Deletion as second death: the moral status of digital remains

Stokes, Patrick 2015, Deletion as second death: the moral status of digital remains, Ethics and information technology, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 237-248, doi: 10.1007/s10676-015-9379-4.

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Title Deletion as second death: the moral status of digital remains
Author(s) Stokes, PatrickORCID iD for Stokes, Patrick
Journal name Ethics and information technology
Volume number 17
Issue number 4
Start page 237
End page 248
Total pages 12
Publisher Springer
Place of publication Berlin, Germany
Publication date 2015-12
ISSN 1388-1957
Keyword(s) death
social networks
personal identity
Social Sciences
Science & Technology
Arts & Humanities
Information Science & Library Science
Social Sciences - Other Topics
Summary There has been increasing attention in sociology and internet studies to the topic of ‘digital remains’: the artefacts users of social network services (SNS) and other online services leave behind when they die. But these artefacts also pose philosophical questions regarding what impact, if any, these artefacts have on the ontological and ethical status of the dead. One increasingly pertinent question concerns whether these artefacts should be preserved, and whether deletion counts as a harm to the deceased user and therefore provides pro tanto reasons against deletion. In this paper, I build on previous work invoking a distinction between persons and selves to argue that SNS offer a particularly significant material instantiation of persons. The experiential transparency of the SNS medium allows for genuine co-presence of SNS users, and also assists in allowing persons (but not selves) to persist as ethical patients in our lifeworld after biological death. Using Blustein’s “rescue from insignificance” argument for duties of remembrance, I argue that this persistence function supplies a nontrivial (if defeasible) obligation not to delete these artefacts. Drawing on Luciano Floridi’s account of “constitutive” information, I further argue that the “digital remains” metaphor is surprisingly apt: these artefacts in fact enjoy a claim to moral regard akin to that of corpses.
Language eng
DOI 10.1007/s10676-015-9379-4
Field of Research 220305 Ethical Theory
220309 Metaphysics
1604 Human Geography
2201 Applied Ethics
2203 Philosophy
Socio Economic Objective 970122 Expanding Knowledge in Philosophy and Religious Studies
HERDC Research category C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
Copyright notice ©2015, Springer
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