Technology is the purveyor of knowledge. It sustains our environmental needs and it has transformed the way we think and the way we interact in our world. In this post I'll discuss the way technology influences ethics within our social relationships through innovative digital communication tools that surpass the traditional means of social interaction. The impact of social technology has changed our ways of ethical reasoning when it pertains to our privacy and communicating with each other. This impact has been thought about, and theorized upon, and should be taken seriously. These new innovative tools have re-programed our social skills, but yet at the same time the overuse of the technology is wide spread (Franklin, 2004). All these new online communication tools have been given to us, without asking questions we take and we take, we have become more enveloped in technology.

Facebook was created as a network for university students to connect and for potential employers to view student’s portfolios. However, not many people know that Facesmash was developed three months before Facebook was created. Facesmash was created on the idea of invading and socially humiliating people with inappropriate, unethical and unbecoming conduct (Mezrich, 2010). Facebook is valued at over 65 billion dollars and according to Facebook statistics there are more than 500 million active users. 50% of them log on to Facebook on any given day, the average user has 130 friends, and people spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. That is a lot of minutes in our collective life time.

Social networking, such as Facebook, is a way to reconnect with family and friends. It has reshaped the way we enter, maintain, and exit relationships. Sharing your life, and filling in the blanks has never been easier. Before all this socializing took place online, our privacy in our daily lives seems to have had more importance. Thinking about issues that fall within the realm of technology is not always consistent with thinking about similar issues outside of technological realms. If you read someone’s personal diary, this would be considered an invasion of privacy (Liu, 2009). Why is it more acceptable to post online, that live image video of someone in a public place? Does this not invade their privacy?   Unfortunately, people treat Facebook as an important part of their lives, living on Facebook, sharing every detail of what you are doing each day, maybe even every hour, half-hour. Telling the world when your drinking your coffee or going for a walk is not the ideal way of protecting your privacy. This obviously has opened the door to major privacy issues and our mental image of socializing has slowly changed.

Online socializing has become a normal part of our social life, these social networking tools have enhanced our communication capabilities and at the same time challenged traditional ideas about privacy and ethical conduct. For some reason, no one conceives his/her presence on a social network platform as his/her personal space, therefore, clouding their understanding of the visibility of their online behaviour and choices. Some people will agree that Social Networking has brought people together. Identity information, included in public profiles, serves to lower the barriers to social interaction and thus enable connections between individuals that might not otherwise take place. Also, with all these ways of digital communication that demand our attention they can often preclude interaction with others by sending a clear message of “DO NOT DISTURB”, such as the use of mobile devices, Therefore, creating a social block( Ziv, 2009).

In today’s world you can also meet people online; these dating services are another form of Social Networking and they appear to be a great way of meeting new people. However, these dating sites offer a little less than satisfactory way of a proper physical introduction (Romm-Livermore, & Somers, 2009). This brings morale down because not everyone has the same value system. This can hurt your self-esteem by meeting and dating many people until that right one comes along. Yet at the same time most abuse this system, the online dating service is just like a catalogue, you are only judging those from a photo and a few words. What happened to the old fashioned way of socializing and meeting people, by using emotional cues and communicating? Face-to-Face interaction is imperative and affects our brain. Also, people that are already lonely often get lonelier by use of these social networks, “when you’re lonely, your brain is in a heightened state of alertness for social threats” (Engelberg, & Sjoberg, 2004). This effect is heightened online because social threats are more difficult to anticipate there. According to Engelberg & Sjoberg a long silence between replies during an online chat can spawn fears that others are locking you out of the conversation and gossiping behind your back. Another source of insecurity is the very currency of social networks: the number of contacts one has. Engelberg & Sjoberg state that having a mere handful of contacts when others could fill a stadium with their roster can leave lonely individuals feeling that their desires are moving ever farther out of reach. Also, lonely people bring out their true personalities online. “Loneliness is the deficit between what you want and what you have, and chronic loneliness makes people act in ways that push others away. Social networking isn’t equipped to handle that and can actually make it worse.”(Engelberg, & Sjoberg, 2004).

Our judgment is clouded when we consider the difference between public and private use of networking sites such as Facebook. Many people use this network as a place to communicate with family and friends; however employers are using social networking to keep track of their employees. You can find many reports involving invasion of privacy. reported a story of a teacher who was forced to resign after comments she posted on Facebook about her job, basically posting she was not happy with her job, she defended herself by saying it was not the kids but it was a political view of the school itself. There are also examples of how people have been reprimanded for their ethical misconduct online. A report in, entitled the Nurse’s Guide to Good Living, gave an account of five nurses in California that were fired for discussing patients on Facebook, and two other nurse’s from Wisconsin fired for posting a patients x-ray.

