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Arguably the most important part of social media is interacting with other people. Users are allowed to keep track of and share information with friends or followers. Most social media platforms allow users to “tag” their friends in posts, which can be a double-edged sword. Tagging your friends allows the user to have a more intimate social networking experience with others, but it also allows the user to share information that the other person would not necessarily want shared.

Unwanted Sharing of InformationEdit

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The tag itself may be removed, but the photo will remain online.

A major issue that plagues social media is the possibility that these posts may reach current or prospective employers, and that the private lives of the employees would affect their personal lives. Some employers make it a requirement for a prospective employee to provide them with their Facebook password, which is a violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service and a violation of the user’s privacy. In fact, six states have made it illegal for employers to ask for employee’s Facebook passwords, but there are no restrictions against these employers from searching public posts involving the person.[1] This would mean that the user could simply change their privacy settings to prevent their posts from being public.

However, the ethical problems arise when a third party posts incriminating photos on their own public profiles and tag the privacy-conscious friend. The friend has no way of removing the photo, and even if the friend convinces the original poster to take the photo down, the photo may have already been seen by a potential employer and will forever remain in Facebook’s archives. A similar issue can arise when a user shares potentially incriminating content online in private, but another user saves it and shares it with a third party. Such was the case in October of 2013 where a young man was in need of a liver transplant. Photos of himself at a bar that he had posted on his personal Twitter account were emailed to the doctor that was in charge of deciding whether or not the young man was eligible for a liver transplant. The patient had told the doctor that he was no longer drinking, but the photo he shared with his friends cost him his liver transplant and essentially his life. [2]


Ethical AnalysisEdit

It is ethically reprehensible to post information about others in a way that they do not desire. If the friend does not share their photos publicly, a user should not in turn share these photos with the public. However, the dilemma that arises at this point is the role of the social media outlet itself. It is unclear whether it is the moral responsibility of the website to remove photos of others that are seen as offensive or embarrassing, or if they should respect the right of the original poster to decide what to share and with whom to share it. From a utilitarian perspective, it would be unethical to post the embarrassing photos because the potential harm of the post, such as a single Twitter photo costing the young man’s life, would clearly outweigh the benefit of the user’s satisfaction in sharing the photo. However, from a Kantian perspective, it would be unethical to remove the photo even if it meant harm to the persons depicted, as that would mean that any photo that someone deems embarrassing would have to be removed and the right to freedom of expression of the poster would be denied.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Kerr, D. (2013, January 02). Six states outlaw employer snooping on Facebook. CNET. Retrieved from http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57561743-93/six-states-outlaw-employer-snooping-on-facebook/
  2. Caplan, A. (2013, October 21). Is your doctor spying on your tweets? social media raises medical privacy questions. NBCNEWS. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/health/your-doctor-spying-your-tweets-social-media-raises-medical-privacy-8C11427782