of rules and principles governing this communication, i.e. the morality and/or immorality of cyberspace.

There is a need for moral and philosophical reflection and an objective assessment of the virtual communication processes and their impact on society. To achieve this goal, the following tasks need to be addressed:

  • to characterize the specificities of virtual communication;

– to consider the key ideas of the “library” available;

– to analyse the degree of influence of these ideas on the creation of an ethos specific to cyberspace;

– to determine the status of morality in the system of normative regulators of virtual communication;

– to identify the fundamental moral principles that regulate behaviour in this sphere;

– to describe and analyse the rules that are or should be at the basis of codes of ethics in cyberspace;

– to identify the specificities of netiquette (the civilised behaviour we should have when communicating), and determine what role citizens themselves should play in their own desirable self-regulation on the Internet;

– to consider and analyse the main ethical and philosophical dilemmas generated by the emergence of the new information and communication technologies.

Hence de-anarchisation is subject to the solution of these problems.

The ethics of virtual communication or – as is commonly called – the ethics of the cybernetic network, as a field of practical philosophy is just beginning to emerge. In spite of the fact that a fairly large number of publications on the problems of human interaction with global IT networks have appeared in recent years, especially in English-speaking countries, only a small amount of these works is dedicated to the ethical aspects of such interaction, since in those countries the efforts are unscrupulously underpinned by profit and far outweigh the production of essays devoted to human and moral values.

The ethics of virtual communication is very often regarded as a continuation and development of the academic sphere of computer ethics, which is a field of applied ethics that studies the moral problems created by information technologies.

This approach seems entirely legitimate if we pay primary attention to the indirect nature of virtual interaction.

At the same time, a number of researchers believe that all computer-mediated actions, without exception, have an information nature. This means, in one way or another, having a significant impact on the infosphere, the consequences of which are only subject to moral evaluation. As a result, information becomes a completely independent subject of moral relations, and hence the ethics of computers and virtual communication acquires a status that is philosophically more significant than the ethics of information tout court, which has been developed until “recently”.

According to another viewpoint, the ethics of virtual communication should be considered one of the varieties of professional ethics, significantly closer to that of librarians and communicators (media codes of ethics, journalists’ charters, etc.). This approach is based on the analysis of the most common and socially relevant types of activities by Internet users, and hence, although with some reservations, they become representatives of different professional groups that have not only the right to exist, but also to put themselves on an equal footing with similar existing national or international institutions.

There are two main strategies to justify the web ethics: the Anglophone (mainly in the United States of America) and the German-speaking one. The Anglophone authors focus on the cultural and axiological aspects of web ethics, considering the moral problems of virtual communication within the framework of normative ethics and, as a rule, on the basis of the application of classical ethical concepts to them (primarily deontology, utilitarianism, economism, business practices). The German-speaking authors, instead, focus their attention on the communication aspects of web ethics and on a more theoretically significant but too abstract issue – whether ethics, in general, and web ethics, in particular, can be substantiated – and conduct research primarily on the basis of discourse ethics.

The methodological basis of the study is a synthetic interdisciplinary approach, as well as a comprehensive and systematic analysis of the phenomenon being studied. The proposed methodology combines the analysis of value, structural-functional and historical-genetic criteria and judgements with the main ideas of the anthropological and hermeneutic schools, as well as with the achievements of scientific disciplines such as political science, sociology, cultural studies, psychology and communication theory.

The novelty of these results consists:

– in identifying the specificities of the ethical discipline of virtual communication;

– in the thematisation and systematisation of the main ethical regulators of virtual communication;

– in the theoretical validity of the moral norms, rules and principles governing behaviours in this field.

The theoretical significance of this lies in the systematic presentation of the virtual communication processes from an ethical viewpoint, which not only makes it possible to explore the practice of cyberspace, but also serves as a prerequisite for the creation of effective mechanisms to ensure the implementation of common morals with relevant norms, rules and principles.

The results obtained can be used for further research on the problem of the influence of virtual communication on society and personality within the framework of theoretical disciplines such as ethics, pedagogy, sociology and psychology. The methodology for

 analysing communication processes can find wide application in modern mass communication theory and practice.

In most cases, virtual communication is characterised by distinctive features such as mediation, interactivity, distance and global intercultural nature. The participants’ anonymity provides ample opportunities for the construction of a personal identity as there is no status hierarchy, while their extra-institutionality, the non-development and uncertainty of social rules (including legal and moral ones), can lead to marginalisation and mockery of communication processes, which are sectarianly concentrated in a restricted group of Internet users who gradually lose contact with earthly reality.

The aforementioned characteristics, together with the imperfection of modern IT regulations, considerably limit the possibilities of organisational and legal regulation of this area, which enables participants in virtual communication to consider it “the last territory of freedom”, a new res nullius, in which to take refuge from State control. Consequently, the above mentioned voluntary moral self-regulation, which is largely spontaneous and performs compensatory functions, begins to play a priority role in the normative regulation of virtual communication. Or rather, law-makers follow their example to produce rules. Or the lawmakers themselves act as Internet users so that they can better understand the environment by entering it with anonymous roles. (1. continued)

Giancarlo Elia Valori
Giancarlo Elia Valori
Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “


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