The Ethics of Editing

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Ethics of Editing in Our Everyday Lives

All content you consume online goes through some sort of editing process. All social media posts, TV shows, and movies go through several stages of editing before they reach your eyes, ultimately making the editor of this media the one who chooses what you consume. Ethics in editing has been a concern for a while; most concerning has been reality television. Throughout dating shows, competition shows, and most unscripted material, editing tells the whole story that may or may not have happened.

In NPR’s Throughline Podcast, they heavily discuss the topic of ethics in editing through several forms of media. People accept what they are presented with, so the editing of media and what you do and do not see greatly impacts how the viewers see the context of these worlds, whether in reality television or social media. Everything viewers see is curated, edited, and tailored for a set viewing experience. The boom in reality television stemmed from a writers’ strike in 2007 in Hollywood, which led to a boom in unscripted shows. These shows gave editors an opportunity to make whatever story they wanted with the footage gathered from production. One of the productions that grew from this growing genre was Survivor. Former Survivor contestant J’Tia Hart exclaims she felt like “a cog in the machine” throughout her time on the show. She claims that everything they edit into the final cut does happen, but there is much more content and other factors that the editors cut from the final product. However, Hart accepts, “They have to make a character; they have to make a story.”

Ethics in editing also plays a similar role in dating reality shows. The participants in shows such as Netflix’s ‘Love is Blind’ and ‘The Ultimatum’ are given metal wine glasses to drink from throughout the shows. According to Insider, this decision was made mostly for editing, as you can clip together any two shots, and you cannot see the amount of liquid each contestant has or has not drunk. For example, check out this clip from Love Is Blind, season 3. 

Look at the contestants’ cups; They are in each shot, yet you cannot tell how much they have drank between each clip. Given this context, the editor could make up entire conversations that never happened to portray what they want to the public. Is that ethical? Where are the lines of ethics for the editors? Should we as a society be setting rules around such things?

Ethics in entertainment can become tricky when the participants in these shows sign contracts and agree to have their every move filmed. Is it wrong to splice together false conversations and create false narratives of people on television? Participants on these shows know that their reactions will be played up and dramatized for peak audience interaction because conflict and drama drive viewership and virality. So is it harmful to them if they know what they are signing up for?

Ethics of Editing Within Social Media

On social media, you are ultimately the editor of your own life online. People show what they eat, where they go, and who they are through their posts. The ethics of editing in social media can lead to false narratives of people’s lives. Editing within social media can be ethically troubling. Concurrently with the rise of reality TV, social media grew prominently online. Perfectly curated timelines, edited to a tee, can lead to false narratives of people’s lives being put out for viewers. This can play with people’s mental state as seeing perfectly edited portrayals of life can make the viewers feel like their own life is not edited enough, but you cannot edit your real life, only what you see online. The line between performance and reality is blurring further every day because most people online try to perfectly curate and edit their material to make everything in their bubbles perfect.

  • Is it ethical to edit everything online that others perceive of you? Well, it depends! If you are completely curating a false narrative and intentionally trying to trick other users into believing things that aren’t real, some would call that unethical.
  • Does ethical editing in social media mean you cannot edit at all? Of course not! Editing is a part of the digital world, and you must be careful not to misconstrue other people’s words. If you post edited content of other people, be sure to confirm that they are okay with how they are perceived.
  • How can I ensure I am putting out genuine content yet still edited and polished? Planning content ahead of time and having full transparency with those involved in making the content and viewing it can help ensure that no party feels like they have been blindsided or falsely portrayed.

How Can We Follow Better Ethics Within Editing in Our Everyday Lives

Editing content can lead editors to be masters of manipulation. They control what you see, the context in which you perceive it, and when you can see it. As an online creator, it is important to have an ethical backbone so that any participants or viewers of your work will strongly believe in you, and not feel cheated or lied to. Getting consent from those involved and being transparent with viewers of what is real and authentic and what is edited and created for content can help editors be more ethical with their craft and be less harmful to everyone involved.

Learning From Online Optimism

Ethical editing starts with the consent of all parties involved: producers, contestants, and viewers. A strong way to have ethics in editing is to be your most authentic self and be transparent with the intentions of your post or show. Make sure to be your most authentic self when editing and hold yourself to personal values to not deceive the viewer. You can find good examples of ethical editing on Online Optimism’s podcast Online Offscript. Additionally, Online Optimism has a guide to being your authentic self while at work, and don’t forget to check out Online Optimism’s Values to see how we comply with editing ethics to keep things real.