By Dean Cocking and Jeroen van den Hoven
We now live in an era defined by the ubiquity of the internet. From our everyday engagement with social media to trolls on forums and the emergence of the dark web, the internet is a space characterized by unreality, isolation, anonymity, objectification, and rampant self-obsession—the perfect breeding ground for new, unprecedented manifestations of evil. Evil Online is the first comprehensive analysis of evil and moral character in relation to our increasingly online lives.
Chapters consider traditional ideas around the phenomenon of evil in moral philosophy and explore how the dawn of the internet has presented unprecedented challenges to older theoretical approaches. Cocking and Van den Hoven propose that a growing sense of moral confusion—moral fog—pushes otherwise ordinary, normal people toward evildoing, and that values basic to moral life such as autonomy, intimacy, trust, and privacy are put at risk by online platforms and new technologies. This new theory of evildoing offers fresh insight into the moral character of the individual, and opens the way for a burgeoning new area of social thought.
A comprehensive analysis of an emerging and disturbing social phenomenon, Evil Online examines the morally troubling aspects of the internet in our society. Written not only for academics in the fields of philosophy, psychology, information science, and social science, Evil Online is accessible and compelling reading for anyone interested in understanding the emergence of evil in our digitally-dominated world.
Roger Crisp on Practical Ethics Blog, University of Oxford wrote:
"Evil Online does not give a blueprint for a new and morally superior internet. It does subject the stream of alarming reports about the existing internet to systematic and thorough ethical reflection. That alone is particularly valuable." [translation from Dutch]
Evil Online is a timely and very important book. [...] The book is significant for several reasons. One is that Cocking and van den Hoven have identified something of a moral elephant in the room. The internet has developed amazingly quickly, but it’s been an incremental process and to some extent we are like the proverbial frogs (rather than elephants) in the pan of water who haven’t noticed that the temperature may well be approaching boiling point. The second reason is really a corollary of the first. Philosophers are mostly as unimaginative and unperceptive as anyone else, and a quick look at the topics discussed in the major philosophical journals, including those specializing in ethics, reveals that the internet hardly features. In a sense, most of us – even those who don’t actually use the internet much – are in what the authors call a ‘moral fog’ about the internet itself. [...] I see Evil Online as in the same tradition as Hannah Arendt’s crucially important book The Banality of Evil. The book is also in some ways analogous to Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan [...] The puzzle is how to disperse the fog, and it is a puzzle we need urgently to think about before it is too late and the fog begins to thicken and drift even further than it is already doing from the online into the real world."
Table of Contents
- The Many Faces of Evil Online (Introduction / Some Trends and Cases)
- Our Online Environment (Introduction / Epistemic Success, Connectivity, and Coordination / Other Features of Online Worlds that Shape Our Lives: Selectivity, Homophily and Stigmergy, Jurisdiction, Anonymity, Virtuality, Voluntariness, Positionality, Interpretive Flexibility, Interactivity, Publicity, Domesticity, Isolation, Addictiveness)
- The Transformation of Social Life (Introduction / Our Public and Private Lives: Plural Worlds and Values / Public/Private Lives Online / Life on Your Own Terms / Online/Offline World Contrasts: Overstated and Alarmist / Alarmism about Sexual Predators and Children)
- The Moral Fog of Our Worlds (Introduction / The Moral Fog of Evil / The Shared Life and Our Vulnerability to Evil: Learning and Development Vulnerabilities, The Need for Intimacy, Keeping Up with Others, Working and Professional Life, Plural Identities, Incremental and Collective Evils, Widely Shared Vice and Weakness)
- The Fate of the Moral Life (Introduction / Moral Character: A Case of Mistaken Identity? / Good Character, Self‐interest, Others and Surrounds / Evil and Responsibility / Nothing New Under the Sun / The Liberal / Conclusion: Just Me and the Internet)