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Ethical Issues in Social Networking

# Technology

The fast emergence and vast acceptance of social networking sites in today’s communities has seemingly revolutionized human behavior, lifestyle and thinking. Social networking sites were truly becoming absolute hits among the user regardless age, sex or location. Internet users seem to be mesmerized and hypnotized by the beauty and the power of online social networking tools which are able to enhance communication capabilities and social networking with endless future potential extension.

Facebook and Twitter are two of the most popular social networking sites nowadays which commonly used on daily basis by most of the internet population to interact with their families and friends, build business appearance or meet with other internet users. Both sites can be considered as the best example to portray how social networking really has changed our way of life.

Ethical Issues in Social Networking
Image credit Technorati

The advancement of new information technologies has undoubtedly embossed many ethical issues and concerns in social networking code of etiquette. The uptake of social networking sites has raised questions about their potential to facilitate deception, social grooming and the creation of defamatory content, amongst others. One popular form of this argument takes a consequentialist position which holds that what make an action (design) right or wrong are its ultimate consequences [1]. Although social networking sites was built with a great intention to extend and improve human communication abilities, there are certain concern and threshold on ethical responsibilities that should be not be taken less in the aspect of priority, consideration and effectiveness towards ensuring good morality, righteousness and virtue in human capital development.

This paper sought to understand social networking term and explore current and possible ethical issues derived from the explosive impact of social networking sites in ethical and professional views of perspective such as privacy, free speech, data leakage and identity theft.

What is Social Networking?

The concept of social networking is not new. In fact it is prehistoric [2]. DeGenne and Forse´ [3] explained that social networks refers to a complex sets of relationship describing social structures made up from nodes or actors which involved individuals or organizations and sometimes even non-human elements or relational ties between two actors. The benefit of getting or sharing mutual knowledge and trust can emphasized both or more actors to gain profit from being part of the network [4]. According to Kizza [5], a social network is a theoretical network where each node is an individual, a group, or organization that independently generates, captures, and disseminates information and also serves as a relay for other members of the network. This means that all respective individual in social network’s group must contribute and collaborate to ensure that the information propagation flows seamlessly and was appropriately received throughout the entire network.

Social Networking Sites
Image credit The Guardian

A social networking web site is a site whose purpose is to create an online community of Internet users that enables members to break down barriers created by time, distance, and cultural differences [6]. It is also known to be an effective online platform to deliver functional practice and assessment of real life social networks. Through a well-developed social networking site such as Facebook, internet users could gain huge benefit by sharing news, interest, opinions, insights and experiences within their groups of communities. According to latest statistics released by International Telecommunication Union (ITU) [7], there are almost 40% of the world’s population are online. With over than 2.7 billion worldwide internet users population in 2013, social networking sites could deliver boundless potential to its users to cater and support personal or business interest’s needs and requirements.

While most of the definition and theoretical aspects of social networks do deliver the identical value in term of collective and social relationships, the desired goals and intention of participated collaborative users was unknown and the impact of social networks could be either positive or negative. Shared information and synergetic power generated by group of social networks could also potentially to be either a constructive or disruptive idea depending on the level of user’s acceptance and perception within the communities. Even though the initial target of a social networks are to achieve and deliver good value and success for human race, bad things still will happened. Everything will be back to basic where the decision is up for us to choose and decide.

Ethical Issues in Social Networking

Nowadays, social networking’s sites such as Facebook, Google and Foursquare have massive amount of followers and users. They actively publish and share information in social media almost in instant during or after any event or activities. Due to lack of awareness upon the danger of social networking, these active users are more prone to be publically targeted since they are available and searchable through their profile pages which contain personal information such as location and phone number. Moreover, the proliferation of mobile devices such web-enabled cell phones allow for the instantaneous collection of information for sharing on these sites [8].

