The Ethics of Digital Manipulation

One of the most hotly debated topics in the multimedia world is the ethics of digital manipulation. This primarily refers to photo and video editing but is not strictly limited to these categories. Before we get into any of that, we should talk about what digital manipulation is and how it started. Manipulating media has been around since the very first photograph, but the first widely known manipulation is called “The Cottingley Fairies.” In 1920, a group of two girls had their picture taken surrounded by fairies.  For over 50 years, these photos were considered real, even by photographic experts. Finally in the late 1970s, they were proven to be false. The girls simply placed paper fairy cutouts in strategic locations to make them appear to be real.Looking at these photos now, the fact that they were considered real for so long is laughable. Unfortunately, digital manipulation is getting better and easier, making fake photos much harder to identify. This is where the problem lies. Is it acceptable to manipulate photos to the point of deception? I believe that there is not a single answer to this question, but that the answer is situational.

 

Team Topher
Team Topher

Photo editing can be used for entertainment, and I do not feel like there is anything wrong with that. One example of this is the picture to the left. After seeing a photo of the tennis team on Facebook, I thought it would be fun to turn everyone into Chris Heckman. When making this photo, I had no intentions of trying to convince anyone of anything that is not real, so I do not feel like any harm has been done. The same can be said of the photo below. For Intro to DM, we had to photoshop ourselves into a historical photo. I’ve always been interested in flight, so I replaced Charles Lindbergh’s head with my own. Most people should be able to tell that I am not the real pilot of The Spirit of St. Louis, therefore I feel like no harm has been done.

Myself piloting "The Spirit of St. Louis"
Myself piloting “The Spirit of St. Louis”

 

 

 

 

 

Not only can photo editing be used for entertainment, but it can be used as art. Beautiful pieces of art can be created by editing photos. Photography is an artform in itself, but with the correct editing, something entirely new can be created. Photoshop can almost be considered another medium for art. For example, the picture below shows a photo that I took and the art that I created with that photo. Without editing, the second photo would not have been possible. For some people, taking away photo editing software would be like taking away a painter’s brush. This is yet another reason why I argue that digital manipulation is not inherently bad in all scenarios.

Before and After
Before and After

Up until this point, I have shown positive ways to use digital manipulation. The real problem is when people manipulate media in a way that is harmful or deceiving. An obvious example of this is editing photos and videos of models in order to make them more attractive. This form of digital manipulation has received the most push-back because it is deceiving the audience into thinking that these (usually women) are real and that they have the body that we should be striving for. I am not going to go into detail about this because everyone else already has. The form of digital manipulation that bothers me most is fake social media posts. Unfortunately, our society loves to believe everything they see on social media. The video below will show you why that is a bad idea. It is entirely too easy for someone to take a screenshot of a fake tweet and make it viral. I believe this is contributing to the overall dumbing down of society.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HP8PH_e9-3U

All in all, I do not believe that digital manipulation is inherently wrong, but that the ethics of it very much depend on the intent and situation.

 

 

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