Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
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Social Media’s Effects on the Next Generation

Ethical Relativism, Cyber-bullying, and Disrespect threatens our ‘Civil  Society’

Has social media done more harm than good for everyone who’s “grown up digital?” I believe social media has led to a moral crisis with our younger generation; and how that must be turned around in the classroom, through parenting, and in our community – before Social Media becomes our social massacre.

Millennials today – aka, teens, GenY’s, digital natives, tweens/teens/young adults, etcetera – are having to deal with “ethical relativism” perhaps more than any previous generation. Ethical relativism can be described as the belief that nothing is objectively right or wrong; it depends on the prevailing view of a particular individual, culture, or historical period.

Ethical relativism grows from a lack of civility in society. Today it is largely caused by the overexposure to gratuitous media and content online, the ability to be anonymous, the lack of positive role models in society, the mixed messages that mass media and business give off constantly (including rewarding greed over whistleblowers); and the lack of commitment to education on ethics in the classroom.

Ethical relativism is especially appealing and even highly addictive to both millennials and older generations. It gives us an empowered feeling of generating attention for ourselves when we want it (albeit not how we might envision it). The feeling of anonymity provided to us via social media allows us to avoid both personal responsibility and public scrutiny for our actions. For example, it makes us feel like we can get away with whatever we want.

This ethical relativism has created a sense of apathy toward others’ wellbeing in society, a sense of moral exclusion or lack of mindfulness from those who they don’t consider to be their peers. We are now more de-sensitized to what actions would be considered shocking or very harmful to others outside of our immediate social circles, even when it confronts in person.

Ethical relativism’s damage to our society includes mass scale cyber-bullying, disrespect for other’s privacy, and moral detachment from others whom we don’t have a personal affinity towards. It is leading us down the road of ethical oblivion as I have blogged about before. We are operating in the black box of ethical behavior.

The solution to diminish ethical relativism must include a serious commitment to teaching ethics, ethical values and ethical programs in the classroom. It needs to be provided by mentors who have a proper understanding of its context within the rapidly evolving social media ecosystem.

On an educational level, teens today are not adequately educated on the importance of developing a set of core ethical values to guide them throughout life; so when they encounter ethical conflict, they lack the foundation to deal with such dilemmas. They learn that ethics is whatever they want, an ethical relativism mentality. A common attitude is ‘my ethics are my ethics, and yours are yours.’

A society cannot function in a highly productive way without a commonly accepted set of values. Once a young person decides to go along with wrongdoing, he or she begins to slide down the proverbial “ethical slippery slope” and it is difficult to turn around and head for the high road if, all of a sudden, a person ‘grows a conscience.’

A major problem is we have a lack of positive role models in society whether business, politics, or entertainment. What are young people to make of Lance Armstrong who was one of the most respected athletes and people in the world and now is disgraced? What about actions and denials by politicians such as Anthony Weiner and John Edwards and others in government who violate basic standards of decency, deny it, and then have to dial back the denial in the face of overwhelming evidence of wrongful behavior? What is the message to young people? I think it is you haven’t done anything wrong until and unless you are caught.

Mass media and social media feed into the “anything goes” mentality that influences youngsters to act stupidly and do things without thinking about the consequences. Just look at some of the You Tube postings and consider the growing incidents of cyber-bullying.

Negative images on television and You Tube beget negative actions that can be harmful to others. We have an underlying problem in our society of a lack of civility. The dilemma is that just what is and is not civil behavior tends to be in the eyes of the beholder. I like to think of civil behavior in four ways:

1)      Having good manners

2)      Not being rude to others

3)      Showing respect for others and

4)      Tolerating differences whether they are religion-based, nationality, sexual orientation, or political viewpoints.

As a society I think we all-too-often fail to act in a civil manner towards others because we lack a sense of caring about others’ well-being; we don’t empathize with others; and we self-define fairness rather than follow established societal norms. We should be able to discuss our different points of view on heated matters without the acrimony we see all too often in today’s discourse.

A disturbing trend of incivility is girl-on-girl fighting. Behavior that would have been considered taboo years ago is now part of the norm. Almost daily young people start to become de-sensitized to bad behavior and violent acts. Moreover, sexually explicit videos project an image of using young girls and women as sexual objects. Even rape doesn’t seem to be off-limits. Violent games played at a young age mesmerize young people and make them insensitive to the real thing when it happens.

Video producers seem to know no bounds in what they produce and put online. They take no personal responsibility for what they post on the Internet. They have no moral code to guide their actions. They use freedom of speech as a defense and the old adage: “Video games don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Solutions are difficult at this point in our country. We have fallen off the moral cliff over a number of years. It didn’t happen overnight and it will take time, education, and intense parental involvement to guide youngsters if we are to regain our civility as a society especially with respect to the new generation.

In a civilized society children must be taught at a young age that there are limits to what can and should be done; what is permissible behavior; what can and should be displayed in social media and online videos; and how they engage with their peers and others online. Most important, cyber-bullying must stop before it leads to other incidents of suicide by bullied youngsters.

We need to teach young people at the earliest possible age to self-regulate their behavior based on a set of core values that have been accepted by societies throughout the ages: caring and compassion; honesty and integrity; fair treatment of others; responsibility and accountability; reliability and dependability; trustworthiness; and the pursuit of excellence in everything we do.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on May 1, 2013

Postscript: Readers may be interested in some of my blogs on related topics:

How to Fight Internet Video Harassment and Video Cyber-bullying