The ethics of twitter

Lou

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I got this in my mailbox a few days ago and it is still reverberating around in my brain.

It is not about veganism but the author's dive into ethics and compassion make it adjacent. It includes a philosophical/ethical thought experiment, something that we have discussed in other threads. And it makes a case against Utilitarianism, which is the ethical philosophy that most closely corresponds with veganism.

Anyway for your reading pleasure and thought provoking, here it is.

In his book What We Owe to Each Other, the philosopher Tim Scanlon (who you may know if you’ve watched The Good Place) outlines a thought experiment I’ve found myself mulling a lot recently:​
"Suppose that Jones has suffered an accident in the transmitter room of a television station. Electrical equipment has fallen on his arm, and we cannot rescue him without turning off the transmitter for fifteen minutes. A World Cup match is in progress, watched by many people, and it will not be over for an hour. Jones’s injury will not get any worse if we wait, but his hand has been mashed and he is receiving extremely painful electrical shocks." (page 235)​
The question, Scanlon writes, is, “Should we rescue him now or wait until the match is over? Does the right thing to do depend on how many people are watching — whether it is one million or five million or a hundred million?”​
His conclusion, and I imagine most people’s, is that you have to save Jones, no matter how many people are watching and would be inconvenienced by the delay. No amount of pleasure from the viewers can outweigh the pain inflicted by shocking Jones over and over and over again.​
In the context of the book, Scanlon is making an argument against utilitarianism and other moral theories that would ask us to weigh the aggregate pleasure millions of people get from watching the World Cup versus the acute pain felt by Jones.​
But I think the thought experiment is illuminating outside that context. In particular, it has changed the way I think about interacting with people on social media.​
The price of the casually cruel Twitter mob
Think for a second about how many people you’ve made fun of on Facebook or Twitter in your life. Maybe the answer is “nobody,” in which case I envy your self-control. But there’s probably somebody, and even if you didn’t do the mockery yourself, you can probably remember the objects of mockery.​
Think of Caite Upton, 2007's Miss Teen South Carolina, who gave a famously bungled answer to a question about Americans’ lack of geography knowledge. Or think of the tabloid mockery of Britney Spears during her “meltdown” around the same time, the cruelty of which was recently highlighted in a New York Times documentary.​
Then there’s the time Arkansas resident William McNabb, in response to a pro-gun-control tweet, defended his gun rights by asking, "How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?"​
The tweet went viral, and a year and a half later … I still love the feral hogs meme. I even wrote an article about it. But McNabb almost immediately reported getting harassment and violent threats. I don’t doubt it. When thousands of people are talking about you, some of them are going to be violent, abusive jerks.​
And even lighthearted mockery, with no violent or abusive intent, can be painful. Upton, the former Miss Teen South Carolina, told New York Magazine in 2015, "I definitely went through a period where I was very, very depressed. … I had some very dark moments where I thought about committing suicide. … It was awful, and it was every single day for a good two years."​
So my question is, how is what we, collectively, did to Upton different from what happens to Jones, the TV station employee being electrocuted so millions can continue to enjoy the World Cup?​
The only possible justification I can think of for blowing Upton’s answer into the cultural phenomenon it was is for the pleasure or joy of people watching it. We all got to laugh at her and get a bit of dopamine doing so. The price was that she became severely depressed to the point of suicidal ideation.​
This is different from the question of the propriety of “public shaming” raised by authors like Jon Ronson. Public shaming is about people who did something bad, whether it be minor (like a Twitter joke perceived as racist and insensitive) or serious (like fabricating Bob Dylan quotes for a nonfiction book). The question there is whether the punishment fits the offense, and whether the chaos of the internet can ever allow us to calibrate that punishment appropriately.​
But in Upton’s case, there’s no crime, metaphorical or otherwise. She didn’t hurt anyone or do anything morally wrong. Same goes for Britney Spears and William McNabb; I may disagree with McNabb’s views on gun control but there’s nothing wrong with sharing your opinions. All three of them were relentlessly ridiculed not as punishment for something, but just because it made the ridiculers happy.​
A less cruel world
I normally try to make this newsletter about stuff that’s super cosmically important, like global poverty or the fate of the human species. This doesn’t rise to that level of importance. But I fear these kinds of problems are going to only get more pervasive, and our collective response of “c’est la vie” is going to get less and less acceptable.​
In the 1960s, Americans were scandalized by psychologist Stanley Milgram’s (disputed) finding that research subjects were willing to subject innocent people to electric shocks, simply because an authority figure told them to. It might be more scandalous that we’re willing to subject innocent people to electric shocks for nothing more than our own amusement.​
—Dylan Matthews, @dylanmatt
 
I got this in my mailbox a few days ago and it is still reverberating around in my brain.

