Ethics and Social Networks: Don’t you want to share?

Ethics and Social Networks

Last updated on August 18th, 2023 at 1:36 am

Is it possible for a social network to conduct its business ethically? In all fairness, perhaps that registers as a loaded question at the outset; however, given that some of the most prescient issues facing internet users and lawmakers are inextricably tied to the behaviors of social platforms, the question of ethics is not only valid, but quite unarguably, it is the first question that should be considered.

Entrenched within this question, which I would argue is the most vital question of the internet age, is of course the “bait” that purveyors of social media would have you swallow, and I’ll pull it straight from the talking points and claims of the world’s foremost denizen of social networks, Mark Zuckerberg. Zuck, as the world has come to know him, with his awe-shucks forever-a-boy Peter Pan-like sword-drawing for the good of mankind while donning a grey tee-shirt and quipping endless wide-eyed replies, leveled appropriately to convey innocence whenever questioned, would tell us; actually, he has told us and continues to tell us that social networks exist to “Create a more open world” and allow people to “Share their lives more easily.”

That’s the bait. Don’t you want to share? Don’t you want to make the world a more open place?

It all sounds so idealistic. I would like to claim that in Zuckerberg’s case, it all started out idealistically, but his own history and the history of the building of his company demonstrate the inverse. There was nothing idealistic about starting a Harvard platform reportedly invented to rate women on their hotness and nothing idealistic about its transition into the Harvard Facebook (The Facebook) which after a few more evolutions eventually became Facebook where Zuckerberg’s “Move fast and break things” ethos remains an ever-present part of the company’s culture.

Indeed, “Move fast and break things” over at One Hacker Way (Facebook’s address) sounds quite ominous. That said, I get it. I get why Zuckerberg invoked the idea of breaking things as a positive message for his company. At Facebook, “break things” is coupled with “move fast,” which contextualizes the phrase. Moving fast—fast enough to exact change in a space (which was once MySpace’s space) required a team-driven assurance that encouraged moving fast without worrying whether or not the team might break something. Move fast. Don’t allow your creativity to be hampered and hamstrung by the consequences if you mess up. Just. Move. Fast.

That said, the ethos that underscored Facebook’s beginnings and meteoric rise to success, and which has always been dubious at best, no longer seems or even sounds appropriate—not even to those entrenched in the tech industry. It’s not really ethical to keep pushing toward moving fast and breaking things when the lack of forethought about the things you might break can impact a user base of 2.41 billion people.

Facebook’s users are not the only ones in peril when the company moves fast and breaks things. As widely reported, Facebook collects data on people who are not even on the network. This means that the company controls the data of its 2.41 billion users, plus untold legions of people who do things like shop or use the internet in other ways—they’re also subject to the data-culling—without their consent.

When considered from a global perspective, the questions about ethics seem more important. Yale professor, Jack M. Balkin writes convincingly about the tech space adopting an “information fiduciary” code of ethics:

As we use these services, they learn more and more about us.  They see who we are, but we are unable to see into their operations or understand how they use our data.  As a result, we have to trust online services, but we have no real guarantees that they will not abuse our trust. Companies share information about us in any number of unexpected and regrettable ways, and the information and advice they provide can be inconspicuously warped by the companies’ own ideologies or by their relationships with those who wish to influence us, whether people with money or governments with agendas.

With rising stakes in the ethical dilemma for end-users (I’ll write more about what’s at stake with Zuckerberg’s future plans, including those surrounding his bungled  “Libra” bitcoin promotion in a future article), we need to start questioning when is it no longer okay to move fast and break things. Why should a company as mammoth as Facebook be in such a position of absolute power over user data? And why do we need to set up a “information fiduciary” to force large-scale social networks and tech platforms to behave ethically with user data; in fact, more succinctly—it’s outrageous that end-users are left scratching their heads in bewildered frustration that these denizens of Big Data need to be pressured into behaving ethically in the first place.

If the purpose of social platforms is to make the world a more open place and allow people to share more authentically with one another, even from across great distances, then it is time for a platform to step up and shake the space with a better-for-the-user formula than Hey, it’s free, so we get all your data—right?

Ask yourselves what constitutes a free service. Surely, none among us are so naïve that we imagine any service can operate without meeting costs. In the case of the largest (monopolized) current social platforms, the formula has been an unchecked, unregulated, and unapologetic mélange of It’s free, but the trade-off is your data punctuated by It’s free, but we’re going to force endless ads at you and hide them as “content” and who are you to complain? It’s free, right?

One of the things that I find most interesting and disturbing about the social space is that there haven’t been a large number of new networks trying to enter the market—and I say that as the founder and CEO of Emenator, which is a recently launched, large-scale social platform. Of course, there are significant barriers to entry in this space, but still—in an age of innovation—how is it possible that there has been so little innovation in the social space since Snapchat launched in 2011? The lack of competition itself imposes its own set of ethical dilemmas and debates.

If you took the “bait” and have a Hey, it’s free, so we get your data account on one of the big social platforms, you may be surprised by next announcement: You do have a choice. Free does not require your data, information, tracking of your habits, or infiltration into your privacy. If you’re wondering how I know, I’ll unabashedly introduce you to Emenator.

Emenator is a living, breathing thought experiment that is the embodiment of questions I was left pondering after talking with my students about their own concerns regarding social networks: What happens if we build an ethical social platform? What happens if we are transparent with our users? What happens if we don’t broker in user data and information?

Framed together, those questions encapsulate an interesting idea about ethics in the social space and that question is one, if you’re asking me, whose time has come. After all, moving fast and breaking things is so 15 years ago.

