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Issue No. 016

Vol. 16 - December 2011
Ethics of Online Social Networks

What will go online next? That is a question many people ask for very different reasons. And the answers the short history of the internet has given to this question during the last years were very different as well. Different from what we expected. And even different from what we thought that would be possible to go online. Social relationships are a very good example for that. When the first connection between computers via the telephone net was established in 1969 and the word "login" was wired from Stanford to UCLA (apparently the connection crashed on the letter "g") no one has dreamt of a network that would be able to build and reflect social relationships. But exactly that is what social networks in the internet do. And don't get it wrong. It is not that social networks extended one's relationships to the net, made it easier to foster them or allow for a more efficient communication within relationships. It is the relationships themselves that went online and exist in and are constituted by the networks. Or, in allusion to McLuhan: "The medium is the relationship".

Social networks essentially consist of representations of their users (often a profile), his/her social links and a variety of additional services to facilitate the exchange of information between them. Most online social networks are web based and provide means for users to interact over the internet, such as e-mail (often in-build services), postings of various media content (pictorial, film, audio, textual etc.) and instant messaging. Although online communities are sometimes considered as a kind of online social network in a broader sense, online social networks usually mean an individual-centred service whereas online communities are group-centred. Such group-centred networks go back to 1979 when the first usenets were built. They were theme based and mainly impersonal. Social networks are very different.

Social networking sites allow users to share their personal ideas, activities, events, and interests with "friends" - yes, in quotes as the meaning of friend did change from a very intimate one-to-one relationship to a connection established in a social network. The main types of social networking services are those which contain category places (such as former school-year or classmates), means to connect with friends (usually with self-description pages) and a recommendation system linked to trust. Popular methods now combine many of these; the most popular are Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn. Over the last few years, online social network sites became the most important phenomenon in the internet, in particular the explosion of Facebook, brought these new communicative ways to the edge of public opinion.

Accordingly, online social networks raise a variety of ethical and political concerns. Some of them are rather classical ones like privacy, access to information, potential for misuse, risk for child safety or censorship. Some of them are rather new like trolling, cyber bullying and cyber stalking or identity theft. And as usual the opinion is voiced loudly that relationships are compromised by the development outlined above and deteriorate increasingly. Thus, we see it as our foremost duty to first analyze, understand and explain the development before taking a moral stand. And we think this issue can shed some light on the questions concerned and bring some rationality into the debate. In any case we hope that it can contribute to your academic reasoning on the subject and we would be more than glad if it contributes to the fostering of our relationship as editors, authors and readers, as members of the academic community doing research in Information Ethics.


the Editors.


We would like to introduce 2 new forms of publication that we want to offer in the future: Opinion Papers and Comments/Letters to the Editor:
  • Opinion Papers will provide readers with focused coverage of topical issues in Information Ethics, which are of high current interest and potential. They need not fit into the subject of a current issue. We rather publish them with regards to their topicality. Thus, such Opinion Papers should be limited in length (~1.500 words including references) and need not take all relevant literature into account.
  • Comments/Letters to the Editor can be submitted anytime. They may not exceed 500 words and should focus on a specific article published in the current issue of IRIE. The authors of the article cited will be invited to reply. Letters and replies will be published simultaneously.

We are very happy to have already two very interesting Opinion Papers in this issue. And we do invite and encourage you to make further use of these additional offerings and look forward to your upcoming contri-butions. And finally you may have noticed that we changed the format of the publication from two to one column; not because we changed our aesthetic concept. It is the technological development that triggered this modification. We were induced to the fact that the format consisting of two columns is not readable very well on e-book readers. Thus, while this kind of device is becoming more and more common on the one side and on the other side, it seems not to make any significant difference to classical readers if the format is not two columned anymore, we do not want to further disregard the needs of the users of these new kind of displays. If you disagree send us a comment and if you agree please let us know as well.