It is not about veganism but the author's dive into ethics and compassion make it adjacent. It includes a philosophical/ethical thought experiment, something that we have discussed in other threads. And it makes a case against Utilitarianism, which is the ethical philosophy that most closely corresponds with veganism.

Anyway for your reading pleasure and thought provoking, here it is.

In his book What We Owe to Each Other, the philosopher Tim Scanlon (who you may know if you’ve watched The Good Place) outlines a thought experiment I’ve found myself mulling a lot recently:​
"Suppose that Jones has suffered an accident in the transmitter room of a television station. Electrical equipment has fallen on his arm, and we cannot rescue him without turning off the transmitter for fifteen minutes. A World Cup match is in progress, watched by many people, and it will not be over for an hour. Jones’s injury will not get any worse if we wait, but his hand has been mashed and he is receiving extremely painful electrical shocks." (page 235)​
The question, Scanlon writes, is, “Should we rescue him now or wait until the match is over? Does the right thing to do depend on how many people are watching — whether it is one million or five million or a hundred million?”​
His conclusion, and I imagine most people’s, is that you have to save Jones, no matter how many people are watching and would be inconvenienced by the delay. No amount of pleasure from the viewers can outweigh the pain inflicted by shocking Jones over and over and over again.​
In the context of the book, Scanlon is making an argument against utilitarianism and other moral theories that would ask us to weigh the aggregate pleasure millions of people get from watching the World Cup versus the acute pain felt by Jones.​
But I think the thought experiment is illuminating outside that context. In particular, it has changed the way I think about interacting with people on social media.​
The price of the casually cruel Twitter mob
Think for a second about how many people you’ve made fun of on Facebook or Twitter in your life. Maybe the answer is “nobody,” in which case I envy your self-control. But there’s probably somebody, and even if you didn’t do the mockery yourself, you can probably remember the objects of mockery.​
Think of Caite Upton, 2007's Miss Teen South Carolina, who gave a famously bungled answer to a question about Americans’ lack of geography knowledge. Or think of the tabloid mockery of Britney Spears during her “meltdown” around the same time, the cruelty of which was recently highlighted in a New York Times documentary.​
Then there’s the time Arkansas resident William McNabb, in response to a pro-gun-control tweet, defended his gun rights by asking, "How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?"​
The tweet went viral, and a year and a half later … I still love the feral hogs meme. I even wrote an article about it. But McNabb almost immediately reported getting harassment and violent threats. I don’t doubt it. When thousands of people are talking about you, some of them are going to be violent, abusive jerks.​
And even lighthearted mockery, with no violent or abusive intent, can be painful. Upton, the former Miss Teen South Carolina, told New York Magazine in 2015, "I definitely went through a period where I was very, very depressed. … I had some very dark moments where I thought about committing suicide. … It was awful, and it was every single day for a good two years."​
So my question is, how is what we, collectively, did to Upton different from what happens to Jones, the TV station employee being electrocuted so millions can continue to enjoy the World Cup?​
The only possible justification I can think of for blowing Upton’s answer into the cultural phenomenon it was is for the pleasure or joy of people watching it. We all got to laugh at her and get a bit of dopamine doing so. The price was that she became severely depressed to the point of suicidal ideation.​
This is different from the question of the propriety of “public shaming” raised by authors like Jon Ronson. Public shaming is about people who did something bad, whether it be minor (like a Twitter joke perceived as racist and insensitive) or serious (like fabricating Bob Dylan quotes for a nonfiction book). The question there is whether the punishment fits the offense, and whether the chaos of the internet can ever allow us to calibrate that punishment appropriately.​
But in Upton’s case, there’s no crime, metaphorical or otherwise. She didn’t hurt anyone or do anything morally wrong. Same goes for Britney Spears and William McNabb; I may disagree with McNabb’s views on gun control but there’s nothing wrong with sharing your opinions. All three of them were relentlessly ridiculed not as punishment for something, but just because it made the ridiculers happy.​
A less cruel world
I normally try to make this newsletter about stuff that’s super cosmically important, like global poverty or the fate of the human species. This doesn’t rise to that level of importance. But I fear these kinds of problems are going to only get more pervasive, and our collective response of “c’est la vie” is going to get less and less acceptable.​
In the 1960s, Americans were scandalized by psychologist Stanley Milgram’s (disputed) finding that research subjects were willing to subject innocent people to electric shocks, simply because an authority figure told them to. It might be more scandalous that we’re willing to subject innocent people to electric shocks for nothing more than our own amusement.​
—Dylan Matthews, @dylanmatt
I'm far from perfect but I don't believe I've ever mocked anyone in my life. I think most people lack empathy, and that's how they can do it. The other reason, of course, is that they enjoy hurting others. As for utilitarianism, well, put it this way, Truman said he dropped the atomic bombs based on such a utilitarian decision, but like most decisions based on this philosophical idea, it's usually an excuse for something that has little to do with the benefits of the many. 🤔
 
