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As social media websites rely on User-Generated Content to function, they rely on the users to provide true information. These websites do not have any methods put in place to make sure that the information users are posting to their profiles are factual, and it is unlikely that they would ever be able to do so without invading the user’s privacy or forcing the user to provide some form of private identification, such as a credit card number. Users would most likely not be very comfortable with doing so, and the cost to the user may outweigh the benefit of this fact-checking.

Children Under 13Edit

If a child under 13 years of age creates a Facebook profile, they are sharing information that violates the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act in the United States.[1] However, the only method most websites have to prevent this is either a field for the user to input a date of birth, or a check box that states “I agree that I am at least 13 years of age”. An underage user could simply lie about their age or check the box, and they would be allowed to violate Federal law. It is the ethical responsibility of the website to prevent these users from doing so, but it is practically impossible to prevent this from happening. The ethical responsibility therefore rests on the parents of the child in monitoring their online activities and preventing them from causing harm to themselves or others.

TrollsEdit

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Some users that are capable of creating an accurate social media profile instead opt to create a fake “troll” profile to remain anonymous. These users may have been blocked from accessing a specific person’s profile, and these accounts can be used to facilitate cyberbullying or otherwise access information that would be private and hidden from them. A user could create a fake profile to gain access to someone’s “Friends” list, breaching the privacy and security of not only the target but of every one of the target’s friends. While it is unethical for the person creating the fake profile to attempt to violate the user’s privacy, it is also unethical for the target to accept the fake profile’s friend request, as doing so violates the privacy of the people that have shared private information with that person in confidence.

Law EnforcementEdit

In 2010 it was revealed that Federal law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, are already using these methods to gain information on suspects that are not publicly available.[2] This can be considered ethically and legally wrong, as the investigators are violating the suspect’s right against self-incrimination. When a person is interrogated, it is required that they be read their “Miranda rights” that inform them that any information they share with these officers can be used against them in court. When an investigator gains the information using a fake profile, the user did not know that he was sharing the information with law enforcement, and the information may not be permissible as evidence in court. This form of law enforcement can be considered as a blatant violation of the suspect’s rights, especially if the suspect turns out to be innocent and their privacy was invaded in vain. However, as a counter example, at times officials have no other ways of proving the suspect to be guilty, and social media information would be critical in a criminal case even if the suspect did not consent to the information being shared. There actually have been many cases where the capture of a criminal has been directly linked to online evidence.[3] From a utilitarian point of view, the harm caused by releasing these suspects would outweigh the harm of violating the user’s privacy. However, Kant would argue that the data cannot be used no matter the outcome, since it is unethical to violate privacy in the first place. Therefore, it is still uncertain whether or not it is ethical or legal for law enforcement to act in this manner. Perhaps a middle ground could be established with search warrants and probable cause, similar to the way wiretaps are executed, but the law often lags behind technological innovation, as evidenced by this ethical dilemma.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Federal Trade Commission. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ftc.gov/ogc/coppa1.htm
  2. Lardner, R. (2010, March 16). Your new Facebook 'friend' may be the FBI. NBCNEWS. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/35890739/ns/technology_and_science-security/
  3. Hansen, L. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://theweek.com/article/index/227257/7-suspected-criminals-who-got-themselves-caught-via-facebook