S1E7 – B: Responsibility and the TikTok dilemma.

Taking a different perspective into individual dilemmas, we now look into the responsibility of a father as we solve a social media problem. This dilemma will highlight how we handle the method within the ethical cycle as there is an ethical offense in the context.

Parenthood, perhaps the greatest role one has to play in their life, with so much potential and many rewards. I do not have kids but I hope to join the club one day, and since this is such an important role in society with so many people actively performing it, I considered it ideal to explore in more detail what it means to be a responsible parent. In this episode we investigate a challenge that many parents face, how does one correct their kids? Are there ethical considerations to take?

The Inspiration

The dilemma to discuss is called the TikTok twerking dilemma. This is a real story that happened in Mexico in 2021 when a video from TikTok became viral as it brought controversy to the actions of the father. The story is about a video that shows a teenage girl apologizing to her family for a previous video she posted on the platform where she is shown twerking. For anyone unfamiliar with “twerking”, this refers to “dancing in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”  When the father found out that his daughter was showing her booty to the world, he decided to punish her and make her submit a video with an apology to her family, which is the one that went viral. Being Mexican I am familiar with the strong and conservative value system, so for me it is not a big surprise that this happened. The apology video became viral as it divided the audience into the ones that supported the actions of the father, while others condemned such a shaming and patriarchal approach to it.

This is the story that inspired the dilemma in this section, we will modify some of its details and we will review it  from the father an aunt perspective.

The dilemma to use

The story goes like this, Ana, a 16 year old girl visits the house of her aunt Sofia after school, they are having a lot of fun and all of the sudden Ana tells her aunt about this trend in tiktok where the girls twerk to a song. She says that everyone in her school is doing and she wants to try it. Ana then tells her aunt Sofia that she is planning to do a small video, and then she goes to the garden to do the film.

From the Aunt Perspective

The first dilemma to explore is on regards of the aunt, Sofia, should she stop Ana from making such TikTok video?

Phase 1  – Evaluation of Injuries

1.1 Introduction of standpoints:

  • Standpoint A – To let Ana make a video twerking, leading to a damage in her reputation and her family (according to Mexican standards)
  • Sandpoint B – To stop Ana from making the video, repressing her ability to express herself and have fun.

1.2 Clarifying Roles & Stakeholders:

  • As an aunt and a friend to Ana
  • As a sister to Ana’s father

1.3 Assigning expectations:

  • To Ana, Sofia is expectation is to behave as a friend, to support her and have fun with her.
  • To her brother, Sofia is expected to protect his daughter from any harm

An interesting aspect that occurs here, given that Ana’s father is not in the space, the expectations and responsibilities on Sofia increase. Since she is the only adult in the scene, it would be expected for her to not only behave as an aunt, but to carry extra responsibilities that one would expect from the parents. In a different view, the expectations between Ana and Sofia are not only Aunt-niece but as friends, very different when it comes to trust and behaviour.

1.4 – Estimating Injuries.

  • In Standpoint A, Sofia’s actions let Ana suffer a serious injury in her reputation, subsequently affecting her family. This would be seriously unethical.
  • In Standpoint B, Sofia is breaking the expectation of a friend by stopping Ana of doing her video, Ana feels frustrated that her aunt and friend doesn’t supports her. This would be uncomfortably unethical.

Phase 2  – Decision Taking

2.1 Arranging standpoints by level of damage

No need to dig too deep on this one, Standpoint B (stopping ana) is the one with the lowest level of injuries.

2.2 Legal aspect of each option

Both options are legal in this example.

2.3 Altruism and Social Change

It is possible to explore if Sofia would want to change the expectations that apply as a parent, if she wanted to show her brother that a parent is meant to support her child even if it comes with a reputational hit in the social platform. This however would be a rather complicated discussion, hence for the time being we will not explore any Altruism or Social change options.

2.4 Taking a decision

Taking everything in consideration, the best option to take would be Standpoint B and stop Ana from making this video of Twerking. 

Is important to highlight the cultural context the situation happens, in Mexico we would consider shameful to see a girl twerking, not only for her but for her family. I know this might be seen as an exaggeration in other countries, but context matters for social expectations. In similar light, reputational damage is a very contextual kind of injury, while a punch is an injury in pretty much any space, something shameful is much more contextual.

All in all, this example shows how the situation led to additional social expectations on the aunt, where she had to behave as a parent as the official parents were not there. The situation would have been different if Ana was not 16 but 21, then one could have argued that the “parenthood” responsibilities ceased to apply.

From the Father’s perspective

Let us switch perspective and look at it from the father’s side, the controversial actor in this story. Once the father finds out about the viral video of his daughter twerking, he obviously wasn’t happy at all with the situation and confronted both his sister and his daughter, demanding an explanation of what happened.