I mock people in my head, and it dissipates quickly! :joy:
Seriously, I'm known for weird, disjointed things coming from my mouth, things only I understand. Sometimes I catch myself midsentence and just grabbely-gook comes out, like "wermhmmmmmmm..."
Why say anything? Let it go, it's like getting a phone call from a number you don't recognize-if it's important they'll leave a message, if it's important they'll say again to make a point--then you can react if you need to

Sometimes I think people don;t realize how many others are going to gang up on the person and their little comment won;t matter
I think of that woman who used glue on her hair extensions. Yes, I ridiculed it in my head when I heard it, but why would I say that out loud? It was a horrifying thing no one can, or should, judge. I'm glad a doctor saw through the hate to help her
 
I mock people in my head, and it dissipates quickly! :joy:
Seriously, I'm known for weird, disjointed things coming from my mouth, things only I understand. Sometimes I catch myself midsentence and just grabbely-gook comes out, like "wermhmmmmmmm..."
Why say anything? Let it go, it's like getting a phone call from a number you don't recognize-if it's important they'll leave a message, if it's important they'll say again to make a point--then you can react if you need to

Sometimes I think people don;t realize how many others are going to gang up on the person and their little comment won;t matter
I think of that woman who used glue on her hair extensions. Yes, I ridiculed it in my head when I heard it, but why would I say that out loud? It was a horrifying thing no one can, or should, judge. I'm glad a doctor saw through the hate to help her
I think you have hit on an important point. (at least in my mind.)
I imagine almost everyone who heard about the glue as hairspray, (or the beauty contestant thing or the chicken of the sea thing for that matter) thought, omg, what a dummy.
For those people on twitter (I'm not), its just so easy to tweet about it without thinking of the ramifications.
It's one thing to think about it and laugh about it. Its another thing to make fun of someone publicly.
Social media means you can make fun of someone without being in front of them. Sort of behind their back. but it also means its more likely to get back to that person.
Like gossiping around the water cooler about someone who know one knows - like a celebrity. Versus gossiping around the water cooler about the guy in the next cubicle.
 
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First....you think too much. Everyone tells me I do but ya beat me. Second I always have a problem with the ethical situation scenarios as they are contrived scenarios asked in controlled situations. That isn't how we make rash or quick ethical decisions as there is no train truly rushing down the tracks.

I feel horrible for picking on a kid in 3-4th grade, for no good reason. I feel horrible for all the times I didn't speak up for someone when I should have. And this was pre social media. Now what mistakes we make, are branded forever and seen by everyone. Our ever bad actions have much father reaching affects.

Just think about the Meme's we all laugh at.....those are someone's actual pictures. Someone that may not even realize being used as a Meme. People's kids, brother's, sisters, etc. Their could be a meme of you taken at an awkward time out there.

I don't have an answer, Can't make social media go away, most parents can't/won't keeps children off until mature enough, and if it doesn't impact you directly , likely easier to just ignore and move one.

Personally I think freedom of the internet is great but not before old enough to vote and or drink.
 
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First....you think too much. Everyone tells me I do but ya beat me. Second I always have a problem with the ethical situation scenarios as they are contrived scenarios asked in controlled situations. That isn't how we make rash or quick ethical decisions as there is no train truly rushing down the tracks.