Full Journal
pdf-fulltext (2.549 KB)

Introduction: Ethics of Online Social Networks
by Antonio Marturano
Language: English
pdf-fulltext (30 KB)

Interrogating Privacy in the digital society: media narratives after 2 cases
by Caroline Rizza, Paula Curvelo, Ines Crespo, Michel Chiaramello, Alessia Ghezzi, Angela Guimaraes Pereira:
Language: English
abstract:   The introduction of information technology (IT) in the society and its pervasiveness in every aspect of citizens' daily life highlight societal stakes related to the goals regarding the uses IT, such as social networks. This paper examines two cases that lack a straightforward link with privacy as addressed and protected by existing law in Europe (EU) and the United-States (USA), but whose characteristics, we believe fall on other privacy function and properties. In Western societies, individuals rely on normative discourses, such as the legal one, in order to ensure protection. Hence, the paper argues that other functions of privacy need either further framing into legislation or they need to constitute in themselves normative commitments of an ethical nature for technology development and use. Some initiatives at the EU level recall such commitments, namely by developing a normative discourse based on ethics and human values. We argue that we need to interrogate society about those normative discourses because the values we once cherished in a non-digital society are seriously being questioned.
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Emerging Social Norms in the UK and Japan on Privacy and Revelation in SNS
by Andrew A. Adams, Kiyoshi Murata, Yohko Orito and Pat Parslow
Language: English
abstract:   Semi-structured interviews with university students in the UK and Japan, undertaken in 2009 and 2010, are analysed with respect to the revealed attitudes to privacy, self-revelation and revelation by/of others on SNS.
pdf-fulltext (132 KB)

Ethical Aspects of Managing a Social Network Site: a Disclosive Analysis
by Daniel Skog
Language: English
abstract:   Managing an online social network site is not an easy task. First, the software environment must be designed with tools that promote social interaction. Second, the social environment most be nurtured and protected with thoughtful and balanced rules that allow for freedom within limits. This paper reports from an ethnographic study of a Swedish social network site, and focuses on how the site managers try to deal with undesirable use patterns and behaviors among members, at the same time struggling with the unexpected social outcome of a software redesign. Adopting a disclosive ethics approach, the paper highlights some of the ethical challenges embedded in the process of managing the site, and discusses their implications.
pdf-fulltext (125 KB)

Herramientas para el análisis y monitoreo en Redes Sociales
by Juan José Prieto Gutierrez
Language: Spanish
abstract:   Networks or partnerships are used by humans since the beginning of humanity and its analysis raises concerns from many different sectors of society. In the era of the network of networks, Internet, networks are generated by virtual connections of the agents. Social Network Analysis (SNA) studies the relationship relation to each other, the social structure. It is an area that is emerging as essential in decision-making processes for its ability to analyze and intervene in the behaviour of structures. We analyze three NSA tools that monitor conversations on the Organization "IFLA" keyword in order to measure the feeling of them, managing social efforts to relate the flows between the entities, groups, etc.
pdf-fulltext (142 KB)

