Digital ethics for online communities, e-meetings and administration

Home Focus Digital ethics for online communities, e-meetings and administration

Dr Sadrag P. Shihomeka

The digitalisation of services as a cost-saving measure or predominantly as a responsive strategy to natural disasters and pandemics that may inhibit the physical contact of staff members and their clientele led to an escalation of online communities of learning and e-meeting attendance. These communities complement the disappearance/reduction of physical contact between organisational staff members and their clients. With these, both can meet anytime and anywhere and service provision might be affected minimally by any outbreak.

Staff members in different organisations, students at universities, learners at schools and the general public are now expected to actively utilise digital media platforms to take part either in the education process or decision-making process or any other active engagement in social processes and interventions. For a user to actively take part they need to join a meeting online by using a certain platform such as Zoom, Skype, Moodle, blackboard, Microsoft Teams, Google team, WhatsApp and so on. Some of these applications are freely downloadable. While others are commercialised, meaning that the user needs to buy a licence so that he/she will be able to use them efficiently and productively.

You need to have access to a device that you can use to utilise these platforms such as a PC or laptop or smartphone or any other digital gadget. Remember that these apps, though available on Google play may require you to have a specific memory capacity for it to be installed successfully. The following are the different ways in which a user can join or participate in an online discussion/meeting/conference: a) video: with this, the moderator and other participants will be able to see you. b) audio: your fellows will only hear your voice. If it is not a requirement for your meeting and you are not comfortable with a video call, you can opt to join a meeting without a video and they will only hear your voice provided you will speak clearly; c) Chatting: here you can actively engage all participants in a chat room where you are just sharing text and they reply to your texts; d) sharing of memes or emoji or images in the chat room: to certain extend participants use irrelevant or unknowingly use insulting memes or emoji. Hence, as an active online user, you need to familiarise yourself with digital ethics and your moral obligation as a responsible citizen.

Some of the unacceptable online actions are caused by the high rate of digital illiteracy among the participants or lack of proper cultural upbringing, the maturity level of individuals, level of exposure to digital life and hence to them they feel like it is just normal to do it. Take note that, you have a choice to share your text with all the participants or privately with a specific participant during the meeting. You have a right not to show your face too. You should know that e-meetings can be recorded so that the recordings will be shared with those who were not in attendance or it can be used to create a digital repository for the institution. However, some citizens tend to go so low and share the recorded meetings’ discussions with outsiders, meaning people who are not part of the department or the entity where that meeting belong. They usually go so low by ridiculing individual contribution in the meeting. These are unethical way of sharing confidential and private issues discussed in various online communities. It should be noted also that some citizens record video calls with the main purpose of sharing it with your enemy and the benefit for such action is only known by the perpetrator. These are some the contributing factors to the none participation of some staff members in discussions during online meetings as they do not want to be ridiculed in an uncivilised manner by their fellows. 
However, at times digital meeting moderators on these platforms are being exposed to unethical and unacceptable behaviour and actions of citizens simply because they do not know how to conduct themselves when they are online. There are incidences whereby moderators for these platforms are being exposed to pornographic images and half-naked bodies of meeting participants in the comfort of their bedrooms. Additionally, most of the time, participants can join these online platforms with a video, without muting their devices and their background environment is very noisy and may cause disturbance to the entire digital team, be it a class, a meeting or church service. 

As a digital participant in an online community of learning, you need to treat that space with respect in equal respect as an offline learning or meeting space. You should be well prepared and presentable. Do not take it for granted that you will not be seen. Your appearance in an online environment is likely to lead to less focus/attention or probably a digital trauma to the moderators. Before you actually join an online meeting, it is advisable that: 1) you inform your housemates or roommates or partner/children that you will have a meeting, so that they will be less noisy. 2) Dress presentably; 3) seat in a conducive room; 4) treat online classes/meetings equal as offline sessions, 5) stop unnecessary movements during class/meeting time, 6) switch off/put your mobile on silent mode. Furthermore, 8) avoid chewing gums or having unnecessary food items in your mouth when you are discussing issues online; 9) ensure that your background is ready to be seen by the public; do not join a meeting and leave it hanging, while you are attending to some other households’ activities. Meaning if you do not have time just do not join; 10) be careful with your facial expressions and other body languages that can be offensive and insulting to other community members. And lastly, 11) switch off your radio/TV. 

You need to respect individual privacy, dignity, digital rights and opinions during your e-meeting/conference/class/webinar. You do not need to be more dominant to the extent that other participants may feel less valued. Immediately after your online meetings avoid: sharing funny or provocative messages or images or memes on your social media walls, be it on WhatsApp status or Facebook story. If your fellow said something which lacks facts or sounds unrealistic, please do not correct him or her publicly, but text or SMS or video call him/her privately. E-meeting platforms are here to assist us with the administration and moderation of gatherings during pandemics and other disasters that are likely to affect the full production processes of our society. We should not use them as destructive missiles to attack and show off our questionable emotional intelligence. Remember, that you are meeting people from different cultures and traditions with different ideologies and exposure. Let us adopt digital ethics and principles as our norms, values and moral guidance mechanisms to further contain the negative perception of digitalisation.