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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Social Networking and Ethics

Vallor, Shannon
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
(Fall 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Here is an excerpt:

Contemporary Ethical Concerns about Social Networking Services

While early SNS scholarship in the social and natural sciences tended to focus on SNS impact on users’ psychosocial markers of happiness, well-being, psychosocial adjustment, social capital, or feelings of life satisfaction, philosophical concerns about social networking and ethics have generally centered on topics less amenable to empirical measurement (e.g., privacy, identity, friendship, the good life and democratic freedom). More so than ‘social capital’ or feelings of ‘life satisfaction,’ these topics are closely tied to traditional concerns of ethical theory (e.g., virtues, rights, duties, motivations and consequences). These topics are also tightly linked to the novel features and distinctive functionalities of SNS, more so than some other issues of interest in computer and information ethics that relate to more general Internet functionalities (for example, issues of copyright and intellectual property).

Despite the methodological challenges of applying philosophical theory to rapidly shifting empirical patterns of SNS influence, philosophical explorations of the ethics of SNS have continued in recent years to move away from Borgmann and Dreyfus’ transcendental-existential concerns about the Internet, to the empirically-driven space of applied technology ethics. Research in this space explores three interlinked and loosely overlapping kinds of ethical phenomena:
  • direct ethical impacts of social networking activity itself (just or unjust, harmful or beneficial) on participants as well as third parties and institutions;
  • indirect ethical impacts on society of social networking activity, caused by the aggregate behavior of users, platform providers and/or their agents in complex interactions between these and other social actors and forces;
  • structural impacts of SNS on the ethical shape of society, especially those driven by the dominant surveillant and extractivist value orientations that sustain social networking platforms and culture.
Most research in the field, however, remains topic- and domain-driven—exploring a given potential harm or domain-specific ethical dilemma that arises from direct, indirect, or structural effects of SNS, or more often, in combination. Sections 3.1–3.5 outline the most widely discussed of contemporary SNS’ ethical challenges.