From video games to internet porn: How connectivity is blurring our lines of morality in the virtual and the real - Firstpost
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From video games to internet porn: How connectivity is blurring our lines of morality in the virtual and the real


By Raghu Raman

The proliferation of connectivity is affecting social morality. Whether through smartphones, messengers, social media, gaming, emails or websites — in veiled but persistent ways, our morality is being shaped, morphed and in some instances, mangled insidiously.

Many children learn to identity spoofing or theft for the first time on the internet. So a 10-year-old girl pretending to be 13 to access Facebook, or a 16-year-old boy masquerading as his father to access an adult site, commit their first instances of fraud on the internet. They commit this serious misdemeanor as harmless fun, and therein lies the danger because the internet removes an aspect of primal fear or caution that holds us back from incorrect behaviour.

It gets more worrying when the lines between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in the real and virtual world — start blurring.

For instance, studies show that a substantial portion of revenue-generation on the internet is from pornography. Most pornographic sites are free for users because the sites generate revenue through advertising. But many advertisements on these sites are from kosher well-respected companies, whose products users buy, and to that extent every time they do that – they abet not just pornography, but far more heinous crimes such as child pornography, piracy and the trade of contraband items like drugs.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Technically, these companies are promoting illegal behaviour, funding crime and participating in acts that neither they nor their shareholders would ever condone. In their defence, these companies would probably not be aware how their advertisement spends are being channelised, because they do not have granular visibility of it.

But how is it different from trading in blood diamonds fuelled by an ecosystem that takes thousands of lives, feigning ignorance of the source?

Video games are becoming increasingly violent, graphic and arguably immoral. Young impressionable children play gruesome games with realism of 3D surround sound and tactile feedback. This immersive experience inuring young minds to cold-blooded violence, is similar to initiation rituals of child soldiers where they are forced to kill humans to eliminate empathy or compassion. And this indoctrination is not being done by depraved warlords trying to create an army of brainwashed child soldiers.

Instead, very often, it is their own parents, friends and family who enable it.

Psychologists specialising in post-traumatic stress disorders — associated with soldiers — emphasise that a crucial psychological milestone during combat is taking another human’s life. Many of us feel squeamish about even hurting an animal and yet this squeamishness about inflicting pain and in its amplified form — the fear of taking another human’s life — is being systematically lobotomised from an entire generation of children right under our noses.

Social psychologists say that a child’s roommate in college is more important than the college in which she studies. Therefore, equally important are those to whom children are exposed to on the net, especially in multiplayer games where they could be playing with a depraved adult or a radicalisation team, whose objective is to take control of the child’s mind and distort it.

Children are especially vulnerable to risk. Imagine a 16-year-old girl having an alcoholic drink in a bar and just to make it interesting, let’s talk about this happening in a conservative country with strict punitive enforcement. In today’s environment, where every instant of our public life is on CCTV or social media, many times without her permission or even knowledge, this record of the underage girl breaking the law is freely available for perpetuity. Digital connectivity has not only messed with our morality but also our immortality.

Every message, every picture, every mail sent or even not sent — is recorded somewhere. So when this 16-year-old girl grows up and someone decides to access evidence of her breaking the law – or her phone is lost, hacked or a friend posts the footage online, this spectre can come back to haunt her at anytime, anywhere in the world.

This is not just about kids though.

Our smartphones are tracker collars that transmit every move, every location and occasion of our lives. Clandestine meetings can be discerned through geo-location, unarticulated associations with people and places can be monitored, and the very bedrock of democracy — an ability to dissent incognito — is now in danger. We experience this phenomenon while surfing the net to research, say, a holiday destination and within seconds, start getting offers of discounts or special deals for the journey we were planning. While these predictive, though invasive, analytics may have their benefits, the underlying lack of privacy threatens our very way of life.

In April 2014, Facebook conducted an experiment in collaboration with Stanford University that went one step further.

They bombarded 700,000 users with messages of two different sentiments. For half, they sent out news feeds and messages which were happy and upbeat. To the other half, they displayed morbid and depressive feeds. The experiment concluded that social media input manipulates our moods in an Orwellian manner — except that instead that of the government, even a company can influence psyches of entire populations. Social media sites advise whom we should befriend, algorithms match us with life partners, and companies can influence our buying or voting behaviour without our conscious awareness. And they can do this with legal impunity because as users we gave them permission to do so. So Facebook can manipulate a picture of a 13-year-old girl and use it in any manner they wish, because technically speaking, they signed a usage contract with a minor!

This landscape of a new medium that seems only a change in technology giving us more knowledge, more convenience and increased productivity — has a dark side to it. It also has the ability to morph our morality as an individual, as a parent, a spouse, a professional and as a society.

The author is former CEO NATGRID and Group President Reliance Group of Industries. Views are personal. He tweets @captraman

First Published On : Mar 4, 2016 13:33 IST

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