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Ethical Issues in Social Media Systems

Updated on November 14, 2017


While social media websites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have become a significant part of our lives with regards to communication, it has gradually transformed in to a multi- use tool for individuals, businesses as well as educational purposes. Traditionally, the use of social media was considered private, where information would only be shared among a number of individuals between friends and loved ones. However, information from social media is now being published in a manner that has resulted in new complexities to both the legal and ethical environments of business and higher education use.

In businesses as well as the education sector, a number of questions have been raised with regards to the use and interactions in social media. These include such questions as; is it right for employers to use social media to make judgments related to employee selection, disciplinary matters, school admissions or other non- social nature? Should teachers/lectures be friends with their students on social media? Should employers use social media for the purposes of influencing employee related decisions? etc Over the past few years, employers, parents, students as well as employees (teachers) have found themselves in conflicts with regards to the use of social media, with some of these cases resulting in employees being dismissed for how they interact n social media and others taking their employers to court over privacy matters.

Social media issues


It is a reality that the use of social media for some employers (for employee selection) is beneficial in that it cuts costs, allows them to confirm that the employee is well qualified for the job and even allows them to reach many more potential employees for given positions, thus saving time. While this is true, there are no specific measures to ensure that other information about the employee (race, sexual orientation or even political opinions etc) are not used to discriminate against the applicant. For this reason, there is a need to address this issue, and find an amicable solution to avoid complications over the use of social media.


The proliferation of social media has gradually influenced educational practices. In a survey that was carried out by Pearson Education in 2013, 59 percent of the teachers agreed that through the interactive nature provided for by social media, there was a better learning experience for students. However, this also resulted in ethical issues, which included among others issues of privacy and maintaining professional barriers between the teachers and students. According to Foulger, Ewbank, Kay, Popp and Carter (2009) the use of these tools (MySpace and Facebook among others) by educators has raised significant public reactions because of issues concerning privacy and teacher's conduct. A number of aspiring and practicing educators have faced unfortunate consequences due to the manner in which others perceived the use of social networking tools like Facebook. This was the case with Stacy Snyder from the University of Millersville who was denied her teaching certificate and instead given an English degree rather than n education degree when the university administrators discovered her photos as a drunken pirate on MySpace. This resulted in her filling a lawsuit against the institution claiming infringement upon her civil liberties. According to a report published by Carter, Foulger, and Ewbank in 2008, it is important that educators consider the potential outcomes of posting information on social media given that it may have disastrous consequences. When teachers reveals more than professional information online, there are high chances that other teachers and even students will see such information, which will definitely create some unwarranted/or warranted impression about the teacher, which may ultimately affect their ability to interact with students and other teachers. It is for this reason that teachers should be careful about what they post. On the other hand, the use of social media like Facebook for the purposes of screening candidates has been shown to trigger concerns because it can be used inappropriately causing concerns with regards to privacy. As a result, there is a need for IT departments, human resources as well as the legal counsel to work together to develop social media policies for the organization to eliminate these issues.