Despite of its functional and useful potential in social and development growth in human’s communication, there are many ethical issues in social networking that should be taken into deep caution and consideration. In this chapter, we will discuss several ethical issues in social networking as below:

a) Privacy

The internet contains wealth of data and it is always a serious subject of concern for privacy issues in social networking sites. The problems of data privacy have been made worse by the growing number of youth flocking into these online social networks without or paying little attention to privacy issues for themselves or others [2]. Privacy can be violated, anywhere including in online social network communities, through intrusion, misuse of information, interception of information, and information matching [5]. Although term and conditions were always made to be seen and agreed during user’s registration process, most of the time, we as users tend to ignore the policy and expertly assumed that everything would be in a good place without realizing that we might solely permit a gateway access of breach to our precious personal information.

If you have been following the online social networking trend, you probably know by now that there has been growing concern over breaches in privacy caused by social networking services. Many users feel that their personal details are being circulated far more widely than they intended it to be [2]. For example, with the advent usage of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) or location-based social networking applications, you are subject to accept a data policy that might covertly take advantage of your privacy to legitimately and specifically target you with advertising ads. Some worry that Facebook could learn where you live, where you sleep, where you work, all with data from your phone [9].

However, earlier this year, there are news reports on Facebook users are committing ‘Virtual Identity Suicide’ in quitting and deleting their accounts due to privacy concerns and fear of internet addiction. Analysis of more than 600 people, by researchers from the University of Vienna, found that data protection issues and social pressure to add friends were also among the reasons for leaving [10]. This shows that privacy issues in social networking sites is in a serious and critical stage where users could not tolerate more and believe it is the best time for them to totally bring themself offline.

b) Free speech

Freedom of speech is a valid political pathway recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [11] where everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Although free speech is always seen as unobtrusive to many and supported in democratic ideology, it is a dangerous weapon for specific group of people to manipulate the right to release or spark an unethical sentiment such as racial or religious hatred within the digital space through social media.

Ethical Issues in Social Networking Sex bloggers Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee

In the most recent case happened in Malaysia, Sex bloggers Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee have been charged and imprisoned without bail in Malaysia after they posted a photo offensive to Muslims on their Facebook page [12]. The photo in question featured the duo eating pork stew, “Bah Kuh Teh,” while greeting fasting Muslims on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan. This is an example on how free speech can be manipulated to induce an unethical hate speech to incite religious hatred. Below is the photo from Facebook which was shared on public shows how Alvin and Vivian posted a Ramadhan greeting encouraging Muslim to break their fast with pork dish which is obviously non-halal.

On 21st February 2013, United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights has initiated a The Rabat Plan of Action [13] to prevent incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence, as outlined in article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, was presented by internationally recognized experts at an event held in Geneva.

c) Data Leakage

Data security and protection is expensive and difficult. Although many new technologies which related to data security and protection have been introduced to the market in these recent years, data leakage still remains as a big issue. In social networking sites, data leakage problem can be traced back where it is most possibly to be caused by user’s minimal awareness and understanding on the ethical privacy and protection value on the policies used by each respective social networking sites.

Frequent updates on social networking’s timeline such as current interest and location which are shown publicly as user’s activities can be manipulated and compiled as a valuable data source of information in data leakage. Even though each of these social networking sites have been clearly mentioned their privacy policies, it is all up to the users to fully take control on what should be exposed and what should remain confidential.

Around June 2013, Facebook has disclosed that they had inadvertently exposed six million users’ phone numbers and email addresses to unauthorized viewers over the past year and blamed the data leaks on a technical glitch in its massive archive of contact information collected from its 1.1 billion users worldwide [14, 15, 16]. The breach has resulted to a massive data leakage issue where Facebook users who intended to download data list of their friend’s contact list would obtained other confidential information which were never shared publicly on the network.

This is not the first time where Facebook has been accused and revealed for data leakage, there have a been several report earlier in 2010 where the largest social networking sites has been disclosed to leak personal data from Facebook Apps to third parties. According to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal [17], many of the most popular applications on Facebook have been transmitting identifying information providing access to people’s names and, in some cases, their friends’ names to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies affecting tens of millions of Facebook users even those on the strongest privacy settings configuration [18].

d) Identity Theft

Identity theft is one from many examples of ethical issues in social networking. It is a form of technique used by criminals to impersonate someone’s identity with intention to pursue or commit for crime. The victim will be hold to be responsible for the consequences of fraud or action done the impersonators. Identity theft on the Internet can arise in two similar yet distinct ways which are either creating a fake account or stealing and hacking the password of the victim [19].

