The popularity of social media has grown exponentially in the past decade. Facebook alone increased its subscribers from 1 million in 2007 to 2.8 billion in 2021 (“Facebook Statistics and Facts,” 2021). Online communication platforms like WhatsApp, Snapchat, TikTok, Telegram, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and national platforms like Chinese Weibo and Tencent have hundreds of millions of subscribers, attracting more than half the world’s population. Therefore, the issue of ethics and the safety of social networks is more relevant today than ever before. Social media was created to allow people to communicate freely, promoting socialization and free speech. However, even though they are called “media,” social media do not adhere to any Codes of Ethics that are compulsory for traditional media. Codes of Ethics for traditional media did not appear immediately but were developed for the same purpose and for the same reasons for which social media today needs control. This paper argues that social media became a dangerous and unethical place because of being used for hazardous purposes by society members in uncontrolled ways.
Social Media Serving Terrorism
From 2010-to 2020, the world saw a surge in violence associated with social media. From ISIS’s activities, which were regulated via Twitter, to the online broadcast of the mass execution in New Zealand Christchurch, live-streamed by one of the perpetrators through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (Kumar, 3; “Australian Media Broadcast Footage”). Kumar notes that terrorist groups today benefit as much as possible from technology, including social media, which criminals are using for “shaping perception, recruitment and mobilization, fundraising, data mining, information gathering, secure communications, cyber-attacks, software distribution (e. g., mobile apps), buying of false documents and training of cadres” (3). Another example of terrorist attacks organized via social media was performed using self-driving and standard vehicles in Nice in July 2016, Berlin in December 2016, London in June 2017, and New York in October 2017 (Kumar, 4; Winter et al.).
The most recent example of social media serving terrorism is the Capitol riot on 6 January, which took six people’s lives. Notably, journalists from Snopes proved that Facebook turned a blind eye to the platform-based group that organized the Capitol protests and assaults, despite requests and warnings from journalists (“Facebook failed to Respond to Dire Emails”). Social media has become a mainstay for a growing number of radical groups that spread messages of racial hatred and urge members of social media groups to take immediate action to counter the “threat.” Therefore, social media have widely used the end social destruction, while it is impossible to use traditional media for this purpose due to numerous regulations of the “freedom of expression.”
Proponents of movements who call on citizens to engage in political and ideological struggles may argue that the secrecy provided by social media allows proponents of democracy who are willing to defend human values to fight politically. However, it should be borne in mind that totalitarian regimes can make much more effort to combat the opposition than the owners of social networks to fight terrorism. Therefore, freedom for political struggle is rather conditional, given that the political opposition often has to use its real names and can receive retribution from the regimes with which it fights.
Social Media Serving Revolutions
The Cambridge Analytica scandal that drew attention to the non-legitimized use of social media by politicians and social media platforms also had a second important message that, for some reason, caused less buzz in the US and global society. Before striking a deal with Donald Trump and his campaign team, Cambridge Analytica’s management used the information manipulation tools through Facebook in 24 countries, including Malaysia, to organize revolutions and mass protests (“Cambridge Analytica: The Data Firm’s Global Influence”). Cambridge Analytica management used the US-developed PSYOP techniques to inspire citizens to take action – first on Facebook and then on the streets, exposing people to mortal threats from corrupt governments.
In theory, it can be argued that in some countries, the revolutions had positive consequences. But that is hardly true, given that Cambridge Analytics’ intervention in the natural processes of civil society was financed by agents who had personal goals not related to prosperity and peace in the states. Moreover, such actions of the company can be considered undermining natural democratic processes from within, especially given the poorly established traditions of democracy in developing countries. For the American society, in particular, the actions of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have led to the implementation of many cruel and unhealthy policies of Donald Trump, who continues to influence the masses through social media after the end of his presidential term, despite the blocking of his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Social Media Serving Politicians
Donald Trump’s social media rhetoric is a prime example of how politicians can spread dangerous messages of gender inequality, racial hatred, and white supremacy through social media. Many scholars recognize the adverse effect of the influence of politicians on the population, and the unidirectional nature of the messages, which does not provide an opportunity for real discussion (Nyabuga and Ugangu, 189). Therefore, although initially social media was planned as an alternative to traditional media as it allowed the public to speak out, many politicians undermine this social media integral function.
