This past summer, someone in New Jersey used technology [probably AI] to create pornographic images combining the bodies of nude women with the faces of underaged female students in a local high school. Unfortunately, then the images were distributed using social media. It is suspected that teenage boys who are classmates of the girls created and posted the pictures. The case is still unfolding.
As I understand it, there were no specific school rules governing such activity especially since the activity was done in the summer while school was not in session. And, at last account, the lawyers are trying to determine whether there are any state laws prohibiting such acts by minors. Nevertheless, in an interview, the mother of one of the victims said that regardless of the rules or the law, this behavior was just not right. She is correct.
In one episode of the classic PBS series Thomas the Tank Engine, one of the characters, Gordon comments on the behavior of another younger engine whistling loudly in the train station. He says, “It may not be wrong, but we just don’t do that. No respectable engine does that.”
Simple as it may be, perhaps that is the answer for the situation in this high school. As a result of this incident, maybe there will be a law governing such behavior in the future. Perhaps as we learn more about AI, there will be policies and regulations developed. It could be that the school and or school board will be able to address the situation and enact rules. But in the meantime, for this and other similar behaviors, I think the wisdom of Gordon the Tank Engine applies. There is behavior that may not be legally “wrong”; but we just do not do it. As parents, we need to help our children draw those distinctions.
Behavior in our Society
There are any number of situations in our society that do not have specific prohibitions, but as a society we should not allow them. I wonder if ignoring some of our ideals and standards has led to bigger societal issues – including the increasing stress and lack of civility in our personal interactions – especially impacting our youth.
Today, we often hear, “I can say whatever I want. I have freedom of speech.” Within some legal limitations that is correct. But then again, my mother taught me, if you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything. Making a legitimate point or taking a stand is one thing. Disregard for others or causing unnecessary confrontation is another. “Just because I can…” is not a good answer.
When I was a young lawyer, I was counseled by a more senior colleague. He advised me, “When you have the leverage in your case, use it; but only as far as you need. Someday you will be on the other end.” I wonder if that kind of mutual respect causes us to maintain a higher level of civility and ability to get along.
Respect for the Game and Each Other
Sports are an example where I believe we have to maintain respect for the game and our opponents. When outscoring another team by a comfortable margin, respected coaches do not run up the score. Being gracious winners. Respecting the other team. Respecting the game. Walking humbly is a virtue.
In a recent Presidential debate, one candidate criticized another by citing an example of their daughter’s use of social media. Historically, our society has considered family members “off limits” while campaigning for public office. Are there rules in the debate to leave families alone? Probably not. But, we just don’t do that.
On social media, users seem free to criticize, bully and demean others almost in anonymity. Like those spreading pornography in New Jersey, the “cover” of technology can encourage users to say whatever they like. When people post pictures or comments on social media, it seems that many others are quick to “pounce” with their own critical comments about the imperfections of the images or errors in the statements without really adding value. If you can’t say something good, then just don’t say anything.
We used to call it manners. We used to call it respect for others. Today we talk about the lack of civility and wonder why. As dads I think we have a responsibility to help our children maintain high standards of human interaction – courtesy, compassion, and respect. Through the power of our presence, we are positioned well to guide our children so they can carry those lessons for a lifetime.