I think that our moral values and judgments are also being impacted with the use of social networking. We are becoming sensitized toward acts of violence. In September 2010, CTV reported that a young girl in Vancouver was gang raped at a local rave; she was drugged and raped by 5 to 7 young boys. A 16 year old boy took pictures and a video that was posted online through Facebook and other sites. He was charged with reproducing child pornography. These photos and videos were continuously being reposted among the teenagers despite RCMP efforts to stop this from happening. Social networking has changed our sense of accountability. Improper communication and the way we conduct ourselves go hand-in-hand.

In real life situations the majority of people within our society conduct themselves in moral ways, so why should it be any different online? It takes a lot of mental fortitude when physical interaction is occurring because you actually see the direct consequences of your actions. Using cyber bulling as an example, there is no physical interaction.  When it occurs, on Facebook or any other social networking platform, you really don’t see the consequences of the hurt that you could be causing for other people. There is a separation of cause and effect, this makes cyber bullying more accessible and makes it less impactful to the perpetrator of the bullying (Zheng, & Burrow-Sanchez, 2010). Is cyber bullying more acceptable in our society than it is to physically bully a person? I agree this may be the case; the ethical reasoning behind this issue is that when physical interaction takes place our morals and values are more visible. When online, these morals and values seem to have less of an impact on one’s conscience and one seems to think that there is less of ethical reasoning when hiding behind a networking system. The fact is, people that post things online in a derogatory manor may not have the fortitude otherwise, and now they have an easy way of doing it. The video of the horrific crime against the young girl in Vancouver seems to be acceptable among the younger crowd. The visibility of the impact it has had on the younger girl seems to be far-reaching among the younger crowd that recorded it and keeps passing it around online.

People seem to be overusing and losing real emotional contact, creating a social isolation. The Social Networkers who fare best are the ones who use the technology to support their existing friendships (Engelberg, & Sjoberg, 2004).  Meaning, when the social networking site is used positively, our online social contact should also be our offline social contacts.  Face- to- face interaction appears to be the pivotal variable in social networking sites. When social networking is used to meet new people and build old relationships with friends especially with older adults, these people seem to actually lose some part of real social skills and feel lonely. This can bring down morale, and lose part of their value system by lacking in real person-to-person socializing skills (Engelberg, & Sjoberg, 2004).

There is a lack of inflection when people are not actually talking to each other which can cause a negative impact on real social skills expressing emotion, it's hard to understand a proper tone, and it also leaves a paper trail. Take the high school teacher that was fired over posting on her Facebook comments that she was not happy with her job. Would it have been the same if she commented in a face-face conversation with a friend? People have to realize that there is a real problem with non-physical interaction on social networking sites, people are getting into trouble over it and spending too much time on them.  These wrongdoers who use this as a spreading of degrading communication are the ones that should be punished but where do you draw the line of privacy and our rights of freedom of speech. In Canada this employer would be violating the employees’ rights and freedom. According to Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of rights and freedoms "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: ... freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication." It's very difficult to regulate the use and privacy issues in Canada because if these site are on a world wide web, our laws cannot be applied to foreign based organizations. As well there is an abundance of different national legislation that regulates privacy. To clarify, think of a casino on a cruise ship, there are areas that the cruise ship goes that gambling is legal and other areas where it is illegal. In both cases the casino still exists just the same as the web.  Access is still readily available no matter where you are. On the other side of this issue is a concern of defamation. The Law of Defamation in Canada states that “no system of civil law can fail to take some account of the right to have one’s reputation remain untarnished by defamation”.

I believe we ned to take care not to lose ourselves in a world that no longer has a real sense of communication; we are slowly distancing ourselves away from real social contact. By doing this it is creating a problem in our lives, even if we don’t take notice right away. We are slowly failing at real communication, these variations of our innovative digital communication technology needs to be defined as to their proper use, privacy standards, and means of ethical conduct.  The loss of our social skills and the way we conduct ourselves online has reflected changes in our values and morals.  Civilization is governed by rules that we have created. It is our values that guide moral, conventional, and personal matters, however in some cases online these values are placed aside. Within our physical interactions mental fortitude and fear of consequences directs our actions. Social networking becomes a space where our values are depleted and negative interactions are for the most part tolerated. Those who participate do not see the consequences of their actions and therefore cannot sympathize and feel compassion or empathy towards another human being.

Jennifer Learmonth June 2015

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