Kickoff of the Society for Digital Ethics

"A lot is allowed in digital, but that doesn't make everything right."

It's a bit strange - you're sitting in the spy museum at the start of an association that has set itself the goal of informing people about the social consequences of the rise of American social media corporations, among other things, and is trying to get onto the Internet to report about it on these very channels. Force of habit. After all, if none of this appears in the news feed, did an event really take place?

It gets even weirder when the spy museum's "Default WLAN Setting" asks you to log in to Facebook to use the Internet and leave a like. Is this a test?

The show begins. "Welcome to Qualityland. A future where work, leisure and relationships are optimized by algorithms." Author Marc Uwe Kling's "funny dystopia" conjures up many Schweppes faces in the audience. Absurd tragicomedy of a future that is no longer far away.

Afterwards, founding member of the Society for Digital Ethics Schlecky Silberstein (blogger, author, filmmaker) raises questions such as "Is a company allowed to know more about us than we do?", "Are newsfeed interaction algorithms allowed to actively promote extreme positions?", or even "Is everyone allowed to be anonymous on the world's most important communication platform?" - hmm, dunno, good question. This is followed by a presentation by author and extremism researcher Julia Ebner, who spent 2 two years undercover in far-right forums and now raises questions about the relationship between digital and democracy. She reports, for example, on how far-right groups engaged in targeted political microtargeting or pushed certain hashtags to manipulate election results. Phew, pleasant is different.

And this is where the Society for Digital Ethics comes in.

But slowly. What is digital ethics anyway? And why do we need a society for it? Philosophical dictionaries define ethics as the doctrine of right action and will. For this right action, there are guidelines that a community has agreed upon in countless negotiations, conflicts and discourses, and which also change over time. And clearly, why shouldn't this also and especially be important for digital life?

"The Internet is full of opportunities to improve our lives. But it's also full of opportunities to exploit people," and that's precisely why "we need to reflect on how we want to deal with the new opportunities and with each other," one reads on the pages of the Society for Digital Ethics.

That sounds big - and digital is not just the Internet, after all. So where do you start when, as Rafael Capurro, co-founder of the International Center for Digital Ethics in Karlsruhe, puts it, you're dealing with a wide variety of "human and digital interactions"?

That doesn't just sound big, it is big.

And this is where the Society for Digital Ethics comes into play again - it wants to enable, initiate, and keep in play precisely those negotiations, debates, and discourses that are supposed to enable us to live well and properly in and with the digital. This can't be done from one moment to the next - this tooth is pulled out immediately. On the one hand, there are already a lot of questions that are worth discussing. The presentations at the kick-off event already give an idea of the range of ethical questions we need to ask. And on the other hand, new questions are always emerging with new digital technologies. And what may sound dry at first glance should be brought into society through a wide variety of formats and definitely with fun (keyword: edutainment).

The key word is: start. The Society for Digital Ethics does this with the question of who actually owns our data. That's no coincidence, because we're all already in this mess: we always carry our smartphone with us like a vital organ, order from Amazon, use Google, Facebook, Spotify. In all of this, we leave behind traces, or rather, data. And if we are honest, we have no idea what happens to our data or what is possible with this data.

And that shouldn't be the case, in two ways: on the one hand, we should be responsible digital persons and thus no longer just passive users, but active co-creators in the digital world. That means we need at least a basic interest in and understanding of the technologies we use and what data is collected, when and for what purpose. This includes thinking about what we are willing to reveal about ourselves and our lives. Not an easy question, but an important one. At the same time, however, and no less important, it is also important that laws and protective mechanisms are put in place by politicians and companies to enable precisely this responsible approach to ourselves and technology.

There we have it, the community.

Digital ethics is not something that should be left to politics, nor is it something that an individual can do alone. Digital ethics comes from togetherness, from conversation, from dispute, from discourse.

We're not giving too much away, and the woke among you have long since noticed our enthusiasm for the Society for Digital Ethics when we say that for Waterkant 2020 we want to focus on precisely these topics and questions together with the Society for Digital Ethics. In doing so, we are tying in with the issues of Digital Autonomy that we have already discussed at this year's festival with Jan Philipp Albrecht and Cathleen Berger from Mozilla.

On the pages of the Society for Digital Ethics you'll find such incredible examples of what, arguments for why, and suggestions for how that are as simple as they are plausible. Check it out, read their newsletter, become a member. It's a huge thing!

In the end, I followed the little hint "use a wifi code instead" in my little wifi convenience dilemma. So I went to the reception, waited for the staff member who was first making coffee for other guests, and got a handwritten wifi code. Not using Facebook is exhausting, but it's worth it for the good feeling in the pit of my stomach. It's worth it to get started.

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