There are different ethical codes written for almost every area of study and social engagement, from psychology, medicine, sports, and journalism, but with the unprecedented increase of social networking, a new question has to be raised: are there and should there be ethics applied to the emotional and psychological manipulation of a social media platform’s users?
“Aggressive marketing and data collection practices, however, have placed Facebook at the center of public policy debates over consumer privacy” (Montgomery, K, pp. 771).
Recent studies have shown that Facebook, in particular, has questionable ethics concerning the wellbeing of their users, particularly adolescents. A study in the Telecommunications Policy journal showed that Facebook was especially tuned into many of the key elements of adolescent development, and have been ” tapping into young peoples’ needs and taking advantage of their unique vulnerabilities” (Montgomery, K, pp. 771).
This poses a new question in the context of online safety, particularly where children and adolescents are concerned: there are policies to deal with cyber crime enacted against a minor, and there are policies to protect Facebook and other platforms against legal action should someone choose to pursue it (such as the terms of service and license agreements), but where protecting people from the social networking companies themselves is concerned, the water is muddy.
Interestingly, while a whole new sector of crime prevention has opened up in response to rising levels of cyber crime, this has so far failed to yield any effective strategies that prevent consumers being taken advantage of by legitimate companies. Cyber crime prevention is focussed entirely on other threats, such as “fraud, identity theft, theft of money or data (which could include patent or trade secrets), and malicious attacks using viruses (sabotage), sextortion, and even sometimes cyber-bullying” (McMahon, R, Bressler, M, Bressler, L, pp. 26); however, psychological manipulation is not listed, and there have been no policies or laws passed concerning the responsibilities of social networking corporations to their users.
This has lead to an unfortunate grey area for social media users, as the terms of service agreements often prevent them from taking action simply because they agreed to said terms of service. For example, in 2014, Facebook conducted a “mood altering experiment” to measure social media’s effect over people’s emotions by censoring various different posts on users’ newsfeeds, either by ensuring that only positive or negative news was shown. Despite the fact that users were upset, and that no debriefing for the unwilling participants was done (a requirement, by psychology ethics), Facebook published the information and findings, and the participants of the study were unable to pursue any legal action or seek compensation.
Knowing that this is an issue, now, will hopefully bring law enforcement attention to the issue of protecting users from the corporate-owned social media platforms they’re using, and bring about policy change concerning the ethics of online social manipulation.
McMahon, R, Bressler, M, & Bressler, L 2016, ‘NEW GLOBAL CYBERCRIME CALLS FOR HIGHTECH CYBER-COPS’, Journal Of Legal, Ethical & Regulatory Issues, 19, 1, pp. 26-37, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 23 August 2016.
Montgomery, KC 2015, ‘Youth and surveillance in the Facebook era: Policy interventions and social implications’, Telecommunications Policy, 39, SPECIAL ISSUE ON THE GOVERNANCE OF SOCIAL MEDIA, pp. 771-786, ScienceDirect, EBSCOhost, viewed 23 August 2016.