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Ethical and Unethical Implication of Digital Manipulation

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What is ethical and unethical regarding digital manipulation of media content that society is exposed to in modern days? There are many theories and beliefs regarding ethics of digital manipulation. Many people are under the impression that digital manipulation began with the invention of Photoshop like imaging software. The truth is that digital manipulation can be dated back to the invention of photography. The argument that digital manipulation is unethical can be supported in many ways. From photo-touching of a models waistline, to changing the color spectrum in outer-space photos, we are constantly bombarded with a re-touched perception of reality.

With constant manipulation of images that the public sees today, how can anyone be sure what they are seeing is accurate? Since the 1980s new techniques have been introduced that simply did not exist before then. With the use of off the shelf programs like Adobe Photoshop a user can quickly clone part of a picture to extend the borders, resize and stretch the image horizontally or vertically and moving objects within the photograph is extremely easy. “There are no hard and fast rules as to how much manipulation is permitted before truth of the photographic statement has been compromised by fine tuning of contrast, color balance, minor burning, and or/ dodging, but he major overhauls of cloning or subject rearrangement are unacceptable.” (Rohde, 1995)

Photography has been evolving since ancient times, dating back to the early 1500s. The first image capturing devices were known as the camera Obscura, and the camera Lucida. These devices were no match compared to the quality of cameras we see today. It wasn’t until the late 1800s when chemistry, technology, and mechanics were finely tuned into creating a device that would capture an image and permanently imprint it. “Historically, photomontages and/or extensive retouching of images were often blatant, time consuming and required much artistic ability to be successful. The advent of digital imaging (DI) now permits digital manipulation (DM) to be done quickly and often undetected, unless it is contradictory to outside frames of reference.” (Rohde, 1995)

With advancement in modern technology, photography has transformed from dark rooms to computer labs. Most high tech cameras do not use film but instead memory cards which are capable of storing thousands of images without the need to develop them. With the evolution of technology, the internet and photography combined it has become extremely easy to manipulate photos and videos. With the Internet literally millions of computers are linked together throughout the world. Through this massive network of computers users can surf through a world of virtual reality with endless amounts of information data and media.

With endless amounts of media on the internet it is impossible to tell just what has been manipulated and what hasn’t been. Digital media wasn’t always as easy as a click Photography was invented to capture objects and people in their natural form as a permanent image, manipulating these images distorts our perception of reality. “When photography was first invented, its overwhelming power came from the fact that it recorded nature more realistically than any other art form had ever done before. Because of this, people trusted it and believed it portrayed, “reality” and truth”. (Lodriguss, 2006)

There are many forms of digital manipulation and the reasons for thus manipulation becomes controversial too many. Almost every single model in magazines in modern days is subject to photographic manipulation —“Two notable real world examples of manipulating photos came about because a horizontal photo was chosen to fit into a vertical format. When National Geographic moved the pyramids of Giza closer together, it was to fit a vertical cover. Similarly, the photo documentary book, A Day in the Life of America, altered a horizontal photo by moving a cowboy closer to the moon to fit its vertical cover.” (Lodriguss, 2006)—-Many celebrities have spoken out about their strong dis-approval of their photos that have been re-touched to make them appear flawless. The Use of manipulation to change the appearance of anything that will be distributed on a worldwide level in the media is in my eyes, unethical when it portrays a false reality.

For instance, for instance, models in a fashion magazine may have inches taken away from their waistlines, hips, thighs, and arms. Skin tones are lightened. Blemishes are diminished. Freckles disappear. Muscle tone is added. These manipulated images impacts society in a very unhealthy way. Often times these re-touched photos send an image of perfection to those who view it. I believe this image of perfection that is implanted into people’s brains is causing many adverse problems in society. This image of perfection convinces women young and old that they are not beautiful and need to invest their hard earned money into a product that will make you look thin and flawless like the model in the magazine. This is extremely unethical in the eyes of many around the world.