I feel horrible for picking on a kid in 3-4th grade, for no good reason. I feel horrible for all the times I didn't speak up for someone when I should have. And this was pre social media. Now what mistakes we make, are branded forever and seen by everyone. Our ever bad actions have much father reaching affects.

Just think about the Meme's we all laugh at.....those are someone's actual pictures. Someone that may not even realize being used as a Meme. People's kids, brother's, sisters, etc. Their could be a meme of you taken at an awkward time out there.

I don't have an answer, Can't make social media go away, most parents can't/won't keeps children off until mature enough, and if it doesn't impact you directly , likely easier to just ignore and move one.

Personally I think freedom of the internet is great but not before old enough to vote and or drink.
Me too, but my wife got fed up of men making suggestions to her, so she quit Facebook. However, social distancing has now got her thinking twice about being propositioned online! Lol.
 
interesting article for sure and it is one of the reasons that I stay off social media and have my entire life so far

this is the only forum where I interact socially - it is entirely too easy to be 'judgey' online and although I don't tweet or facebook I have, for the past five years, doomscrolled Trump and did/do take perverse satisfaction from others who go after him

I don't know what the answer is I just know that I go to extra lengths to keep myself out of any limelight and attention, good or bad.

Emma JC
Find your vegan soulmate or just a friend. www.spiritualmatchmaking.com
 
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Me too, but my wife got fed up of men making suggestions to her, so she quit Facebook. However, social distancing has now got her thinking twice about being propositioned online! Lol.
I've actually distanced myself more from FB due to the shallow nature of it, not a good replacement of real life engagement. One reason I found this site.
 
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I've actually distanced myself more from FB due to the shallow nature of it, not a good replacement of real life engagement. One reason I found this site.
Me too. I miss it a bit, nice to see who you're talking to though, but I did find it very narcissistic. Too many people using it as a platform for arguments as well, which I can't be bothered with.
 
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Me too. I miss it a bit, nice to see who you're talking to though, but I did find it very narcissistic. Too many people using it as a platform for arguments as well, which I can't be bothered with.
I swear all the posts I see are Trump, Biden and Share if you love Jesus.
 
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Thank Jesus I'm off it then! 🙏
Oh and my Aunt and cousin who while they refuse to go vegetarian, post every single animal in the state that needs a home....they adopt half of them but arrgg I want to adopt the other half but cant and then how can you save a blind deaf retarded dog but an intelligent pig no.....still bacon. So yeah also that kinda of stuff that better to avoid.
 
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I actually disagree that utilitarianism "is the ethical philosophy that most closely corresponds with veganism". I think vegans are usually deontological because they look at whether actions that are “wrong” in and of themselves rather than the total amount of harm that they cause. I wrote about this on the forum a couple of years ago. A possible counter to this I have realized since then however is that the reason vegans are more deontological than utilitarian may simply be that most people, regardless of whether they are vegan or not, are more deontological. It´s still not clear to me whether vegans are necessarily more deontological vs the general population.

So I think Tim Scanlon and Dylan Matthews, in arguing against utilitarianism, are actually helping veganism.

But I am not sure whether Dylan Matthews needs to consider different philosophical systems here just to make what is in simple point which might be that we should be nice to each other and stop to consider the not immediately obvious consequences of things.
 
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Oh and my Aunt and cousin who while they refuse to go vegetarian, post every single animal in the state that needs a home....they adopt half of them but arrgg I want to adopt the other half but cant and then how can you save a blind deaf retarded dog but an intelligent pig no.....still bacon. So yeah also that kinda of stuff that better to avoid.
There are some good things about it, like the sharing of certain information and being able to connect with like-minded people. My wife came off Facebook first as she found many of the comments too suggestive. She's no prude but so many men are pests. I came off it a few months ago after realising that too few people really wanted to say anything, just post likes! We also found it very addictive, and yet neither of us are addictive people. In the end the few good things about Facebook were far outweighed by the bad.
 
As for utilitarianism, well, put it this way, Truman said he dropped the atomic bombs based on such a utilitarian decision, but like most decisions based on this philosophical idea, it's usually an excuse for something that has little to do with the benefits of the many. 🤔

This is supposed to be a debate about a deontological argument (it is just wrong to kill large numbers of innocent civilians including children, and therefore we should not do it) vs a utilitarian argument (if we drop the bombs and avoid an invasion, the total amount of death and destruction will be lower, and a net number of lives will be saved).

