Social Media usage is accelerating at a mammoth rate and the internet have literally shrunk our world, enabling us to carry it with us through our mobile phones. While this isn’t anything to be alarmed, this also gives rise to some challenging and new ethical concerns. Social networking has become an integral part of our culture, and this essay is an attempt to reflect upon the ethical implications of this phenomenon.
In Utilitarianism the ethical value of a concept is measured solely by its resultant outcome or utility. Social sites, like Facebook and Myspace, connect millions of people across the globe, and enable them to be in touch and share stuff. This ability of social networking, of enabling people to communicate with friends and family, makes it extremely useful. However as witnessed by the recent Petaluma High School incident, there are many negative consequences associated with the social media culture, like cyber-bullying and online predation.
Almost every technology comes with its own set of pros and cons, and it is ultimately up to the individual to fine-tune his usage of the technology, and derive maximum out of it and diminish the negative impacts of it. As far as social media habits are concerned, we should treat the people we meet online the same way we do when we meet a person in real life - with honesty, openness, fairness, caution and prudence. Every site has its own security and privacy settings, and we should learn them and have a fair idea about them, before opening an account with that particular site.
Also there is the issue of rights over the content published on these sites. For instance we publish intimates photos, share business tips and share remarks made by other people. Has the people who view these contents have the right to use them? This is a gray area and calls for serious introspection into laws governing online sites. There is no fixed framework which addresses privacy issues pertaining to social media. Given the colossal growth of social networking, there is an urgent necessity to draft some laws to protect the privacy of social bloggers.
There is a widespread belief that the social sites promote egalitarianism, whereby we interact with all sorts of people without being concerned with color, creed or religion. However, this is a common misconception. Time and again this media has been used to instigate hate crimes and is used to spread racial propaganda. So the real solution to have an egalitarian society is to interact with people knowing their true identity, and yet be able to see past the differences in color or religion. Many people develop false avatars in their social media profiles, and develop bonds with others using this phony identity. This is not just an unfair practice, but also one which does not serve any ends, as it aids neither true relationship nor does it dissolves prejudice. Fairness lies in knowing and liking people for what they are, and not be masking our true identity and build relationships based on false pretense.
Today this is not the case, and social media today effectively reflects people‘s true feelings and the true nature of the news, the Arab Spring being a recent example. There are negative impacts of this phenomenon too, like the London riots of 2011, which is widely been perceived to be fuelled by social networking. However, the overall role played by the social networks in bringing people closer together cannot be underestimated, and devising laws which provide censorship to certain propaganda might make this medium more useful and structured.
The virtue perspective is the most important of all, as every individual is identified through his/her virtues. Most of our virtues over the years have been formed by our personal contacts with our social circle. We see people and learn to greet them, learn niceties when we talk to others, and like people who are honest and kind, and dislike others who are selfish and unkind. These virtues develop our personality, and in turn make us the person whom we are. There is a widespread belief that social networking is destroying these virtues, as through social media we meet virtually, talk virtually, and in essence have a virtual relationship, and are fulfilled by it.
However most of the virtues, like honesty, kindness and compassion, have a great value in social networking too, which is reflected in the popularity and reception some charity campaigns receive. Even in social media space, like in real life, people friend persons who are witty, caring and compassionate, and detest and condemn posts which are hateful and derogatory. Thus, in its own way social networking does impact the virtues of a person in a positive way.
In this fast paced world, where we have little time to wish a relative on his birthday, or to wish a speedy recovery for somebody by visiting her hospital, our instant messages which we send them would, assure them that we remember them and wish the best for them. More than anything else, these social media enable us to communicate to people that, we care about them. This is the greatest outcome of the social networking phenomenon. Like any new concept social networking has its glitches, but it will evolve with time, and once it becomes more structured, it will definitely be beneficial to a lot of people. However it should not be used as a substitute for real contact with people, and we should have the right balance of offline and online contact with people, to derive the maximum out of this technology.