Ethics and Social Media – Part 2

Published: January 26, 2018

By Jim Lichtman
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Last Wednesday, I shared excerpts from two papers written by New Hampshire students on the topic of Ethics and Social Media.

Christofer (pictured above in his final presentation) utilizes insight from another class to help inform his ethical reasoning.

“…during my Communicating Mindfully class with Professor Del-Bonis Platt,” Christofer writes, “we explored the effects such devices had on social interactions. Overwhelmingly our class agreed that cell phones and social media were major distractions in our normal lives. Deeper discussion revealed that everyone also agreed that both were mediums in which conversations happened that would never take place in a face-to-face interaction. …

“In the social media context, anonymity is key. Many people hide behind their user name or access point and freely advocate or say things they wouldn’t otherwise do when in the presence of their peers or even the recipients. The anonymity allows people to bypass two tests to principled reasoning:

– Can I sleep at night (or some variation)?

– What will my kids think of me (or some variation)?

“The distance created by cell phones and the impersonal nature of communicating chiefly through characters and small images further allows people to act out or say things they wouldn’t when in a face-to-face interaction. It is my belief that when given the opportunity people today will loosen their grip on what they hold to be their values in favor of the darker recesses of their personality.”

However, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is tackling much of the problem head on, as reported by

“There’s too much sensationalism, misinformation, and polarization in the world today,” Zuckerberg announced (Jan. 19). “Social media enables people to spread information faster than ever before, and if we don’t specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them. That’s why it’s important that News Feed promotes high quality news that helps build a sense of common ground.”

So, what are the changes?

“The system will work through Facebook’s existing quality surveys,” TheVerge writes, “with users now getting asked about whether or not they’re familiar with the source and if they trust it. According to Zuckerberg, Facebook considered making the decision on news sources itself or consulting outside experts, but ultimately felt that going to the community would be the most ‘objective’ method of determining which news sources are most broadly trusted.”

In a statement, posted of course on Facebook, Zuckerberg writes, “We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That’s why we’ve always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness.

“But recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other. …

“We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being. So, we’ve studied this trend carefully by looking at the academic research and doing our own research with leading experts at universities.

“The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos — even if they’re entertaining or informative — may not be as good.

“Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.

“We started making changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.

“As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.

“For example,” Zuckerberg says, “there are many tight-knit communities around TV shows and sports teams. We’ve seen people interact way more around live videos than regular ones. Some news helps start conversations on important issues. But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience.

“…by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”

Will it work? We’ll see.


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