New Book by Onora O’Neill on the Ethics of Online Communication

Onora O’Neill, Philosopher and Chair of the PERITIA Board, has published A Philosopher Looks at Digital Communication, by Cambridge University Press. The book explores the impact of digital technologies on communication and advocates for a new ethics of communication that focuses on listeners, readers, browsers and audiences as well as originators. 

An article published at the online magazine by Onora O’Neill extracts some of the key aspects of this new work. The article explores the difficulties to define harm in online communication, and the need but great challenge of legislating and regulation online disinformation or other forms of online contents. Referencing the book, the text also analyses the case of protecting privacy in an online environment and the power of anonymity in a digital context. 

“An unregulated online world offers powerful actors a cloak of anonymity under which to hide their action, often at the expense of those whose information is aggregated and deployed”, argues the author. 

You can read the full abstract of the book to get a glimpse of its insights: 

Communication is complicated, and so is the ethics of communication. We communicate about innumerable topics, to varied audiences, using a gamut of technologies. The ethics of communication, therefore, has to address a wide range of technical, ethical and epistemic requirements. In this book, Onora O’Neill shows how digital technologies have made communication more demanding: they can support communication with huge numbers of distant and dispersed recipients; they can amplify or suppress selected content; and they can target or ignore selected audiences. Often this is done anonymously, making it harder for readers and listeners, viewers and browsers, to assess which claims are true or false, reliable or misleading, flaky or fake. So how can we empower users to assess and evaluate digital communication, so that they can tell which standards it meets and which it flouts? That is the challenge which this book explores. 

  • Argues that the ethics of communication needs to focus on listeners, readers, browsers and audiences as well as originators 
  • Explores how past changes in communication technologies can shed light on the challenges that digital technologies have created for communication 
  • Locates the role of rights to communicate – especially freedom of expression and the right to privacy – in a wider context that sees communication as connecting originators to recipients 


Learn more about the book 

Read the full article at


Credit picture: Markus Spiske (Unsplashed)