Why do we act differently on-line than we do in real life? That's the question author Dan Lohrmann asked Sunday night to an audience of 70 Luther College students.
For instance, says Lohrmann, people might be tempted to start an on-line affair or pretend to be someone who they're not. In some cases, people who wouldn't think of stealing so much as a pack of gum might not think anything of illegally downloading hundreds or songs or dozens of movies. Part of the reason, says Lohrmann, is that people tel themselves "I'm not really stealing because it's digital." But he told the Luther College audience "on-line actions lead to off-line consequences."
More to the point, he says the habits we create on-line begin to define who we are as persons. "There is no neutral position on ethics," he told the group.
So the question is, says Lohrmann, "How do we encourage the good and discourage the bad?" He says it's good to hold people accountable for their on-line actions. Businesses and governments especially do well to create systems that hold employees accountable.
But in the end, the Internet is neither good nor evil--it's the people who use the Internet who determine how it is used. Lohrmann says the Internet "defines and reflects the society we live in." He likens it to the gas pedal in a car--something that makes society go faster and faster. And Internet ethics, says Lorhmann, is like a car's brakes--making sure that bad things don't happen.
Lorhmann is the author of "Freedon and Responsibility: A Christian View on Cyber Ethics."