The new digital media platforms are rich with opportunities and risks, mostly for young people. Through internet, young people are participating in a range of activities, including social networking, blogging, vlogging, gaming, instant messaging, downloading music/movies and other content, uploading and sharing their own creations, and collaborating with others in various ways.
Social networking technologies open up a new type of ethical space where personal identities and communities, both ‘real’ and digital, are constructed, presented, negotiated, managed and performed. According to Carrie James, young people, under the best of circumstances, are able to express different sides of their selves in a loyal environment, engage in self-presentation, and draw constructive feedback from others (James, 2009). However, the new media can also hide significant risks to a young person’s sense of self, including risks related to identity dishonesty and opportunities to be attacked by harmful digital identities.
Social networking and ethics have generally centered on topics less open to empirical measurement (e.g., privacy, identity, friendship). Facebook has been the most well-known platform exposed to criticism of its privacy practices (Spinello, 2011), but it is just the most visible member of a far broader and more complex network of SNS platforms with access to exceptional quantities of sensitive personal data. Jaron Lanier, an American computer philosophy writer, cynically states that: “The only hope for social networking sites from a business point of view is for a magic formula to appear in which some method of violating privacy and dignity becomes acceptable” (Lanier, 2010).
Social networking technologies have added a new sense of urgency and complexity about technology and informational privacy. Some fundamental practices of concern include: the potential availability of users’ data to third parties for the purposes of commercial marketing, the capacity of facial-recognition software to automatically identify persons in uploaded photos; the ability of third-party applications to collect and publish user data without their permission or awareness, the use of ‘cookies’ to track online user activities after they have left a SNS; the potential use of location-based social networking for stalking or other illegal monitoring of users’ physical movements; the sharing of user information or patterns of activity with government entities. These new factors in the information environment create specific problems with respect to privacy norms.
Finally, another emerging ethical concern is the rapid increase of cyberharassment and cyberstalking. In the U.S., women who raise their voice about the lack of diversity in the tech and videogame industries have been distinct targets. In some cases they are forced to cancel speeches/lectures or leave their homes due to physical threats after their addresses and other personal info were posted online, a practice known as ‘doxxing’ (Vallor, 2015).
James, C. (2009). Young people, ethics, and the new digital media: A synthesis from the good play project. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Lanier, J. 2010, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, New York: Knopf.
Spinello, R.A., 2011, “Privacy and Social Networking Technology,” International Review of Information Ethics, 16: 41–46.
Vallor, S. (2015). Social Networking and Ethics. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-social-networking/