The paper “Ethical Questions Raised by the Use of Social Networks" is a sapid example of a research paper on social science. The main reason why I have chosen to research on ethical issues in social networking is that social networks are currently among the major types of technology with a significant impact on information privacy. As Jones notes, many people, especially the teenagers post all manner of information, including videos and their photos or the photos of their friends, on Facebook without taking into account the implication that such posts would have on their privacy or the privacy of their friends (Jones, 2005).
The common forms of social networks are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace. Social networks are undoubtedly the most popular mean of communication among various people in the world, especially the youth. But despite the popularity of social networks, there are important ethical issues or questions that the use of social networks as a mean of communication raises. The three main ethical questions that the use of social networks as a mean of communication are: (1) do social networks protect individual privacy of the users? (2) Do social networks ensure safety for their users? (3) Do the advantages of using social networks outweigh the disadvantages?
The question of whether or not social networks protect individual privacy of the users is a pertinent ethical question because a critical look at many social networks shows that the use of social networks comprise individual privacy of the user. This is because many users of social networks, especially the youth share important private information about themselves with their friends on social networks, without realizing that people with bad motives can use the private information to harm them in one way or another. From a deontological point of view, it is morally wrong for people to post on social networks or to share any sensitive personal information that can be seized by criminals and used for wrong or criminal motives. From utilitarian point of view, however, it is morally acceptable for one to post sensitive personal information on social networks if such posts will lead to greater happiness for the majority of the people.
Elaboration and Discussion of the three Ethical Questions raised by the use of Social Networks
The question of whether or not social networks ensure safety for their users is also a critical ethical question. This question is particularly important considering cybercrimes like cyber bullying and cyber stalking. From the deontological theory of ethics point of view, since the law does not allow one to commit crimes like cyber bullying on social networks, social networks cannot be blamed for the cybercrimes; it is the individual criminals who choose to commit cybercrimes who should be blamed for social crimes, but not the social networks. From the utilitarian theory of ethics point of view, however, it is unethical to use social networks if the use of social networks lead to pains and suffering for the majority of people. For this reason, therefore, the question of whether or not social networks ensure safety for their users is a pertinent moral question.
The third question, also, is a very important question because, although there are many advantages of using social networks as a mean of communication, there are also many disadvantages of using social networks as a mean of communication. From the deontological point of view, it is morally permissible to use social networks if the law so allows irrespective of whether or not the advantages of using social networks outweighs the disadvantages. On utilitarian grounds, however, it is morally permissible to use social networks only if the advantages of using social networks outweigh the disadvantages of using the same. For this reason, therefore, from the utilitarian point of view, it is morally important to determine whether or not the advantages of using social networks outweigh the disadvantages.
Having explained the three critical questions that the use of social networking as a mean of communication raises, let us look in details at the real ethical challenge that these questions raise.
To begin with, social networks compromise individual privacy, especially among the teenagers who disclose a large amount of their personal information online. As Christofides has rightly argued, although Facebook has played a significant role in telecommunication, it has presented a problem in privacy protection among high school students, thus doing more harm than good (2010). Many teenagers disclose on social networks like Facebook sensitive personal information like relationship status, email address, the list of their friends’ birthdays, as well as other networked connections through the sites. They also provide their real names, complete birthdays and real clear photo images of themselves in their profile. This fact shows that social networks compromise individual privacy because there are no restrictions on the kind of information that one can share or post on social networks.
Secondly, many criminals use social networks to cause harm to the social network users. Crimes such as cyber bullying and cyber stalking have made the lives of some social networks users, especially the teenagers, completely miserable. Many victims of cyber bullying and cyber stalking develop psychological disorders and some of them even commit suicide (Gayle, 2014). This fact shows that social networks do not ensure safety for their users.
Thirdly, although social networks have revolutionized communication among people and made communication quite easy and affordable, social networks have many disadvantages. Social networks have ruined the lives of some teenagers by making them to be expelled from schools and colleges (Debatin et, 2009). Social networks, also, have made some people to have some psychological disorders and to even commit suicide as we have already seen. For this reason, therefore, although social networks have made communication among people quite easy, social networks have many disadvantages.