Of course, selfish and racism probably played a part in the decision - in other words the commanders likely valued the life of an American solider higher than that of a Japanese child.

However, sometimes when you have two ugly choices you find a third way. I think they failed to find a third way.

Couldn´t they have shown the Japanese leadership a video of the test explosion in the US? Or invited someone from Japan to come over and view a test of the bomb going off? Or set a bomb off a few miles offshore of Japan where it could be seen from a big city including the emperor´s palace? Or blown off the top of a mountain visible from cities? Or first destroyed a small village to demonstrate the power? Or used nukes against the warships and airfields and armies of soldiers rather than civilians? I think, with more imagination and more respect for civilian life, the war could have been ended without killing tens of thousands of civilians.
 
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I actually disagree that utilitarianism "is the ethical philosophy that most closely corresponds with veganism". I think vegans are usually deontological because they look at whether actions that are “wrong” in and of themselves rather than the total amount of harm that they cause. I wrote about this on the forum a couple of years ago. A possible counter to this I have realized since then however is that the reason vegans are more deontological than utilitarian may simply be that most people, regardless of whether they are vegan or not, are more deontological. It´s still not clear to me whether vegans are necessarily more deontological vs the general population.

So I think Tim Scanlon and Dylan Matthews, in arguing against utilitarianism, are actually helping veganism.

But I am not sure whether Dylan Matthews needs to consider different philosophical systems here just to make what is in simple point which might be that we should be nice to each other and stop to consider the not immediately obvious consequences of things.
Link to your original post? I'm curious.

My initial knee jerk reaction is we look at initial actions rather than long term since that is the world, no one looks at long term. Also for me, long term projections are flawed depending on how they are structed. There are so many more variables other than me on what is going to happen, the chances that my actions greatly impacts the flow of events is low.
 
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By original post, do you mean when I said "I wrote about this on the forum a couple of years ago". If yes, it´s here Veganism is Deontological However, keep in mind it´s quite long, and full of speculative arguments that probably can´t be proved either way - and has something to offend almost anyone. I just wrote for those happy to take on robust debate. If you do read the article I wouldn´t bother to read the comments that followed the article, it was mostly people attacking me and then an argument rather than productive debate.

It was funny how it happened. One day, out of absolutely nowhere while I was doing something else and not thinking at all about anything to do with veganism or philosophy, I suddenly thought - almost like a voice in my head - "veganism is deontological". Up to that point I´d never even considered relating veganism to the debate about different philosophical systems. but I guess my brain had been churning stuff over in its subconscious.

When I wrote that article I was still trying to figure it out. I think that some people waste time arguing about facts and evidence when they don´t realize that what is really causing different opinions is a hard to resolve difference in a core system of ethical values. I thought that recognizing this could reduce argument or move the argument to what it is actually about.
 
By original post, do you mean when I said "I wrote about this on the forum a couple of years ago". If yes, it´s here Veganism is Deontological However, keep in mind it´s quite long, and full of speculative arguments that probably can´t be proved either way - and has something to offend almost anyone. I just wrote for those happy to take on robust debate. If you do read the article I wouldn´t bother to read the comments that followed the article, it was mostly people attacking me and then an argument rather than productive debate.
Yes exactly and I will check it out in some free time. I like reading and learning about other points of views than my own and other philosophies so as I said I was curious. :)
 
First....you think too much.
"The unexamined life is not worth living"
- Some guy in Ancient Greece.
I have, for the past five years, doomscrolled Trump and did/do take perverse satisfaction from others who go after him
I think doom scrolling is ok. Even making fun of Trump might be OK. The author of the essay did make the distinction as far as public shaming. He said, " Public shaming is about people who did something bad, ... The question there is whether the punishment fits the offense..."
Trump deserves an infinite amount of public shaming. It would be impossible to punish him more than he deserves. Beside the guy appears to be shameless. (or shame-proof).

Just think about the Meme's we all laugh at.....
I think laughing at a meme is OK. Its the making people butts to our jokes that is not OK.
 
I"m sorry but I feel you paraphrased me out of my point. yes we all laugh at Memes but we forget that the people in those Memes are not just actors. Some of them are real life people that are being exploited, sometimes without knowing it, and everyone is making fun of them. And "It's the making peoples butts to our jokes that is not OK" I don't get ......did you mean "Making people the butt of our jokes?"
 
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