Does the Trolley Problem Have a Problem?

What if your answer to an absurd hypothetical question had no bearing on how you behaved in real life?

“Scientists have been using a set of cheap-and-easy mental probes (Would you hit the railroad switch?) to capture moral judgment. But if the answers to those questions don’t connect to real behavior, then where, exactly, have these trolley problems taken us?”

https://amp.slate.com/technology/2018/06/psychologys-trolley-problem-might-have-a-problem.html?__twitter_impression=true

Ethics of shutting down Backpage.com for promoting prostitution and child sex trafficking

Backpage.com was was online site with classified ads. Many of these ads were for sexual services. Interest in the site increased when craigslist banned such ads from its site. In April 2018, the US government shut down the site

The main issue that led to backpage being shut down was child sex trafficking. Ads appeared on the site for children who had been abducted and forced into prostitution. Though Backpage.com was the platform on which the ads appeared, it was ultimately held criminally liable for its users content after the U.S. Department of Justice took action against it. The US Congress also recently passed a bill along the same lines as this action.

This provides a great example of the contrast of ethical approaches.

Even though the main goal of the government’s action was to protect sex workers and exploited children, “sex workers across the U.S. and Canada swarmed social media to air concerns rarely heard in political discourse: To them, Backpage’s demise meant the end of safeguards and a reliable revenue stream in a profession that’s not going anywhere.”

How do we approach this topic? Should we stick to the moral principle that prostitution is morally wrong and should not be facilitated in any way? What about the principle of protecting free speech? Free association? How do we reconcile conflicting moral principles?

Should we look at this like a consequentialist and say that prostitution exists whether or not it is legal and we should try to protect workers whose professions make them vulnerable to abuse? What if these actions don’t do anything to limit child sex trafficking and it simply moves to another site?

What is the responsibility of the platform on which this whole debate is playing out?

A few interesting resources to explore this topic.

Reply All: No more safe harbor

The Podcast, Reply All covered this story with some great reporting. You can find a link for the episode as well as the transcript.

“But the thing that caught my eye in the aftermath of this story was that there were all these sex workers on the internet and they were all saying the same thing: this law is a disaster. Even though it’s supposed to go after sex trafficking,It’s actually going to go after us, voluntary sex workers. And that Backpage, it was not the boogeyman that the government had made it out to be, it was actually a website that was doing a lot of good.
“And I wondered – how could that be true? How can a website that sold children be good for the world? So I spent the past couple of weeks I’ve been talking to sex workers.”

https://www.gimletmedia.com/reply-all/119-no-more-safe-harbor

“Sex workers ‘devastated,’ look to alternatives after Backpage closure”

Backpage didn’t turn me into a sex worker, any more than Youtube can turn people in musicians or comedians. It was just the medium. A really good, really helpful medium that was free and accessible.

— Sarah Fenix (@sarahthemoose) April 7, 2018

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/04/13/backpage-closure-sex-workers-react/513802002/

“Backpage’s Sex Ads Are Gone. Child Trafficking? Hardly.”

As for the bill, rather than narrowly targeting websites that knowingly advertise these despicable practices, it would allow police to criminally pursue a website that has no idea it is hosting, and has procedures in place to prevent, ads featuring criminal activity. It does so because the “intent standard” – what a prosecutor has to prove the defendant knew – is vague.

It’s Westworld. What’s Wrong With Cruelty to Robots?

“If we did create conscious beings, conventional morality tells us that it would be wrong to harm them — precisely to the degree that they are conscious, and can suffer or be deprived of happiness. Just as it would be wrong to breed animals for the sake of torturing them, or to have children only to enslave them, it would be wrong to mistreat the conscious machines of the future.

“But how will we know if our machines become conscious?”

 

Psychological Weapons of Mass Persuasion

First, we need to distinguish attempts to manipulate and influence public opinion, from actual voter persuasion. Repeatedly targeting people with misinformation that is designed to appeal to their political biases may well influence public attitudes, cause moral outrage, and drive partisans further apart, especially when we’re given the false impression that everyone else in our social network is espousing the same opinion. But to what extent do these attempts to influence translate into concrete votes?

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/psychological-weapons-of-mass-persuasion/?utm_source=facebook

Somaly Mam saved countless girls in Cambodia. Does it matter if her campaign is built on a web of lies?

SOMALY MAM: THE HOLY SAINT (AND SINNER) OF SEX TRAFFICKING

Late last year, Ratha finally confessed that her story was fabricated and carefully rehearsed for the cameras under Mam’s instruction, and only after she was chosen from a group of girls who had been put through an audition. Now in her early 30s and living a modest life on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Ratha says she reluctantly allowed herself to be depicted as a child prostitute: “Somaly said that…if I want to help another woman I have to do [the interview] very well.”

http://www.newsweek.com/2014/05/30/somaly-mam-holy-saint-and-sinner-sex-trafficking-251642.htmlhttp://www.newsweek.com/2014/05/30/somaly-mam-holy-saint-and-sinner-sex-trafficking-251642.html

‘We have a responsibility’: CVS vows to stop altering beauty images in its ads and stores

Do companies have a responsibility for the effects of their advertising?

“The connection between the propagation of unrealistic body images and negative health effects, especially in girls and young women, has been established,” she said. “As a purpose-led company, we strive to do our best to assure all of the messages we are sending to our customers reflect our purpose of helping people on their path to better health.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/01/15/we-have-a-responsibility-cvs-vows-to-stop-altering-beauty-images-in-its-stores-ads/?utm_term=.5ce5197dba0d