”This ethical intersection is easy to overlook, but it raises two moral principals when applied to the digital manipulation of magazine fashion models: artistic freedom (a social good) versus media deception and its impact on public health (a social harm).” (Park, 2004) This impacts the world greatly. This form of manipulation encourages both women and men to feel like they are not satisfactory and need to improve their appearance based on the images they see of celebrities on-line, T.V. the cover of magazines and newspapers. In my eyes this form of manipulation is extremely unethical. Many celebrities including Beyonce Knowles, Kelly Clarkson, Kate Winslet, Demi Moore, and Sarah Palin have spoken out about their opposition of photo re-touching that has been done to their photographs.

These images of the perfect women have been linked to eating disorders, unhealthy obsessions of weight loss and cosmetic surgery. “Media effects on women’s eating behaviors have been aggressively investigated in the past decade. Indeed, women cite the media as the most important source of pressure to be thin (Irving, 1990; Levitt, 1997). Consistent across studies are findings that indicate that exposure to the “Thin Ideal” tends to reduce body satisfaction, increase self-consciousness, and reduce self-esteem (e.g.., Bush Hitchon, Reaves, Park, & Yun 2002; Grogan, Williams, & Conner, 1996; Harrison & Cantor, 1997, Irving, 1990). This general demoralization of women in recent generations has been referred to by Jean Kilbourne (1995) as “An Impoverishment of Spirit.” (Park, 2004)

When the photo is that of a person or a place of remembrance that a photographer decides to manipulate it is typically for personal use. Many artists and photographers manipulate their photos to simply enhance the natural beauty captured in their photograph. This form of manipulation is ethical. If a photograph is manipulated but is one that is fictional or for artistic value and is marketed in that fashion is ethical in my eyes. What if a digital manipulation is there to protect the feelings of someone in a photo? For example an editor who digitally closes a boy’s open zipper in the photograph. This editor is manipulating this photo with sensitivity to the boy, Closing a zipper with photo imaging software is extremely easy and can be done on a personal computer.

We must choose what is more harmful. With the advancement in modern technology media manipulation does not require much skill or time. In addition one no longer needs a darkroom to effectively manipulate the contents within a photograph. “Although controversial in news, aesthetics and artistic values have liberated much of the creativity in magazine and fashion illustrations.” (Park, 2004) The argument for most artists is the freedom to use digital manipulation for the purpose of artistic freedom. “It is also a fact that color is created in the mind of the observer. It is not a physical property of objects in the world, just as pain in not a physical property of the baseball that hits you in the eye.” (Lodriguss, 2006)

How does one determine what is ethical and what is unethical? “A study released today by the University of Minnesota’s “Project EAT” (Eating among Teens) shows startling results of 2,500 female teenagers studied over a five-year period. The study found that high school-aged females’ use of diet pills nearly doubled from 7.5 to 14.2 percent. By the ages of 19 and 20, 20 percent of females surveyed used diet pills.” (Daily, 2010) This type of statistics show that young girls are more pressured to look perfect because of media influences. “Almost 10 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the United States in 2009, according to statistics released today by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. The Aesthetic Society, which has collected multi-specialty procedural statistics since 1997, says the overall number of cosmetic procedures has increased 147 percent since the tracking of the statistics first began.

The most frequently performed nonsurgical procedure was injections of Botulinum Toxin Type A (including Botox and Dysport) Studies have shown that injecting Botox and other wrinkle reducing injections cause loss of muscle control in and around injection sites. These studies have proven that those who have had Botox injections have dull facial expressions. This causes a break down in body language. The same study concludes that in addition to having dull facial expressions the consumer of Botox also has trouble reading others expressions as effectively. In addition to anti-wrinkle injections the most popular surgical procedure of 2010 was breast augmentation.” (Research, 2010) There are countless risks involved with these beauty enhancing procedures. Breast implants themselves prevent thorough breast cancer screenings and have often times led to fatal breast cancer deaths as a result from having a breast augmentation.

Women in modern days are going farther than they ever have to make themselves appear younger, thinner, taller; anything other than what they are, because they have an image of perfection in their mind and they feel they fall short. The amount of controversy digital manipulation has caused is unbelievable. In my opinion this is a major problem in society today. Photo manipulation for the intent to sell any type of beauty product is in my eyes extremely unethical. This corruption will continue to effect society for years to come and the amount of digital manipulation is only expected to increase as digital media is becoming more and more readily available to the general public. “Several researchers using social comparison theory have linked attitudes and behavior by suggesting women see images in the media that they want to attain, the internalize a comparison between themselves and the idealized image, then they behave in a way that will allow them to achieve the idealized look (Goethals 1986; Kruglanski & Mayseless, 1990; Wood, 1989; Wood & Taylor, 1991; Botta, 2000).”

