Major Social Media Ethical Issues: Privacy and Accountability


The internet provides platforms where people interact freely, share, and discuss information about each other and their lives using a multimedia mix of personal words, pictures, voice, and audio messages (Bélanger and Crossler 1018). Social media sites include Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, Flicker, Word Press, Blogger, and TypePad among others. The history of social media can be traced back to 1969 when CompuServe became the first major public commercial internet service provider in the US. The fast growth of social media continued to grow rapidly. By 2012, most people could access social media via phones, tablets, and computers. In 2012, the top-ten social networks in terms of popularity included Facebook, Blogger, Twitter, WordPress, Linkedln, Pinterest, WordPress, Linkedln, Printerest, Google+, Tumblr, MySpace, and Wiki.

By 2013, a survey indicated that 34% of social networking users could log in at work, 13% in school, 18% in vehicles, 44% in bed, 7% in bathroom, and 6% in toilet (Bélanger and Crossler 1023). People have used social media platforms constructively while others have gone ahead to misuse it. For instance, while business people have used it to market their merchandise, terrorists have deployed it as a platform for spreading news on their malicious attacks. Since the platforms are prone to attacks by unauthorized individuals, issues such as security, user privacy, and accountability have been compromised. This paper will discuss two major social media ethical issues, namely privacy and accountability.

Social Media Ethical Issues


Since many people have access to what others share on the media, privacy is compromised. The issue of personal information privacy continues to attract concerns and attention of individuals, governmental and nongovernmental institutions, and human rights organizations. Maintaining privacy involves guarding personal or private information, space, and property from intruders (Luzak 548). The public nature of internet messages predisposes personal identity and information to access by other users. Theft of personal identity has led the debate on the safety of the internet across the world.

Lack of concrete privacy policies to regulate the internet use has made it difficult to manage the issue since social media platforms rely on complicated internet infrastructure from the World Wide Web (WWW), File Transfer Protocol (FTP), and Gopher (Bélanger and Crossler 1031). Through these infrastructural components, it has become much difficult to assure users of privacy since the internet does not belong to an individual, a group, or a nation but to the world. In addition, there is no clear distinction line that divides public information and private information on the social media. Information that is stored in other user databases, what has been shared with others, and the search that other users make, are also availed to any registered user. Privacy intrusion entails the use of personal information that others share through social media for commercial gains (Luzak 552).

However, since majority of social media users value the privacy of personal information, they are wary of having someone who is unknown to them monitoring their activities. As Calvasina, Calvasina, and Calvasina reveal, all computers are accessible through the Internet Protocol (IP), which is an exclusive identifier that makes privacy more volatile (52). The most intriguing fact is that most of the social media users do not realize that someone is intruding into their privacy when the system prompts them to give personal information. Data miners use cookies and search engines to gather personal information from social media users. They sell the gathered information to advertisers. Such a move is unethical because no permission is granted from the owner for his or her details to be sold. Ethical issues on privacy can be categorized into various areas.

Privacy and the use of Internet Cookies

Data miners on the internet use cookies to obtain information from social media users. Cookies refer to tools that are used by data miners for gathering information on the internet through undisclosed recording and storage procedures. This accessibility discloses social media users’ private information such as passwords, clicks on various sites, likes, friends, status, and purchases. Therefore, it is clear that cookies are used by advertisers to track and monitor the activities of social media users for commercial gains (Luzak 553). This case is considered unethical since information is stored, used, and sold by others without the owners’ consent.

On the other hand, advertisers and vendors have defended the use of cookies on social media claiming that the gathered information is only used for profiling users to offer them related shopping information (Lachman 327). However, social media users must not give up their pursuit of privacy of their information, property, and activities. Various modern tools have been developed for privacy maintenance. Some of these tools include Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). The PGP enables the social media user to identify and block a cookie immediately it is active to monitor, record, or store their personal information. The tool secures social media user information.

Search Engines and Privacy

Search engines form another avenue that has been used to collect personal information without the consent of social media users (Sipior, Ward, and Mendoza 4). Internet specific tools such as Yahoo! and Google have been used to secretly and automatically record activities of social media users. Through automatic recording, search engines store personal information. They reveal it to users who search related areas. For example, the shopping trends of an individual are secretly recorded and are revealed to another user who shops in the same points. In such a way, users can know their friends and strangers who have similar shopping habits. It is also possible to access personal information on various social media users by just keying in their names or personal details on the search engines.

The search engines can connect and attack all personal details of the social media user once they (details) are stored in the system (Thierer 409). Therefore, the ethical question of the privacy of personal information such as date of birth, name of spouses, current location, and friends is compromised. Surprisingly, most of the social media users who use these engines to access their social media sites are not aware that the system records their personal information and online activities.