Social media ethical issues


Ethical, Social and Professional Issues for social media systems and information

As noted, social media presents a range of benefits to employers given that they are looking for the best possible candidates, who will positively contribute to their institutions. While this is true, Willey, White, Domagaski and Ford (2012) note that the existing empirical evidence suggests that caution be taken when using such social network services as Facebook and Twitter among others for purposes of employment selection. This is largely because of the fact that there is considerable potential for misuse of such information, which may have significant negative impacts on the candidate in question. For instance, irreverent information may be used in the process, which may create a problem. For instance, according to Willey (2012) "Screening out applicants based on photographs which reveal race or age, for example, is fraught with legal consequences". On the other hand, the amount of information that is publicly available between different candidates varies, making standardization across the applicant pool difficult. In this case therefore, such results would not allow for effective comparison among the candidates, which would ultimately result in biased decisions. Here, it becomes evident that social media is not particularly the most ideal tool to gauge the abilities of a candidate.
As noted above, social media networks like Facebook and MySpace allow for interaction between different personalities. For this reason, various types of information are likely to be found on a candidate's, or even an employee's profile, which may not really reflect their stand with regards to the issue at hand. In institutions where the username and even passwords of the candidate or employee as requested, such irreverent information may be used to unfairly gauge the individual. For most part, irrelevant information will end up being taken in to account. As such, the private life of the employee/candidate is used to determine their future in the institution. According to Willey et al., (2012) the united states does not have sweeping privacy laws. This will therefore continue to affect some employees/candidates, who will have no choice, but to share their private information. The other issue with this is that it may result in private information of some employees/candidates being shared out without their consent in the event that such information is mishandled.
On the other hand, such websites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace are social websites. This means that anything the teachers/educators post will eventually end up being viewed and even potentially shared not only among other teachers, but also among students and parents (or teachers seeing posts of their students). In such platforms as Facebook where it is easy to see what one has posted or shared, this becomes a complicated issue with regards to privacy and responsibility. While a teacher may argue that they have the right to post or write on their profile pages, there is a question of responsibility given that such information is easily accessible to anyone with an account on Facebook, or other websites. Given that this generates an important social and even ethical issue, it becomes important for all parties to be careful about what they say online or who they say it to.

Discussion of Possible Challenges in Realizing the Ethical Framework

Institutional and organizational profiles are important given that they represent the image of the same. Those who join them therefore have to be responsible with regards to how they conduct themselves given that what they share becomes available to the majority of people. Realizing the ethical framework with regards to the social media systems may be affected by such instances as sabotage some social media users or deliberate attempts to make present some users in a negative light. On the other hand, administrators of such pages should take caution to ensure that information about the members or the institution itself is not abused.

Recommendations and conclusion

As the world becomes more technologically advanced, institutions will continue to use social media networks to not only find the most qualified candidates, but also to monitor their employees. In order to mitigate in the occurring issues, it will be necessary for IT departments, legal counsel as well as the human resources to work together in order to develop organization's social media policies that will help eliminate issues arising from the use of social media (Willey et al., 2012). With regards to each institution's information system, some of the steps that can be implemented as institutions develop more complete policies include;
• Extending the existing policies- This may include confidentiality, protection of intellectual property as well as professional conduct on the online environment
• An outline of the general examples of concrete acceptable and unacceptable behavior online
• Alerting the employee concerning sensitive areas, which may involve privileged information,
• Identification of an in- house resource for the employee with concerns regarding social media
A majority, if not all growing institutions are finding themselves needing to open a profile on major social media networks (Facebook etc). In turn, this continues to attract those interested in the institutions to their page, where they like, join and follow. As a result, a community is born and continues to grow. As this happens, there is a need to regulate how information is presented and shared. Using the steps above, institutions will be able to employ them in the hiring processes without any recurring social media issues. For instance, the first step will ensure that human resource and information technology practices with regards to social media sites are consistent with the existing policies. This would ensure that confidentiality is maintained and discrimination eliminated. While the policies would ensure that no individual employee is discriminated against, they would also ensure that employees, as well as other candidates carry out their interactions in a responsible manner as per the policies. While there should be a system that would ensure that the information of employees is not shared out without consent, there should also be a system that will deal with employees and other candidates who do not comply with the set policies. This includes "trolls" who are often out to cause conflicts. Here, a reporting system should be in place to flag out such individuals and ban them from the community. By having the IT department, human resource and legal counsel working together on this system, the issues of privacy, discrimination and other social issues on the system are eliminated.
Although the use of social media has resulted in various conflicts at the workplace, it is worth noting that social media has become such an important tool for employers that it will increasingly be embraced in the coming years. In order to eliminate various social, ethical and professional issues, it is only important that the concerned personnel (HR, Legal counsel and IT departments) work together to establish and uphold the right policies that will ensure that all parties act in accordance to a set of rules. This will benefit both sides given that institutions will not face legal actions for privacy issues and employees as well as potential employees do not lose their jobs over little mistakes. This will help create an environment in which all parties act responsibly and in a professional manner.


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