(ICA-16-10952, 2011) In conclusion, the manipulation of images is strongly disagreed with. The majority of people today want to see a photo that is un-touched and as close to possible to reality. The manipulation of images has never before been so easy for internet users to access create and distribute media. Technology has revolutionized the way in which users collaborate with others and both access and distribute information regardless of physical location. We must remember that not all digital manipulation is harmful to the people who see it.

“The important questions when we manipulate an image are why are we doing this, and what are our purposes and intentions? Where do we draw the line? What is ethical in the digital manipulation and enhancement of a photo?” (Lodriguss, 2006) We must consider the effects of media that is being re-touched and take the damage this has caused seriously. Not all digital manipulation is bad; when it is for fantasy or fictional purposes and is marketed and distributed in such a way this is ethical. Manipulation becomes unethical when it is denied and or results in believing in a false truth.

Digital manipulation has also been helpful for artistic expression and producing faster work for photographers. “Workload has increased for photographers because of the speed of digital editing. Digital photography allows the image to be seen at once on the camera video screen or on a computer. Traditionally, photographers shooting with film were conscious of how many rolls of film they carried and mentally self-edited the frames they shot by selecting precise moments with the event, estimating when they thought they thought they had the photo they sought.” (Coleman, 2007) The use of digital manipulation has been used to enhance the quality of color for photographers to help bring out the natural beauty of some pictures that some work fails to produce.

To a photographer, this is creative expression and they do not feel that they are unethically producing images. Those that are informed of digital manipulation know that to some degree lots of work of art have been altered in some way to create an illusion of beauty or perfection. Do we feel that we are being lied to? Or deceived? It depends, on the individual viewing the images. “What is important is our motivation. Why are we doing these things? Are we doing them to deceive people? No, most of us are not. We are doing it to make the subject more visually interesting. We are simply trying to make it a better picture.” (Lodriguss, 2006)

One can argue the ethics behind digital manipulation or agree with the concept, but we must keep in mind that some digital manipulation has devasting impacts that effect how society views beauty and perfection in the ideal man or woman. As individuals, we should be knowledable of digital manipulation and that the images that we see of models displaying a perfect shilouette or body because countles hours of working out, helpful tips on how they keep fit or healthy eating tips of celebrity you see on the cover of big name magizines like Shape, Fitness, Cosmopoliton, Vogue, Vanity and many others have been digitally enhanced and altered to give you the perception that they are in shape. The bottom line is to educate yourself and others that what you see is not always the truth, it is an altered perception of reality and that sometimes what is reality is an altered perception of truth.

Works Cited

Coleman, S. E. (2007). Digital Photo Manipulation: A Descriptive Analysis of Codes of Ethics and Ethical Decisions of Photo Editors. The University of Shouthern Mississippi, December.

Daily, S. (2010, November). New Studies Show Teenage Girls Use of Diet Pills Doubles Over Five Year Plan. Retrieved April 28, 2011, from Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061030143332.htm

ICA-16-10952. (2011). The Virtual Model: College Women’s Knowledge of Digital Manipulation in Fashion Photographs and Body Image Distortion. Conference Papers of International Communication, 5.

Lodriguss, J. (2006). The Ethics of Digital Manipulation. Retrieved April 28, 2011, from ASTROPIX.COM: http://www.astropix.com/HTML/J_DIGIT/ETHICS.HTM

Park, S.-Y. a. (2004). If Looks Could Kill: Digital Manipulation of Fashion Models. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 1.

Research, C. P. (2010). Plastic Surgery Research Info. Retrieved April 28, 2011, from Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Research: http://www.cosmeticplasticsurgerystatistics.com/statistics.html

Rohde, R. A. (1995). Tune-Up or Major Overhaul: Whither Truth? PSA Journal, 8.

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