Social Media: Ethical Issues and Theories

Introduction

Social media is an integral medium of communication in contemporary society. With the heightening advent of computer technology and the internet, people can now interact easily through various social networking sites. This revolution has made communication more effective, thus making the use of social media more common in the present world. However, the use of social media is associated with various ethical issues and this raises concern on whether it should be restricted and controlled. This report focuses on various ethical aspects surrounding the use of social media and how they might relate to certain ethical theories, before giving a personal view to the dilemma.

Background

The use of social media is associated with many benefits as well as disadvantages. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Linked, YouTube, and MySpace have enabled people to connect and establish meaningful relationships with one another. However, there have been great concerns from the UAE and other regions of the world on the various ethical issues associated with the use of social media. For example, the information on social media is universal and everybody can access it provided they have a computer and internet connection. This universality nature of information in social media makes it easy for wrong audiences to assess stuff that is not meant for them and this is likely to raise serious ethical concerns (Al-Jenaibi, 2011).

While the main role of social media is to enable people to interact with one another in a meaningful manner, some people use this as an avenue to practice malicious activities against others. There are also concerns of information and photos posted online over social networking sites landing in the hands of the wrong people who would, in turn, use them to tarnish other people’s reputation. These ethical issues have continued to raise big concerns from all over the world with some people thinking that the use of social media should be restricted and controlled.

Ethical Dilemmas

Social networking sites are platforms through which people can freely interact and communicate with one another. This way social media has proved to be an effective communication tool that has continued to play a significant role in linking people across the world. Apart from being platforms of social interaction, social networking sites are offering new insight into all aspects of human life (Bowen, 2013). The sites have also become great avenues for entertainment, education and business-related purposes, thus making the use of social media more rampant in the current world.

Apart from the above benefits, the use of social media also raises many ethical concerns. There is no limitation or restriction of the amount or type of information one can access or post on social networking sites. In most cases, this information contains some segments which may not be suitable to persons below a particular age level. Even though some sites provide a restriction for the minimum age of persons intending to utilize their services, minors can still use them and access information that may be unsuitable to them. For example, nowadays there are vast online dating sites whose contents are meant for adults only and are unsuitable for children.

People exchange photos and contact details over various social networking sites without any idea of the dangers this poses to their personal identities. Studies have linked rampant cases of identity theft that have taken part in the world in the recent past to the use of social media, whereby people expose their identities on social networking sites making themselves prone to strangers having malicious intentions (Bosslet, 2011). For instance, with modern photography software applications such as Photoshop, bad people can easily edit and tag other people’s online photographs and use them to tarnish their reputation.

People post information over social media with less concern about who this information may reach. This could raise serious problems incase the information ends up reaching the wrong people (Donev, 2011). For example, young people who are the main users of social media exchange all sorts of sensitive stuff with their friends over social networking sites. Sometimes this information may be seen by their parents or relatives, thus tarnishing their images. There is also the possibility of hacking and other unethical activities that take place over the internet that can be of great harm to social media users.

Social media is also very addictive, and for that reason, people tend to spend countless hours in front of their computer screens, thus getting distracted from important activities (Cain and Joseph, 2010). Excessive use of social media in the UAE is also said to cause depression and heart attacks among users.

Theoretical Responses

The ethical question of whether the use of social media should be restricted and controlled can be addressed in different ways and below is a description of how three ethical theories respond to this matter.

Consequentialism

This theory suggests that what matters most is the outcome of our actions. In other words, this is a results-based theory. In this particular case, consequentialists would argue that the uncontrolled use of social media will contribute to diverse ethical concerns on users. This would have the meaning that the final outcome which the trend will have on its users will depend on the manner in which they use it.

Virtue-based ethics

This theory focuses on what a virtuous individual would do. For instance, the main role of social media is to unite people through social interaction and good people will do exactly that. Based on this theory, people will not see social media as an avenue to intimidate others but rather a platform for meaningful interaction with one another. In this regard, the controlled use of social media will make things better for users.

Deontology

This theory suggests that certain forms of human actions are intrinsically good or bad. This would have the meaning that laws are significant in determining the right action to do. In this case, control and restriction of social media use will help to eradicate the many ethical concerns associated with the trend.

Personal Response

In my opinion, I believe that the use of social media should be restricted and controlled. This will ensure that online information is channeled to the right audience, thus avoiding the many ethical issues associated with free use of social media. Controlled use of social media will also guide users on the right way to behave on various social networking sites. This will help to reduce cases of cyber-bullying and online predation among other harms (Picazo-Vela, Isis and Luis, 2012). Restriction and control of use of social will also help to reduce the amount of time spend on social networking sites, thus reducing cases of depression and heart attack associated with the practice.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the dilemma of whether the use of social media should be restricted and controlled has become a complex issue in the modern world. While there are those who think it should be free, others think it should be controlled and restricted for ethical purposes. As it is shown in this report, it is possible to provide ethical theories supporting both sides. However, in my opinion I believe that it is good to restrict and control the use of social media as one way of bringing to end the many ethical issues associated with the practice.

References

Al-Jenaibi, B. (2011). The Use of Social Media in the United Arab Emirates: An Initial Study. European Journal of Social Sciences, 23(1), 84-97.

Bosslet, G. (2011). Commentary: the good, the bad, and the ugly of social media. Academic Emergency Medicine, 18(11), 122-126.

Bowen, S. (2013). Using classic social media cases to distill ethical guidelines for digital engagement. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 28(2), 119-133.

Cain, J., & Joseph L. (2010). Legal and ethical issues regarding social media and pharmacy education. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 74(10), 28-33.

Donev, D. (2011). Ethical dilemmas in social media. Media Discourse of Poverty and Social Exclusion, 15(7), 217.

Picazo-Vela, S., Isis G., & Luis F. (2012). Understanding risks, benefits, and strategic alternatives of social media applications in the public sector. Government Information Quarterly, 29(4), 504-511.