The use of social media by politicians also has a bright side, so that many civic organizations and young politicians get the opportunity to convey their ideas to society. Environmental, animal welfare, and investigative journalists can act independently through social media. However, one should also consider that information noise, a huge part of which is personalized advertising can be a digital wall shielding the potential public from original and useful content. Moreover, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it became apparent that various political forces can easily manipulate the dissemination of information on social networks and shield their potential voters from inappropriate content.
Social Media Serving Lonely Criminals
Social media, which has no constraints of traditional media, creates a comfortable and safe space for lonely criminals to operate. Like terrorist activities, criminals’ digital footprints usually could not be tracked due to various social media platforms’ safety policies. Scientists have noted the growing danger of youth platforms such as Snapchat and TikTok (Meral, 147). The latter allows adolescents to share photos and short videos, which are often private or highly sensitive.
It is not uncommon for adult criminals to register on social networks under the guise of adolescents and then demand to send them intimate images using various manipulative psychological tactics. In this regard, parents and users of the platform should be informed about the potential threats that it carries (Meral, 147). Snapchat, a platform that allows sharing photos that disappear after being viewed, also provokes teenagers to share highly personal content (Meral, 147). It can threaten their future careers and reputation, as there is no guarantee that images posted through the platform are deleted after viewing. Millions of users have access to each other’s personal information, and their interactions are not regulated in any way. Snapchat can be tempting for teens to commit acts of aggression or violence against other people to gain ‘social approval’ through the platform.
Counter-arguments may include the necessity to defend the freedom of expression, but the cost of such expression may be too high. On the one hand, excessive control deprives a person of the possibility of free choice, which is an integral part of growing up and adequate mental development. On the other hand, adolescents are part of society and have no right to violate the law and ethical norms, despite their age. Social media does tremendous harm to the communities by making money on human weaknesses and by provoking adolescents into challenging behaviors that put them in danger.
Thus, it was argued that social media became a dangerous and unethical place because of being used for hazardous purposes by society members in uncontrolled ways. Social media can serve such goals as organizing terrorist attacks, fomenting civil conflicts, and organizing revolutions by political or business agents with the intention of political gain. Other aims include fighting opposition, disseminating unethical messages by politicians, and criminal blackmail and psychological manipulation aimed at a young audience. Some social media, such as Snapchat, encourage users to share content that may go beyond generally accepted ethical standards. Therefore, social media is dangerous and creates platforms that allow people with aggressive intentions to violate state laws and moral norms.
“Australian Media Broadcast Footage from Christchurch Shootings despite Police Pleas.” The Guardian, 2019, Web.
“Cambridge Analytica: The Data Firm’s Global Influence.” BBC News, 2018, Web.
“Facebook Failed To Respond to Dire Emails Ahead of Capitol Riot.” Snopes, 2021, Web.
Kumar, N., and VSM SM. “Use of Modern Technology to Counter Terrorism.” (2019).
Meral, Kevser Zeynep. “Social Media Short Video-Sharing TikTok Application and Ethics: Data Privacy and Addiction Issues.” Multidisciplinary Approaches to Ethics in the Digital Era. IGI Global, 2021. 147-165.
Nyabuga, George, and Wilson Ugangu. “Romancing the Media: A Critical Interrogation of Political Communication in Presidential Elections in Kenya.” Perspectives on Political Communication in Africa, 2018. 189-202.
Winter, Tom, Siemaszko, Corky, Helsel, Phil, and Jonathan Dienst. “New York Terrorist Attack: Truck Driver Kills Eight in Lower Manhattan.” NBC News, 2017, Web.