Privacy and Social Networking Technology
by Richard A. Spinello
Language: English
abstract:   This paper reviews Facebook's controversial privacy policies as a basis for considering how social network sites can better protect the personal information of their users. We argue that Facebook's architecture leaves its users too exposed, especially to online surveillance. This architecture must be modified and Facebook must be more proactive in safeguarding the rights of their customers as it seeks to find the proper balance between user privacy and its commercial interests.
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Building social networks ethics beyond "privacy": a sociological perspective
by Sami Coll, Olivier Glassey and Claire Balleys
Language: English
abstract:   This article aims to widen the question of online social networks sites (SNS) ethics going beyond the questions of privacy and self-management of data, yet dominant in the public debates. The main theoretical framework developed in this paper, based both on recent contributions and classical sociology, is that SNS have to deal with the social dynamics of distinction and social classes like in any other spaces. From this perspective, focusing only on online privacy is too subjective and individualistic to provide a satisfying answer. Thus, we suggest that transparency should be considered as a social and collective fact rather than an individual characteristic. Boundaries between online and offline world are becoming increasingly porous and we argue, although acknowledging certain particular characteristics of SNS, that SNS ethics should be less about the specificities of online behaviors than on their articulation with the social world.
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Why Individuals Choose to Post Incriminating Information on Social Networking Sites: Social Control and Social Disorganization Theories in Context
by Michelle Kilburn
Language: English
abstract:   Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and many more social networking sites are becoming mainstream in the lives of numerous individuals in the United States and around the globe. How these sites could potentially impact one's perception of community, as well as the ability to enhance (or impede) strong social bonding, is an area of concern for many sociologists and criminologists. Current literature is discussed and framed through the lenses of social disorganization and social control theories as they relate to an individual's propensity to commit crime/indiscretions and then post comments relating to those activities on social networking sites. The result is gained insight into the communal attributes of social networking and a contribution to the discussion of the relationship among the social components of the internet, criminal activity, and one's sense of community. Implications and areas of future research are also addressed
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Understanding the role of ethics in the intention to share files using P2P networks
by Eric Kyper and Roger Blake
Language: English
abstract:   This research examines the role that ethics plays in an individual's intention to engage in peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. Previous studies have focused on P2P file sharing as primarily an act of piracy; and accordingly many, although not all, have found that ethical considerations do play a role in file sharing intentions. While piracy over P2P networks has continued and ethical predispositions clearly remain important issues, in the face of new business models and increased use of P2P file sharing for perfectly legitimate applications, the percentage of pirated files has decreased even as overall P2P network traffic has grown.

It is therefore important to understand a user's intentions to engage in P2P file sharing as a whole, without restricting that understanding to the single aspect of piracy. But because piracy is still a factor, it is critical to consider the role of ethics in those intentions. The objectives of this research are to propose and test a model of file sharing intentions based on the theory of planned behavior which considers ethical predisposition. Structural equation modeling is used to analyze our model. The results show that while ethical predisposition does not have a significant effect on intentions, other factors do. From this we draw several important conclusions regarding P2P file sharing. These are findings that have significance for network managers and internet service providers, both of who are greatly concerned about the impact of this mode of file sharing. This work is the first of its kind to provide a macro level understanding of the role ethics plays in file sharing in general, not restricted to illicit activities.
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Never Enter Your Real Data
by Rafael Capurro
Language: English
abstract:   The present debate over privacy and security is on shaping freedom in the digital age. It seems unquestion-able that ICT in general and social media in particular are changing the "web of relationships" (H. Arendt) that binds us. What makes this debate on ICT and social media unique is the fact that it takes place at a local and global level with different forms of synergy related to questions of friendship and fun no less than of oppression and justice. This paper addresses particularly the question about different forms of concealing and unconcealing ourselves in and through social media.
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Opinion Paper: Twitter Cares? Using Twitter to Care About, Care for and Care With Women Who Have Had Abortions
by Sara L. Puotinen
Language: English
abstract:   In this paper, I argue that Angie Jackson and her live-tweeting of her abortion and Step Herold, and devel-opment of the #ihadanabortion hashtag, used twitter to practice empathy-as-care. Challenging the perception, fueled by newspaper reports, television news segments, popular accounts of scientific studies and academic articles, that twitter strips us of our empathy and makes us uncaring and apathetic, I explore how Angie Jackson's live-tweet and Steph Herold's hashtag enabled users to care about, care for and care with women who have had abortions. While the caring practices that these projects allowed for were tenuous, fleeting and not always successful, their presence on twitter indicates that social media like twitter have the potential to enable us to care and should be taken seriously as spaces with ethical value.
pdf-fulltext (83 KB)

Opinion Paper: Pluralism about the Value of Privacy
by William Bülow
Language: English
abstract:   This paper responds to two counterexamples to the view that privacy is valuable because of its connection to personal autonomy. It is argued that these counterexamples fail to establish that personal autonomy is not relevant for the value of privacy, but only the cautious claim that respect for personal autonomy alone is not the only reason for which privacy ought to be respected. Based on the response to the counterexamples a distinction between value-monistic and value-pluralistic accounts about the value of privacy is introduced and it is argued that there are reasons for accepting a value-pluralistic approach to privacy.
pdf-fulltext (83 KB)


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