Social Media Ethics Theory

Got ethics ?

I’m baaaaaack!  The summer semester for Mass Communication has begun; and with it, the first lecture in “Ethics and Social Media” from Professor Justin Kings (@newsleader).    This lecture was very appropriately titled “Ethical Theories and Social Media” as it has already given me a lot to think about!

The lecture began with a definition of “ethics;” which was described as moral principals that govern a person’s behavior.   What I liked about Justin’s lecture was that he went on to define the word “moral” within that definition to show its origin as a code of behaviors passed down by society.  This becomes very important when we consider future elements of ethical decisions including the question of our motivation and where our duty lies.  Justin would go on to describe a moral dilemma as “a choice between two or more potentially right choices.”  This got me to thinking:  What about two or more potentially wrong choices?  I think some of the most difficult ethical decisions are between two or more potentially wrong choices and we are essentially deciding between the lesser of two evils.

A system for making these decisions was discussed and included asking oneself the following three questions:  What are my motivations (or why)?  What are the likely effects (and to whom will they be effecting)? Finally, where does my duty lie?  I think these are all very important and fair questions to consider when making an ethical decision and they do a great job of including all the major stakeholders in the decision.  I’m sure there is not always going to be a “black and white” way of defining these stakeholders, but it is a good start.

A great illustration was made as an example that included a journalist who has “friend requested” the acquaintance of a murder suspect in order to gain insight into the alleged crime.  The question arose: should this journalist have to identify themselves?  What a dilemma indeed!  Personally, I think a journalist’s largest obligation is to uncovering the truth by any means necessary, so if the friend were to accept this request and engage with the journalist about the murder, it was the friend’s fault in the first place.  The murder suspect should have chosen more loyal friends.  Now, that’s easy to say when investigating a murder, but what about domestic infidelity?  Should a friend of my wife be allowed to friend request me without making it known that she is a friend in the interest of trying to catch me in a lie?  Hmmm…

Let me know what you think in the comments!


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