Terms Of Service (TOS) agreements such as those by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are sometimes unethical in how they treat consumers who use these companies’ services. For example, in a case where the terms change and the user is not notified, it is unethical because it is unpractical for the user to keep checking whether TOS agreements have changed or not. This is because most of them are often voluminous and very difficult to peruse through on a daily business. Social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram should notify their users every time their Terms Of Service change. The user can then make a decision whether they intend to keep using these services. However, TOS agreements are ethical if they are well articulated, available and legible before they accept to use the service. This is because if the user agrees to TOS and clicks the accept button, they should not feel aggrieved if they later find out that the TOS agreement had an unfavorable rule. The answer does not change where the user is an individual or a corporation because both stipulate TOS for the same purposes of self-protection.
The social-media context does not justify giving users more rights than they would have under different contracts. This is because in social media, according more right to the users may lead to serious violations of the law such as copyright infringement and plagiarism. There must be a center of control which oversees all user activity and decides upon the rights that users should be provided with. Granted, the contracts appear one-sided, opaque and non-negotiable. However, social media sites are businesses. In a business entity such as a shop or restaurant, the owner sets rules such as the “No Smoking” rule. This is a prerequisite which all customers must obey if they are to be served. The fact that there are TOS agreements to be agreed to or declined before signing up with such social media sites means that the user is not obligated to join these sites. By joining, the user waives some of their rights, which include the right to negotiate a re-writing of the terms. The benefits of restricting users under “one-sided, opaque contracts, non-negotiable,” such as enhanced privacy and security outweigh those of enabling users to negotiate for their own “people’s TOS.”
Consumers have a duty to ensure that they read TOS statements before clicking on the “agree” button that enables them to start enjoying the services offered by the particular website. This is because one cannot simply begin something of which they do not know the repercussions. It is ethical to hold customers accountable if they violate agreements that they signed. This is because the agreements are usually available in a legible and clear form before one signs up for the services of a particular site. Consumers have a duty to go through the TOS statements because they are the only available way of laying down the rules. Use of online sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram exposes users to dangers such as cyberbullying and other social vices such as child predators and copyright infringement (Kangarooth 1). It is prudent for the corporations or individuals that run such sites to ensure that they do their best in protecting their users. By reading and complying with these rules, users accept to be protected and play a role in protecting others. For example, if Leonard Barshack had read the TOS to the full, he would not have incurred the losses he did after Twitter took away his handle. In this case, Twitter acted ethically and is blameless.
The practice of changing the TOS even after the user has agreed to a given set of terms and stating that the user is bound to the changed terms is unethical. First of all, it is unethical because while clicking the “Accept” button, the user only agrees to a particular set of TOS. This means that changing the TOS would need a new acceptance by the user for such terms to be enforceable. It is highly unethical for the owner of the site to change the terms and expect the users to abide by a new set of rules that they did not agree to initially. Secondly, changing the terms without a notification is equally unethical because it subjects users to rules that they are not aware of. Thirdly, some users may not agree to the new terms and may have to forfeit accumulated value in a particular website. In the first case study of Facebook, Metzger had accumulated value in Facebook friends. Facebook started charging him to advertise to all his friends. This change in operation by Facebook was not in the initial TOS agreements. It was unethical for Facebook to start making a gain on the value in friends that Metzger had worked hard to accumulate on the website. In this regard, Facebook gains from the efforts of its users, while restricting how they use the value they have developed and this is unethical.
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