Information Technology and Ethics/Social Media Privacy and Ethics

Introduction edit

Interacting with friends and family across long distances has been a concern of humans for centuries. People have always relied on communication to strengthen their relationships. When face-to-face discussions are impossible or inconvenient, humans have dreamed up plenty of creative solutions. Nowadays, one can no longer imagine how to catch up with friends and contacts without social networking. Social networking helped us become closer to our friends, even when they are thousands of miles away. Through the Internet, we are able to connect with people from around the world. More than half of the world now uses social media (58.4%); 4.82 billion people around the world now uses social media, 424 million new users have come online within the last 12 months; the average daily time spent using social media is 2h 27m.[1]

Social networking now is a billion dollar industry. While the most widely used social networking services are free, they operate on large platforms that offer a range of related products and services that underpin their business models, from targeted advertising and data licensing to cloud storage and enterprise software. Ethical impacts of social networking services clustered into three categories:[2]

  • Direct impacts of social networking activity itself
  • Indirect impacts associated with underlying business models that are enabled by such activity
  • Structural implications of social networking services as novel  sociopolitical and cultural forces

While social media has a lot of advantages, it has also had some drawbacks. The increased use of social media is accompanied by privacy issues and ethical concerns. These privacy issues can have far-reaching professional, personal and security implications. Ultimate privacy in the social media domain is very difficult because these media are designed for sharing information.  Security and privacy issues are two such issues that have dominated the attention of social media platforms like Facebook. Social media may be widely exploited to obtain and exploit information on anyone.

Collection of data and how social networking services use and provide data to millions of eyes edit

Data harvesting edit

Social media has leveraged a significant amount of its revenue from selling user information to various companies and advertising campaigns. In fact Facebook generated approximately 35.2 billion dollars or about 64 percent of its revenue from harvesting user data.[3] This came down to about 220 dollars per American user, further emphasizing the importance of extracting user data in their business model. While data mining has helped many organizations and models become more efficient, it has also come with grave ethical and legal concerns.

One of the biggest issues with data mining is the security issues that come with having such a big depot of often sensitive and personal data. There have been various hacks throughout the course of the years that have compromised user data from social media companies. Just last year, there were major data breaches with Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media platforms that compromised millions of users' data to the highest bidder.[4] Even if the proper security protocols are put into place when inputting data, there is no guarantee that the output of data will have the same expectation of security.[5] A multitude of mining techniques have been documented that put user data at risk once the data has been harvested which allows nefarious actors to economize that data at the users expense.[5]

Due to these concerns many companies have taken actions to better protect the user experience by implementing safeguards that make data harvesting more difficult. Companies such as Apple, Google, and many others have taken steps to better protect consumer data which, while has limited the reach of social media platforms, has not entirely eliminated the issue of data harvesting as they have implemented various counter measures to subvert these safeguards.[6] Until a substantial measure is taken to discourage social media platforms to harvest data, ethical and security concerns will continue to exist to the end user.

Social Media platform responsibilities towards content edit

Facebook’s systems as well as other social media platforms like Twitter harvest personal data at a scale unimaginable. Many of these platforms are seen to advertise asymmetric propaganda creating an epistemic crisis. During the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and campaigns the Russian government were seen to spy and inject false information onto these sites. The inflammatory content that was being seen in their ads claimed that specific individuals or a group of people are and will be threats to the safety of others. Crime isn’t caused against these people from thin air, it is the social media platforms that can act as a method of propagating hateful actions.[7] If you accuse someone of making inflammatory comments or statements, then what you are referring to is that person make a group of people to act in negative ways. The United States have seen hate crimes against Asians because of inflammatory ads and these ads are being amplified on social networking services who then in return start to believe this information. The data collection and the use of algorithms are at fault with this because malicious actors use bots to click and boost these ads into the public discourse.

Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social media platforms should be held accountable and have the core responsibility to mitigate these ads from appearing on their sites that attract hundreds of millions of users. Analysts say that researchers looking at tweets will find roughly 3% of their collected messages to be abusive with hate speech and physical threats.[8] The ethical implications that these social networks are responsible for are aimed and to be analyzed by the intent, procedures, and the direct implications on human behavior. Overall, everyone should including business/government entities should act on the rule that would be admitted to becoming a universal law by all rational beings (Kant, 1993). Thus, the freedom of speech requires responsibility and is applied to all variety of regimes including political, public, and media cultures.

Disinformation and how it affects culture and the political state, is it right to do so etc.? edit

Disinformation is a major problem in today’s world, especially in this age of digital media. News can be shared in an instant from various different platforms. Twitter, Facebook, Google, Reddit, etc. are all different platforms where news can be retrieved in an instant. However, how accurate is this information? If it’s not accurate, was it done intentionally? Unfortunately, not everyone who sees news headlines thinks about these things. This is what has led to vast amounts of disinformation being spread every day and that has begun affecting our society.

According to a study, false stories reached people and spread faster than the truth. (Science, 2018) When one first reads these stories, most do not tend to look into the validity of this information and less find out afterwards the truth. This has led to a lot of platforms creating articles with disinformation and “click bait” titles that are intended just to drive more eyes or clicks on their articles. The fast spread of disinformation in the news has even led to big changes in our society. An example of how our society has been affected by disinformation being spread was with the recent pandemic.

