1:3 – Ethics in Storytelling

by VictoriaWoo

Question 7

At the beginning of this lesson I pointed to the idea that technological advances in communication tools have been part of the impetus to rethink the divisive and hierarchical categorizing of literature and orality, and suggested that this is happening for a number of reasons.  I’d like you to consider two aspects of digital literature: 1) social media tools that enable widespread publication, without publishers, and 2) Hypertext, which is the name for the text that lies beyond the text you are reading, until you click. How do you think these capabilities might be impacting literature and story?

Social media has revolutionized how we interact with stories through an array of customizable platforms available to anyone and everyone. Whether these stories be fact or fiction, in written or oral form, the very fact that mediation is no longer a requirement for publishing these stories means that they exist in great quantities online (just look at how many stories this fan fiction website contains). But what about the quality of these stories and their impact? As demonstrated continually in this week’s Edward Chamberlin reading, stories are vitally important and may even carry a certain moral weight. And so, the fact that anyone can publish an unmediated story on social media, I think, raises concerns about the morality of telling these stories.

In continuing with Professor Paterson’s point that stories are highly interconnected to time and place, perhaps it could be suggested that imaginary stories and real stories each have respective times and places to be told. However, according to Chamerblin, all stories are an intersection upon which imagination and reality are brought together, so I suppose it would be more accurate to say that predominantly imaginary and predominantly real stories each have their respective time and place to be told (3). To highlight this point, I’d like to compare storytelling on GoFundMe to (for simplicity’s sake) a cliché instance of storytelling around a campfire.

GoFundMe advertises their website as a platform to share stories, attract support, and create fundraising campaigns. Place, in this context, is the actual webpage which advertises one’s story. The time to do so, as indicated by the website’s FAQ, is during “life’s important moments” including for funerals or memorials. Given the contextual cues of place and time as indicated by the website, it’s fairly safe to say that sharing a predominantly imaginary story would be an immoral use of the website. It would even seem to be an immoral use of story as a medium alone. And while instances of this kind of violation are relatively uncommon, they do unfortunately exist and can be facilitated through social media. Hyperlinking, an integral tool used in social media, may also facilitate immoral use of storytelling; GoFundMe, in fact, encourages its users to garner support (money) from friends and family by linking and sharing their stories via the website’s “built in connections to Facebook, Twitter, & Email.”

In a different context of time and place, though, a predominantly imaginary story may be more morally appropriate. For example, on a cadet camping excursion, around a campfire, a mythical tale told in the dark of the night would most likely not violate the sanctity of storytelling, nor give rise to questions of morality.

What I’ve ultimately articulated in this blog post (or at least tried to), is that it is not solely the degree of truth or falsehood in a story which dictates the morality of telling the story; rather, it is both the degree of truth or falsehood as well as the specific context of time and place  that are integral in delineating whether it is moral or not to tell it.

The anonymity of social media coupled with its widespread popularity means, to me, that immoral uses of these platforms (especially in how stories are told) may become increasingly pervasive in time. Although this is perhaps a cynical view to hold, I do still believe that social media is mostly advantageous. As with anything else, the misuse of social media is ultimately a problem of the individuals misusing it, though it is still important to be wary of how these platforms may facilitate or even incentivize their misuse.

Works Cited 

Chamberlin, J. Edward. “If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?: Finding Common Ground” Toronto: A.A. Knopf Canada, 2003. Print.

“Common Questions” GoFundMe. n.d. Web. 20 May 2016.

“Harry Potter Fanfiction: The Story Continues.” n.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2016.

Paterson, Erika. “Lesson 1.2 Story & Literature.” ENGL 470A Canadian Studies: Canadian Literary Genres May 2016. University of British Columbia, 2016. Web. 20 May 2016.

Payne, Marissa. “Police seek person who set up fake GoFundMe account for high school athlete with cancer.” The Washington Post. 23 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 May 2016.