Exploring Digital Ethics through a Digital Inclusion Lens

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


The consequences of the digital transformations of the last two to three decades have been profound and far reaching. Their impact – magnifed by swift deployment and far-reaching societal uptake – has wrought signifcant changes upon our sense of self, relationships and interactions with others and with our wider environment (i.e. Burr et al. 2020). Furthermore, these same factors have meant that ‘our individual and social wellbeing is now intimately connected with the state of our information environment’ (Burr et al. 2020:2313). A plurality of interrelated social, cultural and technological issues arise from this state of afairs. In turn, this has meant that ‘for what was originally conceived as an open and unregulated space, the internet has become the focus of a great deal of policy, law and governance’ (Whiting & Prichard, 2017: 6). In the notional societal space created by our rapid digital development, we must navigate a range of issues that encompass data big and small, privacy, good behaviour from a variety of standpoints. As Richards and King (2014) point out, the views and interests of those occupying the foremost positions of leadership in big tech do not always echo the foremost interests of their service users. Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, for example, is not the only Silicon Valley guru to express the view that ‘we must yield our expectations of privacy’ to make way for the inevitable and get out of the way of technological innovation’ (Richards & King, 2014: 409; also, Véliz, 2021:10; Bélanger & Crossler, 2011:1030). Yet, the variety of ways in which both interaction with, and abstinence from, digital realms impact our lives means that even the acceptance of this position has multiple consequences.

As Rogerson (2020) – among others – points out, the advancement of digitisation into all areas of our collective and individual lives ‘requires a greater emphasis on, what we should now call, Digital Ethics.’ Further, Rogerson cautions that the failure to address this challenge will pave the way towards a miserable and inequitable future; a ‘world of privileged digital natives and an underclass of digital outcasts, a world of danger, domination and despair’ (Rogerson, 2020). Navigating away from this dystopia requires new realisations of long settled notions. For example, Richards and King, in their lengthy consideration of Big Data Ethics, note that ‘privacy should not be thought of merely as how much is secret, but rather about what rules are in place (legal, social or otherwise) to govern the use of information as well as its disclosure’ (Richards & King, 2014: 411; Sarathy & Robertson, 2003; Poças Rascão, 2020; Whitehouse, 2010). The growing use of digital tech and social media requires us to rethink the ways in which our social relationships are constructed. As O’Reilly et al. observe, and as is perhaps particularly the case for younger people, ‘initially, scholars diferentiated ‘real’ lives from ‘virtual’ lives, but this rhetoric has shifted, with recognition that adolescents’ [and many others’] lives are blended on and ofine’ (O’Reilly et al. 2021:91)1 .

Rogerson provides a useful defnition of Digital Ethics thus: ‘Digital Ethics can be defned as integrating digital technology and human values in such a way that digital technology advances human values, rather than doing damage to them’ (Rogerson, 2020). The way in which this process is carried out is also of importance. The subject of digital ethics is large in scale and continuously evolving in response to a fast-moving feld. It is useful to keep in mind Floridi’s caution that while digital governance, digital regulation and digital ethics are connected and complimentary, they are distinct areas and should not be confused (Floridi, 2018:3). While, for example, the role of legislative regulation is/ will be signifcant, the development of ethical principles and best practice on the ground is also crucial (Richards & King, 2014:397).

In this report, UWS and Mhor Collective respond to SCVO’s commission to better understand how a digital ethics lens can be applied to digital inclusion settings. Specifcally, in responding to the SCVO brief, in this report we include:
• A brief literature review of current understanding of how digital ethics relates to the context of digital inclusion;
• A summary of learning and insights from engagement with SCVO funded organisations working on digital inclusion projects;
• Conclusions and recommendations that will help SCVO develop its understanding of how community-based organisations in Scotland can understand and embed ethics in digital inclusion work
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationPaisley
PublisherUniversity of the West of Scotland
Commissioning bodyScottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
Number of pages39
ISBN (Electronic) 9781903978719
ISBN (Print)9781903978702
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2024


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