Ethical issues in the information technology (IT) industry are, in many cases, connected to the way business entities collect and store information about website visitors. Kidder’s nine steps is a framework that can be used to analyze similar issues and find ethical solutions to them. This paper will explore the ethical problems of social media and use Kidder’s nine steps to develop a solution to it.
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Current IT-Related Ethical Issue
Some ethical issues that surround contemporary social media are connected to the conflict between the objectives of social media as a business and the ethical implications of user privacy. Social media transformed the way individuals interact with each other. According to the views of Heidegger, social media impoverishes a person of reality, for example, real communication is substituted with a virtual one (cited in Bowles, 2018). Additionally, in 1984 Borgmann critiques the people’s desire to transform interactions into the form of easy consumption (cited in Bowles, 2018). The hyperreality concept means that people substitute real social interactions with virtual ones. Hence, the issues connected to using the new social media networks are associated with a transition towards virtual reality and decreasing the importance of face to face communications. Moreover, businesses use social media to collect information about their users and target those with advertisements that maximize purchase likelihood. Business social communities leverage people’s desire to communicate to promote their products and services. Arguably, new laws and regulations are needed to address ethical standards surrounding social media communication and data collection.
For example, the following scenario described the issue of ethics in the context of social media. A friend of mine is interested in sports cars, although he does not plan on buying one. However, he talks about sports cars via social media messages and follows sports car-related communities. As a result, every time he logs into a social media platform, he sees advertisements that offer him a sports car, featuring deals from local car dealerships and other ways of marketing the purchase. This friend revealed that he now feels pressured to buy a car because he is constantly reminded of this passion and the possibility to buy “his dream car.”
The problem with social media is that these digital platforms are businesses, and as entities created to generate profit, they leverage any opportunity to make money. The scenario from the previous section highlights the issue of a person looking for information about sports cars to buy them and the one who has an interest, but no purchasing intention. In this case, the friend feels the pressure from advertisers, and the latter uses information about his interests to market their products to him. Hence, the dilemma with social media is that these entities are a natural continuation of people’s desire to use virtual reality. As businesses, these companies have to make money, but they do so by selling information about their users to advertisers.
Recognize that there is a Moral Issue
For the analysis of this ethical problem, Kidder’s nine steps are used. Social media platforms have existed for years, and more and more reports and news about the use of user data are published. A moral issue, in this case, is the misuse of information that people who visit and use social media websites provide about themselves. The intent of these individuals is to share information with friends and family, but social media use it to create advertisements that are more likely to result in a purchase.
Determine the Actor
In this case, there are three actors — the users, social media companies, and businesses. The main actor, however, is the owner of the social media platforms, since they are responsible for the user’s safety. Moreover, these platforms are the ones that will have to make a decision: either to change their policies or continue the current practices.
Gather the Relevant Facts
Social media websites collect information about their users and use it to attract advertisers and businesses. Users consent to this through agreements, which most individuals do not read or understand. This information allows businesses, who choose certain social media platforms, t target users with specific interests, for example, those who post about their hobbies.
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Test for Right-Versus-Wrong Issues
With this example, the concept of “right versus wrong” does not work since it is difficult to agree on whether collecting and using user information is morally unjustified. Unlike some other ethical issues, the problem of social media is not as clear or straightforward. On the one hand, collecting information about people makes them vulnerable to potential advertisements, since they share their interests and passions online. On the other, social media networks are businesses, and they have to generate revenue, which most of them do by providing information and place for ads.
Test for Right-Versus-Right Paradigms
From another perspective, the right-versus-right paradigm, two moral values are in conflict. In this case, it is privacy versus businesses’ viability, and the resolution of this problem requires deep ethical consideration.
Apply the Resolution Principles
End based principles or the utilitarian approach implies that the benefit of the majority is the most important. In this case, the social media user’s rights to privacy should be prioritized over the objectives of these businesses. From a rule-based perspective, social media websites do not violate existing legislation, and therefore, the issue is irrelevant. Finally, from a care based perspective, love for others should be prioritized, meaning that social media should focus on ensuring that the data of their users are safe.
Investigate the “Trilemma” Options
Currently, social media websites have user agreements under which each individual has to consent to the platform collecting their data. However, if a user disagrees, they will be unable to use the social media network. Ultimately, suppose users become overly concerned or annoyed with the way social media networks use their personnel information. In that case, they will turn to other means of communication, and these platforms will lose their relevance and importance, and therefore, profits. Hence, the end goal of a common ground decision is to ensure that users understand how their personal information will be collected, why, who, and who will use it. Additionally, it is best for social media networks to limit the amount of information that they provide to businesses and focus on user anonymity.
Make the Decision
Based on the assessment, the utilitarian approach, or the end-based resolution principle, should be used with this scenario. This is because, as determined in the previous steps, social media users are billions of people worldwide, and the potential implications of unethically using their information are detrimental.
Revisit and Reflect on the Decision
Ideally, this resolution should not harm the business of social media platforms. Their main goal is to attract as many users as possible because this will lead to an increased advertiser’s interest. However, the users may be scared to use social media, considering the amount and type of information that these platforms collect and use. Hence, this solution targets not only the group that is the biggest but also addresses the concerns of other stakeholders.
The decision made in the previous section using the Kidder’s framework will inevitably affect the stakeholders. Firstly, the users of social media websites will be safer, although some of their information still will be available to businesses. Social media platforms will escape the risk of behaving unethically by implementing additional safety measures to protect user data. Finally, businesses that use this information in their advertisements will also benefit by being able to market their products in a way that is not concerning.
An applicable ethical theory from Module 1 is the utilitarian theory, which emphasizes the benefit and outcome of each potential decision. The utilitarian model implies that feelings or care for others should not be the determining factors in making the correct decision. This theory was developed on the basis of consequentialism, and the main focus in decision-making is the result and the number of people affected by a chosen solution. Hence, the profits of the organizations are not the ultimate concern, in this case. The benefits of users, which manifest in their ability to use social media and have the reassurance that their data is safe, is the ultimate goal.
Overall, this paper examined one of the ethical issues applicable to contemporary IT-field. The dilemma that social networks use is the need to sell information about user characteristics to advertisers using their platform while violating some of the user’s privacy, which is unethical. Using Kidder’s nine-step plan, the problem was evaluated, and the end-based resolution was described. Considering the benefit of the majority and the result, social media websites should avoid using private information about their visitors.
Bowles, C. (2018). Future ethics. NowNext Press.