Ethics and Social Media

Published: January 24, 2018

By Jim Lichtman
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The use of social media has grown exponentially in the last several years. It’s become an ideal, and in some cases, vital source for reporting everything from emergencies to political uprisings; from coordinating protest marches to connecting with friends and family.

That’s social media’s positive side. There is, however, a much darker side where bullies, predators and terrorists live. It’s also become a breeding ground for much of the false information that proliferates, especially regarding political issues.

During this year’s Contemporary Ethical Issues class at The New Hampshire Technical Institute, a conversation between myself and students concluded by my suggesting that students write a paper on the positive and negative impacts of social media from an ethical perspective.

Two students, Gabrielle and Olivia (I promised to only use first names), discuss a couple of these issues.

“One particular problem I have noticed is the issue of body image,” Gabrielle writes. “Before Instagram and photo editing apps, girls were much more natural. With social media however, anyone can post anything, even if it is photoshopped. This makes other girls feel self-conscious, because they are seeing something that they perceive to be real. Since they don’t know the ‘gorgeous’ girl in the photo, they don’t know if she edited the picture. Girls start to compare themselves to that girl, creating self-image issues.

“…When a girl edits her picture to make it look better, she isn’t being honest to all her followers. They could be seeing a completely different girl than who is behind the screen. People are also not being respectful. With Facebook, people can start arguments with others over something that they don’t like. I feel that everyone should just mind their business and respect others’ lives.”

“Is social media making people forget about ethics?” Olivia asks.

“It is easy for people to hop on bandwagons, liking products, ideas, or activities, only because they believe it will give them more ‘Likes’ or ‘Follows’ on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media platform. It is easy for people to get blinded by their numbers, and to forget ethics altogether.

“There is a popular social media influencer (YouTuber) by the name of Logan Paul,” Olivia writes. “Now, I am already [biased against] Logan Paul, as he and his brother Jake Paul have done questionable things in the past. These two have millions of followers…

“Recently Paul took a trip to Japan and visited the famous ‘Suicide Forest.’  Japan has the highest rate of suicide in the developed world, and it is a very serious issue. This forest has a rich history and is known for its mass amounts of people that stray from the path to end their lives. It is such an issue that the government has posted signs begging people not to stray off the path and to get help if they need it.

“…Logan Paul is a brand. He makes his living off YouTube and markets his entertainment. He has a management team and a team of editors. … Paul decided that while on his trip to Japan he was going to film inside this forest. … Many people, including myself, believe he went in there to find a dead body. It is so clear that his intentions were to get more views and followers.

“He claimed he looked up information on the forest,” Olivia continues, “and if he truly did he would have known there was a 33% chance he would find one. Unfortunately, he did. Instead of turning off the camera, calling authorities and respecting this person, he decided to film it, laugh at it, edit the video and upload it for his… 8-15-year-old… fanbase.

“He threw every ethical thought out the window all in the name of getting more views. However, what makes this more disgusting, is that it went through a team of people first, and all these people followed along.

“It doesn’t stop there. YouTube is very biased when it comes to its trending page, where it shows the most trending videos. It has been known to put videos there on purpose, and take others down, so it can make more money itself. YouTube had this video on its trending page the entire time until Logan Paul took it down himself. He made a pathetic apology video, and YouTube also put that on the trending page for three days in a row instead of taking actions and striking his channel like they would have done with any other creator. The whole situation lacked ethics…

“What light came out of [this] is that it struck up a real conversation among other popular creators on the platform. They correctly and safely discussed the topic of suicide and shared ways people could reach out to get help. Many creators refrained from making a hate video on Logan Paul, and instead donated thousands of dollars to charities that help people in need.

“I believe that when used correctly social media is a powerful tool… However, it is also very easy to slip down the wrong path.

“I use social media to keep up with friends,” Olivia concludes, “make new friends from different areas, and keep up with the news. I have never really considered the benefits of my ethical viewpoints on social media until this course.”

More on this, Friday.

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