Week 10: Joel Arellano

I didn’t encounter many ethical questions during this course or project, perhaps because I was focused so much more on investigating the ontology and teleology of digital culture. In fact, several times when the authors of Spreadable Media described topics as ethical dilemmas, I felt unmoved. For example, the alleged problem of corporations benefiting from fan creators struck me as unremarkable- all parties were willfully engaging in the ongoing process, so I couldn’t understand where anyone was being harmed. This seems to bear out economic homeostasis that Charlie Gere describes as characteristic of digital culture. How can there be injustice where engagement is voluntary and its modes are boundless?

On our video conference yesterday, Sam Ford did mention one topic where I see potential for unethical practice that might apply to our group project. Sam described the criticism leveled at folks who changed their profile pics in support of marriage equality a while back when the matter was before the Supreme Court, pointing out that many argued these ‘slacktivist’ gestures pretended greater impact than they could rightly claim. Injecting ineffective courses of action into political discourse could be malevolent, but I don’t believe that was the case here, and as Sam pointed out, activism isn’t a zero-sum game. Even if folks who changed their pictures felt an inflated sense of accomplishment, it’s hard to imagine that the pic campaign could have diminished support for more meaningful actions like marches or monetary contributions. For a moment, I wondered whether the online petition my group has supported couldn’t also be considered more sign than significance, in which case we would have an ethical obligation to stop. But for a cause as obscure as ours (divestment of publicly-held financial instruments provided by institutions that offer financing to private prisons), any means to raise awareness is likely constructive and well within ethical bounds.

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1 comment to Week 10: Joel Arellano

  • amandae@uoregon.edu

    The difference in what you’ve just mentioned is that the community group that the Prison Divestment project supported came up with the idea of the online petition themselves. By plugging into real efforts that already exist in support of real organizing efforts on the ground, you reduce the intentional for “faux” change. If we had made up a petition ourselves, with no actual throughline for it to connect folks to, then that would be problematic.

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