Since the pandemic began in early 2020, there has been widespread misinformation that has been spread just about anywhere. Everything to do with the pandemic, including masks, vaccines, the virus, etc, have all received different kinds of misinformation that has led to society having different opinions about these subjects going as far as involving the political state. A certain wave of misinformation that came out during the pandemic was about the vaccines. The rumor was that the vaccines were causing infertility in both men and women and that caused hesitancy and people to receive the vaccine.[9] This was later concluded to be false in a joint statement by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.[9] However, the seeds were already planted and distrust was already spread throughout society which made future disinformation to easily be accepted.

Issues and ethical concerns that arise in social media data content edit

Legal issues concerning social media edit

Social media has impacted on people and businesses all over the world and has become an integral part of our day-to-day lives. Some of the well-known social media platforms are Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, SnapChat and TikTok.  One of the main benefits of social media was to provide a platform to connect with family and friends. Businesses are disappearing out of traditional marketing and progressing to social media platforms, which provides advertising opportunities to increase their revenue. However just as the benefit’s social media provides there many legal issues that need to be considered when using them. Some of the legal concerns that business owners and regular users need to consider when using social media are: intellectual property, employment, defamation, privacy, and advertising law.

Social media has made intellectual property more difficult to regulate. Businesses need to be aware of their own businesses and their trademarks as well as third party trademarks.[10] It is illegal to use another businesses trademark or service mark and that can result in infringement of intellectual property law. Therefore, before publishing any intellectual property on social media have a general knowledge about copyright laws to avoid any legal issues.

Some organizations use social media platforms to conduct background checks for new hires.. Since the information on social media sites may be under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and similar State laws, employers may have to get individual consent before accessing such information and make decisions based on that published information.[11]  If the company is discriminate an employee or firing an employee considering social media post, employee can take legal action based on discriminatory conduct under the National Labor Relations Act.[12]

Defamation is another legal issue for social media users.:  It is illegal to use social media platforms to publish unfounded rumors and damage the reputation of an individual.[13] One can argue this is a form of exercising one's freedom of speech however this can potentially cause havoc to the one on the receiving end.[13] Defamation can result in a negative image on an organization which can lead to many negative results.[12]  Social media platforms should monitor for potential defamatory statements and should discourage such statements and take disciplinary actions immediately against them.[10]

Social media has been a platform for interactive communication between companies and their customers in recent history than ever before.[11] Social media platforms enable the gathering of user information and companies use this personal information which results in breaching the privacy laws and increasing the legal risk.[11] Some of the most common methods used by social media to invade privacy are data scraping, leakage or personal data and online tracking.[14]

There are advertising laws organizations need to consider before using social media for promoting their products and services.[11] Scenarios where social media contests and sweepstakes that fail to obey the law and social media guidelines may have to face civil lawsuits, regulatory investigation and cancellation or deletion of social media accounts.[15] Additionally, for social media sites that allow users to rate products or services, asking or forcing employees to rate them high may violate advertising laws concerning testimonials and endorsements which leads to legal issues.[11]

Mental health and supervision edit

Social media has had a substantial effect in how individuals and organizations are allowed to communicate with one another. With the ability to reach millions of people instantaneously, social media has made it much easier for people and organizations all across the globe to share and receive information with a click of a button. However, while this has made it more convenient for everyone to be in contact with one another, it has also led to a much more disturbing emergence amongst the general population. Several mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem have been linked to the use of social media especially in young adults.[16] This is further driven home by when it was found that the more time a user spends on social media, the more likely they are to report feeling symptoms of mental health issues.[17]

One of the reasons why young adults are more susceptible to mental health issues from social media is the emergence of validation culture from these platforms.[18] Due to the model implemented in these platforms where you content can be “liked” and shown the number of views that it gets, young adults are increasingly attempting to feel validated by getting their peers to notice them on social media by using various tactics that include provocative pictures, filtered or edited content, and unrealistic portrayals of body image.[18] While receiving the intended attention from a post or content is jovial, its effect only lasts temporarily and this causes the user to look for the next way to emulate that feeling.[18] More often than not, the user feels “unworthy” or unfulfilled if they do not receive adulation and attention from their social media following.[18] Glorification of self harm has also led to many young adults to look for ways to harm and or act in a suicidal manner to gain attention from viewers and build online clout.[19] This troubling trend has caused suicide rates to increase by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014.[20]

Online abuse has become much more prevalent since the emergence of social media platforms. While the benefit of easier and more profound communication has been realized using the various social media platforms, abuse and harassment has also come as an unintended consequence from these mediums as well.[19] Online abuse and harassment has become such a big issue that it was found that cyberbullying had been experienced by as much as 40 percent of teenagers.[20] This has directly correlated with suicide and self harm issues that have arisen since the emergence of social media platforms.[20] These harrowing statistics make it clear that the negative effects of social media will continue to grow and until there is a real movement to address these issues, it will continue to negatively impact a large portion of society.

Bibliography edit

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  4. Tidy, J. (2021, July 15). How your personal data is being scraped from social media. BBC News. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from
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  6. Hossein Hassani, Gilbert Saporta, and Emmanuel Sirimal Silva.Big Data.Mar 2014.34-43.
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  9. a b Abbasi, J. (2022, March 15). Widespread misinformation about infertility continues to create COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. JAMA.
  10. a b Maiello Brungo & Maiello (2011). Social Media – An Overview of Legal Issues Businesses Face.  Maiello Brungo & Maiello.
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