Table of Contents
Nobody would deny the fact that demonstrating respect for rational human beings is an essential component of all interactions. Such view is affirmed by Kantian ethics that introduces the humanity formulation. This formula states that people must not be regarded as mere instruments with no worth beyond this. Since all humans have the intrinsic value or dignity and are capable of making their own decisions, they should be treated as the ends in themselves rather than only as a means. In consequence, the freedom of choice is the source of all rational and moral actions. The purpose of the following paper is to engage in moral reflective assessment of posting possibly embarrassing photos of others on social media with respect to Kantian standards.
Action under Discussion
One of the most conflicting issues that occur in the modern relationships is posting embarrassing pictures of other people online without their consent. Today, everyone has either a camera or a phone along with a profile on such sites as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram that encourage to upload the photographs that document the time an individual has spent with a friend or a family member. However, an ethical dilemma arises when a person appears in an unflattering light, but his/her friend disregards the person’s feelings and posts the picture anyway. Though the communities of social networks presuppose virtual communication, its emotional impact can have the real discourse. The concerns raised about the emotional vulnerability prompted by the virtual exchanges of unflattering photographs are exacerbated by the open nature of digital communication. Thus, it is essential to determine whether it is morally good under Kantian ethics to upload potentially unflattering photos of others on social media.
It is worth noting that the communication is the real aspect of the social world, and, therefore, the ethical principles of humanity that exist in the real world should be used in the virtual discourse as well (Beasley and Haney 13). The humanity formulation of categorical imperative insists on acting, in this case communicating, in the way that he or she recognizes primacy of humanity (Stern 144). From this perspective, it would be morally wrong to post the photographs of other people unselectively. It is highly recommendable to protect privacy in any settings because the shared information can create injustice and intentionally discriminate or mistreat. Kantian ideals demand that an individual avoids using others simply as a means, which is why the practice of sharing the photographs without permission is deemed wrong as long as it is used purely for harming others or for one’s own amusement.
The core commitment to humanity implies an important component for actions and behaviors that provide mutual benefit for all parties involved (Beasley and Haney 13). Clearly, social media offer an affordable and accessible venue for entertaining photographs and images with the unprecedented opportunity for various opinions and standpoints to criticize and challenge the content in the manner beyond the reach of conventional news media. Personal images become even more embarrassing as they are shared through multiple sources with commentaries from others. Those individuals that consider their duty to engage in the disclosure of truth and upload the pictures without permission powerfully promote self-interests at the expense of others’ good. In other words, such action should be viewed as a public insult even if it is considered to be truthful because it uses other people as the objects of ridicule (Beasley and Haney 13). Since the person’s humanity must be seen as the end in itself, sharing embarrassing material cannot be utilized as a means of the personal gain or entertainment.
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Consider the impact of sharing defaming information in the case of a 17-year-old student, Rehtaeh Parsons, who attempted to commit suicide by hanging leading to a coma and death. Her death was attributed to sexual humiliation and cyber bullying by means of distribution of the photos of a gang rape. The girl was reportedly raped by four students, and the photos of the incident went viral in Parson’s native town in three days. Subsequently, many classmates continued to humiliate Parson claiming that she was immoral in her sexual behavior. The victim received multiple messages from people requesting to have sex with her, which caused her painful emotions and profound distress (DeKeseredy and Corsianos 72).
It is abundantly clear that it was morally wrong not only to force a person to have sex against her will but also to upload the photos of raping since, by doing so, the teenage boys used Parson as a means to an end, i.e., as a means of amusement and self-affirmation. In addition, the incident from Parson’s life suggests a tragic illustration of the case when the embarrassing material had a detrimental impact on many people. The idea of uploading photos selectively can be seen as an end in a negative sense (Stern 59). More specifically, an end in this sense prevents people from posting potentially damaging images to preserve their own safety and thus eliminate the possibility of being imprisoned. Therefore, the end of self-protection should limit the actions that people commit in the pursuit of other ends.