To make the discussion more interesting, let us try to contrast three behaviours. In real-life situations we have a plethora of opportunities, so taking three options is quite a reasonable setting we face often. After collecting all information, he decided that he had three options at hand: (a) To let it go, ignoring the injury, (b) to punish his daughter with her not being able to see her friends for a couple of weeks, or (c) to give her a lesson and ask her for an apology on the TikTok platform. The dilemma at hand is, what should the father do about it?

The dilemma at hand must be placed into the context of the ethical cycle expressed in episode 6, meaning that the situation at hand is a response to an unethical behaviour that happened previously; hence punishment is not only expected but is not an injury in itself.

Phase 1  – Evaluation of Injuries

1.1 Introduction of standpoints:

  • Standpoint A – Ignore it the actions of the daughter, and letting it pass, potentially letting her daughter have bad habits that would damage her reputation.
  • Standpoint B – Punish her daughter with a typical sanction, not letting her see her friends for two weeks.
  • Standpoint C – Ask her for an apology with a new TikTok video, letting her experience shame within her friends.

1.2 Clarifying stakeholders:

  • As a Father to the Ana.
  • As a Family leader to his family.
  • As a Judge, a reaction from the first offence.

1.3 Assigning expectations:

  • Towards Ana, the father is expected to search for the best for her and provide her with the right opportunities, to protect her from harm in the short and long term.
  • Towards the family, the father is expected to seek the best for the whole family.
  • To Ana and the family, as a Judge, he is in charge of installing a punishment sanction for Ana since she shamed herself and the family.

1.4 – Estimating Injuries.

  • In standpoint A (Letting it go) –  He causes a serious injury as he fails to place the punishment sanction in the process. In addition, he runs the risk that his daughter develops bad habits and that she will continue to damage her reputation with other shameful acts. This option is seriously unethical, with a risk of being critically unethical.
  • In standpoint B (normal sanction) –  The sanction is within expectations, hence no injuries in this option. This option is ethical
  • In standpoint C (Tiktok sanction) – Although a sanction is justified, the way this is done is way beyond expectations, hence it is a serious injury to Ana. It might prove to be beneficial in the long run, but in the short term, he causes a larger damage disguised within the punishment. This option is seriously unethical.

Phase 2  – Decision Taking

2.1 Ranking of injuries

Among all options, Standpoint B (normal sanction) is the one that doesn’t cause any injuries, hence is the best one.

2.2 Legal aspect of each option

All options happen to be legal.

2.3 Altruism and Social Change

A recent perspective that is gaining momentum is the idea to remove the punishment sanction and have a conversation with Ana about it, trying to make her understand the problem and change the behaviour by discussing what happened and the consequences. This is a very valid option so long it indeed proves to be successful in the change of behaviour and doesn’t cause problems within the group.

We could go deeper on this option which would  be too long for this episode, a few considerations in place:

  • The father could be merciful if the girl shows true repentance. This could be a form of altruism
  • If the father is aiming to change the social expectations of how to handle such a problem. We need to verify that this option indeed drives to lower injuries across multiple settings. The idea is to make it the standard way to solve this situation, hence it cannot be an isolated success.
  • We still have to consider the issue of group visibility of this action, it might lead to a strong rejection from many others that don’t believe in this.

2.4 Taking a decision

Without considering going beyond expectations, among the three options at hand, the best option would be Standpoint B, a punishment sanction within expectations.

Three observations are worth highlighting:

  • First, in all options we have to estimate the long-term consequences of the punishment sanction. This is not something that is easy to achieve and is never accurate, in many instances we just have to go with what everyone believes will happen, which is in itself a dangerous affair.
  • Second, the punishment sanction is justified so long is within social expectations, so the only way to change this is by breaking expectations. In this regard, I wonder if we will ever move away from punishment sanctions, this is hard to imagine but I believe is possible as we get more educated on the topic.
  • Third and last, one of the reasons why the father might have punished her in front of everyone was mostly because of his own reputation. Hence the excessive punishment was for the community to see him a strong father because his ego was damaged. As I have many times highlighted, this is not ethics as selfish reasons are not considered valid arguments to justify injuries.

Concluding remarks on the dilemma

Through this dilemma, it became easy to visualize why it’s never easy to be a parent, as one is constantly challenged to make decisions where there is no clear winner, where one has to juggle between being a father, a friend, a family member or a judge. It is precisely because of this overlapping of roles that one has to constantly reflect on the priorities for each role, and I strongly believe the DREMSI method helps one unentangle the complexity of such situations.

Through this section, we not only explore the responsibilities of parenthood but how the application of a punishment sanction is connected with the learning aspect of behaviours within a group. In the long run, I hope we will eradicate primitive sanctions that just focus on suffering, and instead search for better learning techniques, ideas such as open dialogues and conversations are promising but not efficient enough. We have made much progress compared to the practices from thousands and even hundreds of years, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

NEXT: S1E7-C: The Infidelity Dilemma

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