Identity Theft Definition
Image credit BBC

According to Facebook in their latest second quarter 2013 operational highlights [20], it is reported that there are around 699 million on average daily active users for June 2012 which recorded to be a 27% year-over-year increase. However, it is also reported that this year, there are more than 76 million fake users claimed by Facebook during their war campaign to fight bogus account [21]. In previous Facebook’s regulatory filing released on 2012, the social media company said that 8.7 percent (83.09 million) of its 955 million monthly active users worldwide are actually duplicate or false accounts [22]. Although we can see that there a slight improvement and difference in the numbers of fake users which declined from 83 million to 76 million over the last six months [21], the numbers is still too huge and could contribute to a serious damage caused by the threat and impact of identity theft in social networking sites such as Facebook.

Despite of rapid and aggressive effort made by social networking sites to secure and protect its users from any form of online impersonation, the solution is still depends on the ethical value and proactive action from the users themselves to fully developed good understanding and self-awareness on the risk of online impersonation in social networking sites.

Conclusion

Social networking sites have become an essential element and support for current modern lifestyle and communities. Even though the growth of social media sites is remarkably amazing and impressive, it is strongly believed that there should be a balance between advancement and control towards a more flourish and ethical society. Thus, a solid and robust action plan need to be properly and carefully designed with alignment with latest information technologies in order to implement and practice good and excellent ethical values within the communities.

References

[1] Light, B., & McGrath, K. (2010). Ethics and social networking sites: a disclosive analysis of Facebook. Information Technology & People, 23(4), 290-311.
[2] Kizza, J. M. (2010). Cyberspace, Cyberethics, and Social Networking. In Ethical and Social Issues in the Information Age (pp. 221-246). Springer London.
[3] Degenne, A., & Forsé, M. (1999). Introducing social networks. Sage.
[4] Melé, D. (2009). The practice of networking: An ethical approach. Journal of business ethics, 90(4), 487-503.
[5] Kizza, J. M. (2013). Ethical, Privacy, and Security Issues in the Online Social Network Ecosystems. In Ethical and Social Issues in the Information Age (pp. 255-280). Springer London.
[6] Reynolds, G. W. (2011). Ethics in information technology. CengageBrain. com.
[7] Retrieved from http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/facts/ICTFactsFigures2013.pdf
[8] Parrish Jr, J. L. (2010). PAPA knows best: Principles for the ethical sharing of information on social networking sites. Ethics and Information Technology, 12(2), 187-193.
[9] Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-kanalley/facebook-home-privacy_b_3039571.html
[10] Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2423713/Facebook-users-committing-virtual-identity-suicide-quitting-site-droves-privacy-addiction-fears.html
[11] Retrieved from http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/ABCannexesen.pdf
[12] Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/18/alvin-and-vivian-jailed-malaysia-sex-bloggers_n_3616657.html
[13] Retrieved from http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/TheRabatPlanofAction.aspx
[14] Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/21/net-us-facebook-security-idUSBRE95K18Y20130621
[15] Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/27/facebook-leak-data_n_3510100.html
[16] Retrieved from http://www.zdnet.com/anger-mounts-after-facebooks-shadow-profiles-leak-in-bug-7000017167/
[17] Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304772804575558484075236968
[18] Retrieved from http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9191581/Facebook_apps_leak_personal_data_to_third_parties
[19] Reznik, M. (2013). Identity Theft on Social Networking Sites: Developing Issues of Internet Impersonation. Touro L. Rev., 29, 455-485.
[20] Retrieved from http://investor.fb.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=780093#sthash.ZA831qNG.dpuf
[21] Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-targets-76-million-fake-users-in-war-on-bogus-accounts-2013-2
[22] Retrieved from http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1326801/000119312512325997/d371464d10q.htm#tx371464_14