On the other hand, moral decision-making can be based on the final outcome that benefits the many. From the utilitarian standpoint, if overall happiness caused is dramatically greater than the amount of loss, the action can be considered as morally permissible (Stern 151). In such a way, posting possibly embarrassing pictures of other people is morally right since its consequences lead to the general happiness and amusement of the greatest number of people who see, share, or comment on these photos. Since the correlation between actions and their consequences depends on the circumstances, no moral truth can be applied. At the same time, this action displays care for other people’s happiness, which cannot be irrational. Hence, if uploading ridiculous or shameful photographs results in an increase in general happiness, the action is considered to be intrinsically good and reasonable even if the object of scorn caused emotional pain and unhappiness.
Morality cannot be associated with happiness for two reasons. If morality was the foundation of happiness, different people would be encouraged to act in a different manner. Moral actions are universal and the same for everyone, whereas the meaning of happiness differs from person to person (Stern 22). Second, happiness does not necessarily involve morally good actions. If someone is hurt by an embarrassing photo posted on Facebook, Instagram, etc., there is no solid reason to claim that it is morally good to harm others. As happiness should be evaluated by morality standards, moral actions must not depend on happiness.
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Hence, morality correlates with reason and is not based on happiness. This is corroborated by the common features that reason and morality share. Rationality is applicable to all cases, and so is morality (Sensen 279). Reason and morality are categorical so that the demands to be reasonable still relates to the person who posts possibly defaming photographs even if he or she does not care about them. Neither reason nor morality considers the desire or intent to share the embarrassing material. In such a way, sharing such information without consent can be fairly considered as a morally wrong action.
Another objection that can doubt the initial argument is that it is not applicable to all situations. The first case is one, in which all options require to treat someone as an end in itself, but each option engages different people. The similar problem is confronting someone who is in charge of taking group photos and then sharing them online. A group photo can put someone in the best light while leaving others look less attractive than they really are. The argument does not provide an accurate way to decide between, for example, two friends that want to see their pictures online and two friends that request not to upload these photos on social networks. In this case, any decision will be influenced by specific motives so that the person who is responsible for uploading the photos will use other people merely as a means to an end anyway.
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Another point in this vein is that the initial argument does not resolve the conflict of duties. More precisely, the argument to treat humanity can entail morally repugnant actions in some situations (Stern 16). Sometimes, a person is forced to perform two actions that he or she cannot possibly do together. For instance, a paparazzo is obliged to pursue famous people to get photographs and at the same time not to use them as a means of their own ends. As a result, it is permissible to share possibly embarrassing material without permission because in certain situations, it is natural to use means to ensure one’s own ends.
Nevertheless, in each situation, it is possible to avoid hurting people and promote their well-being by respecting their rationality. Each situation requires truth-telling as the critical component of all interactions, which affirms rationality and worthiness of all human beings and allows them to make autonomous choices (Sensen 82). Certainly, people heavily rely on others to attain their own ends, e.g., photographers taking pictures of the celebrities are a means to promote their popularity. However, sharing any kind of information without consent undermines person’s ability to make rational choice himself/herself. Uploading unflattering pictures online involves not permitting him/her to make an informed and free decision. Both the group photo and paparazzo issue can be successfully resolved only by asking rational agents’, in these cases, friends and celebrities’, permission to post the photographs. In fact, it is inescapable duty to consult a person before uploading his/her photos on social media. If there is any objection to public sharing of pictures, a person must restrain from committing this action. Thus, he/she will merely manipulate other people to attain his/her own goals. Otherwise, he/she would reduce the worth of human beings to objects incapable of guiding their conduct by reason.
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It is appropriate to make a general comment on morality of posting possibly embarrassing photos of other people on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. This action can be viewed as morally wrong as people are used as a means to ensure someone else’s goals regardless of the worth of these ends. Even in case there is a great number of benefits from uploading a humiliating photo online, the action cannot be considered as morally permissible as it hurts other people’s feelings. Notably, happiness should not be confused with morality, since its notion substantially differs from person to person. In such a way, happiness should be assessed according to moral principles while morality should not be attributed to happiness. Additionally, morality and rationality are universal and are applicable to all situations. Specifically, commitment to truth-telling should be the basis of any kind of human communication. By asking permission to share possibly embarrassing pictures, a person respects humanity in other people who are able to rationally determine, which goals to pursue. Therefore, it can be concluded that uploading potentially defaming or humiliating photographs is a morally wrong action that cannot be justified.