Quinnipiac Assignment 09 – ICM 552 – Content Moderation and Ethics
Content Moderation Principles
Ratings systems are not new. Even before the internet, film reviewers like Siskel and Ebert would routinely award stars or thumbs up or down. Book reviewers would favor a work with placement in a well-known periodical, such as the New York Times Review of Books.
But there’s been a change. Reviews are now big business. Under social technographics theories, Critics encompass over 1/3 of all users online.
I believe that there are differing ethical considerations, depending upon the type of content being critiqued. There are fundamental differences between works of art and consumer goods and services.
Rating Consumer Goods and Services
For the rating of consumer goods and services, a lot of the measurements are quantitative ones. E. g. a size 10 shoe is supposed to be within certain length parameters. Those don’t change if the shoemaker is a large company or a tiny one-person cottage industry. The same is true if the manufacture of the shoe is promised within a certain time frame. Either it’s delivered on time, or it’s not. The one-person operation and the huge multinational conglomerate both have the same seven-day week.
In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the contractarian ethical theory, whereby ethics are based on mutual agreement. The shoemaker tells the consumer that the shoe fits a size 10. The consumer purchases the shoe based upon reliance that the shoemaker is providing a product that is within the accepted length parameters. If the shoe is too long or too short, then the shoemaker is in breach.
There are subjective qualitative measurements as well. Is the shoe stylish and comfortable? Is it in fashion? Some of those variables are under the control of the shoemaker. Others, like the whims of fashion, are not.
But the reviewing of consumer goods and services is generally in the objective and quantitative realm. If the shoe doesn’t seem to be in fashion, or the consumer doesn’t like the color, the consumer doesn’t buy it in the first place. Reviewing after the fact is usually of fit, durability, and other measurable considerations. That’s not quite the case with works of art.
Rating Works of Art
For rating works of art, there is virtually nothing that’s measurable or objective or quantitative. While a film critic might dislike, say, the Lord of the Rings< films because of their length, that’s generally not the only reason a professional critic will supply. Instead, the critic will mention whether the plot held their interest, whether the characters were true to the source material, whether the actors’ performances were credible, and whether a parent can safely take their children with them to the picture. About the only one of these review elements that is quantitative is the latter, and even the question of suitability for children is a subjective one.
Bucking for Improvements
Further, a bad review for a consumer good or service can (and should) lead to improvements as the company attempts to make amends. According to Beth Harpaz’s article, Debate over ethics of deleting negative reviews, companies should actively try to improve their customer service after a complaint.
“TripAdvisor spokesman Kevin Carter said businesses are instead encouraged to reply to reviewers publicly on the site. It’s not unusual to see a negative review followed by an apology from a business detailing what’s been done to make amends.”
But no such option truly exists for works of art. A reviewer who doesn’t enjoy the scenes of the burning of Atlanta isn’t going to get an official new version of Gone With the Wind unless the reviewer personally edits the work. Even then, the edited version would be seen as unofficial and unsanctioned (and likely a copyright violation). All that the reviewer can do is (a) dissuade people from voting with their wallets for certain works of art and, possibly, (b) convince the artist to try better next time.
For works of art, it’s more of the Eudaimonism theory of ethics – the well-being of the individual has central value. Does the work entertain? Does it enlighten, uplift, or inspire? Gone With The Wind can. The Venus de Milo can. Shoes, however, cannot.