Bioethics Blogs

Ethics in Online Activism: False Senses of Social Action or Effective Source of Change?


By: Rimah Jaber

Advances in technological devices and social media platforms are creating an environment where news and information from around the world are accessible at our fingertips. Whether we are simply procuring news faster through incessant notifications or obtaining eyewitness footage at the scene of a crime opening an app, social media is reaching the public in ways never seen before.

The drawbacks of this, however, are blurred lines between the presentation of facts and opinions, as well as between social awareness and action. Many people have always felt compelled to give back to their communities in some way, but there is a growing skepticism of whether or not sectors of online activism are more self-interested than socially interested. Are people being given an illusion of fulfillment after writing a passionate anti-discrimination post on Facebook? Are organizations doing anything with the thousands of electronic signatures on a petition for animal rights?

Through the use of professional and personal ethics, social activism can remain an area of society where moral people with generally accepted ideas of “common good” and honorable priorities can articulate and fight for equality of all human beings.  Steering from this traditional view of social activism can lead to dangerous sectors in which people are dedicated to an unethical privatization of social activism itself for political or monetary gains similar to lobbying, or for the personal gains of self-promotion through “hashtag activism.”

As part of the “Ethics Matter” series, the Carnegie Council hosted online activist Ricken Patel; the video of the conversation with Patel discussing his work served as the inspiration for this essay.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.