Surveillance & Ethics

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.


Facebook by Christopher (CC BY 2.0)

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.


10 thoughts on “Surveillance & Ethics

  1. Hi Ayla,

    Great work!
    Your idea of surveillance ethics is brilliant. The privacy rights seem not to be enough in the current time. The fact that there is more and more privacy invasion happens every day. Every related ad about services or products I once bought online gives me a big question about my privacy rights. And sometimes I still wonder when did I agree with them about collecting my data, but suddenly I remember about the policy that I had to agree when I sign up on Facebook.

    And yes, it is sad that the young generation has to be through bad effect from social media surveillance. The adolescence, in fact, they are too young to aware of their privacy and danger on SNSs. In my opinion, that maybe our job to develop and concern about the surveillance ethics because we learn about surveillance, we even learn about media law and ethics, “the Media Law and Ethics unit provides us knowledge to deal with legal and ethical issues that may arise from their work as communication professionals or as users of media communication”. We have 11 IPPs (information privacy principles), NPP (National Privacy Principles) and some case, we can use the MEAA code (Media, Entertainment and Art Allience).

    You have done a great work with your blog, keep developing your ideas.

    • Thanks, Casey! I always wonder how Facebook knows to advertise different things to me until I remember agreeing to them collecting my info in the TOS. It’s something I hadn’t really thought about until now, though!


  2. Great blog post Ayla! You picked a really thought provoking topic and the way you structured your blog with the use of images, academic references and tweets made it really engaging and informative. It was great that you provided background information to the topic as well as possible solutions to the grey area of social media ethics. It’s quite shocking to hear about Facebook’s secret mood experiment and I was surprised to know that something like that would be legal. Overall your blog was really great the only way you could have improved it was to maybe add in your own opinion on the topic but great stuff!

  3. Hey Ayla,
    Great work here in this blog post, the topic chosen a really engaging and one that can evoke great conversation. The use of the CC images really helps to keep the reader engage and know what the content means. The referencing on these images was done well and its great that these active hyperlinks open in new tabs, very convenient.
    The references used were very interesting and were well realted to the topic of the post, I particularly enjoyed reading up on the high tech cyber cops article.
    I would have liked to have seen a YouTube video or some other type of media integrated into the post, as it would have been nice to split up the reading and images.
    God use of tweets in the post also, overall a great post but just some minor things to keep in mind. Well done!

  4. Hi, Ayla,
    What a great article, you have raise a right concern about the Surveillance & Ethics. Your blog even has more clarification by adding some quotes and the creative commons license pictures which makes it very interesting.
    Moreover, the link to the individual images and its licenses is making it clearer.
    The question about why Facebook has policies to protect themselves but there is no such a thing for its users, what a good argument.
    I just think if there were some video on YouTube or even your own video about which could make it be more persuasive because of the argument you show is very strong. As a result, if you could say it in your own voice, it would be even stronger by the tone and pressing you could have make. Good job, Ayla, this is a one of the good blog that I have read.

  5. Hey Ayla,
    Really great post. It is very well written and your research is tremendous. It is evident you have conducted thorough research from your strong informative paragraphs. It is very interesting to see how large corporations like Facebook can get away with conducting experiments without the consent of their users and yet they get away it. I really enjoyed reading your post. You have utilized other creative commons licensed images and even your own embedded tweet. Overall, your blog post appears flawless. Great job!

  6. The exploration of ethics and surveillance is a very interesting topic. The incorporation of academic research and news articles provided two separate interesting takes on Facebook manipulation. It is disturbing that Facebook never debriefed their participants as per standard psychology experiment ethical guidelines. It would be interesting to know how the participants went psychologically after the study concluded. Your tweets, photos and hyperlinks were well placed and helpful to your argument. I particularly like the Guardian article it provided an interesting take on peoples reaction to the manipulation by Facebook.

  7. Hi Ayla,

    This was really a great post by you. This post really highlights that how because of the absence of any written ethics related with social media, the companies like Facebook are able to take wrong advantage of their clients. Your blog also rightly points on the loopholes which are present in our current system for the prevention of the cyber laws and with the help of the real example it wonderfully explains that how by agreeing to the terms and conditions of the agreements by the social media platforms we knowingly make ourselves vulnerable to their exploitation.


  8. Hi Ayla,

    Great research you have here about surveillance and ethics. I reckon that ethics is a pretty big issue within social media (especially Facebook) as social media these days plays a big part in peoples daily lives. There is never enough privacy.
    The question that you have raised in your introduction gives it a strong start and I like how you have included the Facebook image, which depicts your point strongly and makes it more understandable.
    You have referenced your contents properly and it’s good to see that all hyperlinks work and open in new windows.
    Great job 🙂


  9. I’m very glad to see an ethics blog post, and you’ve addressed the issue well. It is increasingly concerning when corporations operate with questionable ethical practice, and with Facebook being the largest social media site, their power to do as they please is second to none. Great choice of reference with the Facebook ‘mood test’ article, as it shows that Facebook can and will censor out information. I had heard that recently, far-right wing pages were being censored in favour of a more ‘leftist mentality’, which is essentially the suppression of free speech. Here is the article if you want to read it yourself:
    Great blog post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s