Social media is still a young method of communication, and the global impacts of this technology are still being determined. In Western countries like the United States, issues that arise are more personal as a result of freedom of speech and expression. In other authoritarian countries, however, social media is having a more profound impact than was expected.
Social Media Law in the United StatesEdit
The security and privacy of social media users is protected by established Federal privacy law. These laws state that entities collecting information about people have a legal obligation to provide the end-user information on how the data will be collected and how the collected data will be used. Social media websites comply with these laws by providing explicit privacy policies. It has been argued that the potential costs of the privacy infringement caused by social media websites, especially in regards to targeted advertising and user profiling, outweigh the small potential benefits to the user.  This is a utilitarian argument against current privacy law, but quantifying the inherent subjectivity of utilitarianism may be impossible in a legislative sense. Therefore, it seems that the issues with social media will remain an ethical concern as opposed to a legal one, at least in the United States.
Social Media Censorship In Authoritarian GovernmentsEdit
In other countries, social media concerns transcend personal privacy concerns. Instead, social media threatens the status quo by providing citizens an alternative way of accessing information. In countries like China and North Korea, the media is heavily censored and any information that reaches the people through traditional means is completely tailored to the government’s point of view.Currently, China has attempted to block foreign social media websites through the “Great Firewall of China” that blocks IP address ranges and filters search engine results. There are some local social media websites that the government does allow, but posts that are against the Party’s political views are deleted. People are also paid to post messages under false pretenses to feign popular support of the Party. Similarly, in August 2013 Vietnam passed a law that prohibited “posting any content online that harms national security or opposes the state”. It is not yet clear on how this law will be enforced, but it will most likely follow the footsteps of China.
The way these governments are handling social media is clearly unethical. The privacy, security, and basic human rights of the users are being violated. Users can still bypass these restrictions using proxies or systems such as TOR, but this remains highly illegal. Social media has already caused several global paradigm shifts, such as the controversial Arab Spring that started through Twitter and Facebook. In Egypt, citizens were denied access to social media in an attempt to contain the revolution brewing, but the efforts were in vain. To a certain extent, it is uncertain whether it is unethical for these governments to deny users access to these websites, or if it is unethical for users to circumvent these government restrictions. However, it is certain that these social issues have not been resolved, and the issues will continue to arise as the social media eruption affects more and more people worldwide.
- ↑ Solove, D. J. (2013). INTRODUCTION: PRIVACY SELF-MANAGEMENT AND THE CONSENT DILEMMA. Harvard Law Review, 126(7), 1880-1903.
- ↑ Bamman, D., O'Connor, B., & Smith, N. (2012). Censorship and deletion practices in chinese social media. First Monday, 17, 3-5. Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3943/3169
- ↑ CBC News. (2013, September 01). Vietnam's social media censorship takes effect. CBCNEWS| World. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/vietnam-s-social-media-censorship-takes-effect-1.1373035