Through search engines, employers can explore and monitor personal details and activities of their employees on social networks. Such information has been used in interviewing candidates for certain positions, to interrogate political positions aspirants, and to link the activities of different individuals to their character. According to Thierer, access of personal information in such a way is considered violation of private information (409). However, opponents of privacy of social media claim that since the internet is a public forum, all information on social media is public. In their view, ethicists assert that it is unprincipled to use or disclose personal information without the owner’s approval. They also warn social media users to be cautious before disclosing personal information as prompted by some portals.

Privacy and Dataveillance

The use of the internet in surveillance compromises ethical considerations on matters of privacy. Since social media uses the internet, it is easy to use it to monitor personal information of all users. Therefore, social media users can never be sure that no one is monitoring their personal information. Security agents such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Interpol can use dataveillance to stalk suspects and the general user of social media. Dataveillance also provides data to advertisers. Social media users should be careful when prompted to fill forms or give personal details.

Social Media and Ethical Issues on Accountability

The public nature of the internet makes it difficult to attach accountability on any given information and/or user activities. Besides, it is quite difficult to hold an unidentified user accountable of anything that he or she shares in this social media sites. Poor accountability of information and activities on the internet has resulted in various unethical issues as discussed below


According to Lachman, there has been an increase in accessibility of personal information on the internet (329). This situation has been attributed to the fact that when individuals open a social media account, they are required to provide personal details such as their names, dates of birth, working positions, schools they have attended, and gender. This information increases the vulnerability of the social media users. With the amplified accessibility of the internet and social media, cases of online fraud have increased (Sipior, Ward, and Mendoza 7). The number of online buyers has also increased with the increased accessibility of the internet.

In online shopping, users are required to enter bank accounts, identity numbers, and personal identification numbers. Such details are visible on the receiving end where they are monitored. This case exposes users to unethical disclosure of personal information. Fraudulent users deploy the same information of social media to access the accounts of genuine users. Low accountability of social media users enables the fraudsters to place counterfeit systems that record personal details, which they then use to withdraw money and/or buy items (Calvasina, Calvasina & Calvasina 54).

In fact, fraudsters have also provided fake products to social media users. Others have been made to pay for nonexistent goods. Therefore, it is advisable for social media users to exercise due diligence in online shopping while at the same time proving authenticity of goods before paying. Moreover, social media users can also be wary when keying in passwords and other personal identifiers.

Social Media and Intellectual Property

According to Sipior, Ward, and Mendoza, lack of accountability in the use of social media has continually predisposed users to intellectual property theft (15). Intellectual property theft has increased with the augmented internet speed, use of YouTube, MP3, and Mp4s. With this technology, social media users can upload, share, play, and download audio and visual documents. Such accessibility has led to an increase in intellectual property theft since social media users can download and sell such property illegally. This move violates the property owners’ right to patent and trade. Trends of sharing music files, videos, and other personal information are common on social media. To avoid this situation, users should avoid trading in unauthentic property on social media.


Social media provides useful platforms for socialization and sharing of information. However, as discussed above, their use raises various ethical issues such as violation of personal privacy and accountability. Therefore, social media users should be keen when providing personal details. They should also avoid dealing with unauthenticated property.

Works Cited

Bélanger, France, and Robert Crossler. “Privacy in The Digital Age: A Review of Information Privacy Research in Information Systems.” MIS Quarterly 35.4(2011): 1017-1042. Print.

Calvasina, Gerald, Richard Calvasina, and Eugene Calvasina. “Social Media And Human Resource Staffing: Legal, Policy And Practice Issues For Employers.” Journal of Legal, Ethical & Regulatory Issues 17.2(2014): 51-60. Print.

Lachman, Vicki. “Social Media: Managing the Ethical Issues.” Medsurg Nursing 22.5(2013): 326-329. Print.

Luzak, Joasia. “Privacy Notice for Dummies? Towards European Guidelines on How to Give ‘Clear and Comprehensive Information’ on the Cookies’ Use in Order to Protect the Internet Users’ Right to Online Privacy.” Journal of Consumer Policy 37.4(2014): 547-559. Print.

Sipior, Janice, Burke Ward, and Ruben Mendoza. “Online Privacy Concerns Associated with Cookies, Flash Cookies, and Web Beacons.” Journal of Internet Commerce 10.1(2011): 1-16. Print.

Thierer, Adam. “The Pursuit of Privacy in A World Where Information Control is Failing.” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 36.2(2013): 409-455. Print.

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