Ethics of social media

The past decade has seen the rise of social media on an unprecedented scale. Only 13 years ago was Facebook started and today over a quarter of the world population is on the platform. Social media has impacted the way in which we connect and communicate with each other. But is this change for the better or worse? We’ve seen social media be used to overthrow governments during the Arab spring. During the last US presidential campaign we saw the spread of fake news over social media, ultimately swaying the outcome of the election. We’ve seen social media phenomena raise awareness for issues that otherwise would not have had such widespread attention from the ice bucket challenge raising awareness for ALS to #MeToo raising awareness for sexism against women. We’ve also seen social media platforms enable the rise of cyber-bulling and hate speech against individuals, even leading some to commit suicide.

Ultimately social media platforms are created and run by business who have an incentive to engage as many users for as much time as they can. This leads them to undertake seemingly good causes like bringing the infrastructure for the internet to countries and regions and can’t afford them. However it also leads them to make their platforms incredibly addictive, one side effect being that we get shown only the content we want to see.

Do social media companies have a moral responsibility to make their platforms vehicles for social good? What happens when their business incentives are at odds with morality? Are social media platforms simply a tool so it is we, as users of social media, that have a moral responsibility to use them for good? How can we make social media a force for good, or is that even possible?