Now, if you’ll allow me to indulge my inner-academic with an analogy: In Shakespeare’s masterful The Twelfth Night; or, What You Will the character Viola washes ashore after a great shipwreck that leaves her alone, bereft of her twin brother, and in a strange land. She emerges from the sea and asks, “What country friends is this?” Afterward, Viola takes on a new identity, finds a community, and reinvents herself before falling in love and learning that her brother survived. She embarks on a new life—one derived from exploration, a spirit of play, and the bravery to innovate while she adjusts to life in an unknown country. Of course, I am simplifying Shakespeare down to just a few of the most relevant component parts of a great play. There is more to it. Viola’s story is more complex. But, without the shipwreck, Viola never finds this other world that is waiting for her.

In some ways, the social network landscape is floundering in the wreckage of moving fast and breaking things. As users, we can choose to sink deeper into It’s free, so we get your data, or we can choose to swim for shore—swim toward the undiscovered country. I prefer the “Viola” model, which is one where I land and face uncertainty, but it is also one where I am free to redefine the terms, make waves, and invite the world to come splash around with me. I trust that people will build something new, something authentic in this new undiscovered country in the social platform tech space where ethical-by-design is not a strange idea, but simply the expectation.

 Don’t you want to make the world a more open place?

 Don’t you want to make it easier for people to connect across great distances?

 Yes, I do. But in my world that idea comes with no strings attached. It must. Ethical-by-design is the undiscovered country of the social space. It’s the new shore I want to land on and help others find.

Don’t you want to share?

Author Bio:

Dinesh Lakhwani

Dinesh Lakhwani, the entrepreneurial brain behind “TechCommuters,” achieved big things in the tech world. He started the company to make smart and user-friendly tech solutions. Thanks to his sharp thinking, focus on quality and the motto of never giving up, TechCommuters became a top player in the industry. His commitment to excellence has propelled the company to a leading position in the industry.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Popular Post

Recent Post

10 Best Sites to Download PC Games For Free In 2024 [Latest List]

By TechCommuters / March 2, 2024

Introduction: Looking for the best site to download PC games for free? You’ve come to the right place. In the golden age of digital distribution, there are more options than ever before for gamers to purchase and download PC games legitimately and legally. From major publishers’ platforms to online stores and subscription services, the PC […]

How To Fix Hulu Error Code 21 [Latest Guide]

By TechCommuters / February 29, 2024

Introduction: With its extensive catalog of television, film, and originals, Hulu stands as a top streaming platform. However, as with any technology, users occasionally run into technical difficulties. A common error Hulu subscribers may encounter is the frustrating Error Code 21. This error code typically appears when there is an issue with the Hulu app […]

What Are Crypto Exchanges And How Do They Work

By TechCommuters / February 27, 2024

Introduction: Cryptocurrencies have exploded in popularity in recent years. Driving mainstream adoption are crypto exchanges – online platforms that allow investors to easily buy, sell, and trade digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Crypto exchanges provide the critical infrastructure that allows individuals and institutions seamless entry into the crypto ecosystem. But how exactly do these […]

How To Fix Preparing Automatic Repair Loop On Windows 10/11

By TechCommuters / February 26, 2024

Introduction: The “Preparing automatic repair” loop is a common issue that affects Windows 10 and 11 users when the operating system fails to boot properly. This automatic repair process tries to diagnose and fix boot issues but often gets stuck repeatedly restarting and checking for problems, creating an endless loop. There are several potential causes […]

15 Best Disk Partition Software for Windows 11 and 10 [2024]

By TechCommuters / February 25, 2024

Table Of Contents: Introduction What is Disk Partitioning Why is disk partitioning needed? How to do disk partitioning? Best Disk Partition Software for Windows 11/10/8/7 in 2024 EaseUS Partition Master MiniTool Partition Wizard Pro Paragon Partition Manager AOMEI Partition Assistant Active@ Partition Manager Tenorshare Partition Manager GParted Cute Partition Manager Macrorit Partition Expert IM-Magic Partition […]

10 Best Password Manager for Mac 2024 [Latest List]

By TechCommuters / February 24, 2024

Introduction: Using a Mac password manager app is one of the best ways to stay secure online. A good password management app generates strong, unique passwords for all your accounts, remembers them for you, and helps you log in quickly and easily. When choosing a password manager for your Mac, you’ll want one that is […]

10 Best Free Password Manager Apps for Android 2024 [Updated]

By TechCommuters / February 23, 2024

Introduction: Managing passwords is a major challenge in the digital era. With the proliferation of online accounts, we’re expected to create and remember many complex, unique passwords. This poses a significant burden on our memory. Fortunately, Android password managers offer a convenient solution. These applications store passwords securely, generate strong random passwords, and auto-fill login […]

Top 10 Best Password Managers for iPhone In 2024 [Updated]

By TechCommuters / February 22, 2024

Introduction: Having strong and unique passwords for all your online accounts is essential for good digital security and privacy. Reusing the same passwords on multiple sites is a risky practice as a breach on one site puts all your accounts at risk. This is where a dedicated password manager comes in very handy. These apps […]

10 Best Password Manager for Windows 11/10/8/7 for 2024

By TechCommuters / February 21, 2024

Introduction: In today’s digital age, we have loads of accounts – like email, social media, online banking, and shopping sites. That means we’ve got tons of passwords to remember. It’s risky to use the same password for everything, but keeping track of unique ones for each account can be tough. A password manager proves invaluable […]

10 Best Free Android Cleaner Apps for 2024 [Latest List]

By TechCommuters / February 20, 2024

Introduction: A clean and optimized Android device performs better, lasts longer, and runs faster. With time, caches, residual files, and unneeded data can clutter up your Android smartphone or tablet and slow it down. That’s why having a quality cleaner app is essential. The Google Play Store has hundreds of Android cleaner and optimization apps […]