Ethical Issues in Social Media

Oxford Dictionaries define ethics as moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity ( While humans are granted freedom of speech, in social media there seems to be many misuses by users (, 2015). What’s more important is that networking sites are not responsible for those misfits. Instead, the consequences will all fall to the users. The case of Justine Sacco which had been covered in the previous post is an example (, 2014).

An ethical issue that has been particularly causing troubles is consent. The issue can come in different aspects. Cases of consent issue have caused a varied degree of reactions, from angry rants on social networking sites to court trials. Further on this issue will be discussed below.

An interesting article was released earlier today about judges ruling out Amazon to reimburse kids’ in-app purchases without permission (the wall street journal, 2016). With increasing percentage of kids with home internet access—62% in 2013 (—, parents have not been able to monitor their kids’ digital activities, often resulting kids making purchases on the internet without parents’ permission. While Amazon didn’t agree to the penalty of $26.5 million that the court has settled, they proceeded to allow parents to get refunds for these purchases .

The consequence of lack of parents’ consent in kids’ digital activities does not end at online purchases. The chart below summarises more dangers and how to avoid them.


Infograph created by Maureen Harend, by Piktochart, references from childtrends and welivesecurity

Children are not the only victims of internet misuse due to lack of consent. Many has expressed sorrows with works online being stolen. A famous case is Sammy Rhodes on Twitter back in 2013. Sammy was a famous twitter user who mostly posted comical tweets. What he didn’t tell his followers was he paraphrased others’ tweets and claimed them as his own. When public caught on to this, the users who made the original tweets Sammy copied were angry at Sammy for not crediting or telling them before recreating their tweets. Later on, Sammy admitted his mistakes and has ever since changed his username.

Screenshots of Sammy Rhodes copying D’Brickashaw‘s tweet via Twitter

The vastly-growing social media has provided limited time for users, both kids and adults, to learn which behaviours are acceptable and which are not. The line between ethical and non-ethical doings online is often blurry as users don’t really understand when is it time to stop before creating further problems.
Ethical Social Media Behavior – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Presentation created by Maureen Harend, by Haiku Deck

[words: 382, excluding in-text citations and references]


Childtrends, 2015. Home Computer Access and Internet Use.

Justine Sacco, 2013. #HasJustineLandedYet. Twitter, Justine Sacco.

Oxforddictionaries, 2016. Ethics.

Ronson, J., 2015. How One Stupid Tweet Ruined Justine Sacco’s Life.

Sammy Rhodes, 2013. @SammyRhodes. Twitter

Theguardian, 2014. Twitter abuse: easy on the messenger.

The Wall Street Journal, 2016. Amazon to Reimburse Customers for In-App Purchases by Kids, Judge says.

Welivesecurity, 2015. Why parents must teach their children about internet security.


15 thoughts on “Ethical Issues in Social Media

  1. Hello Maureen, I have taken keen interest in Sammy Rhodes case and how it relates to ethics. As this is highly debatable. Most call on him as ‘Plagiarizing’ tweets. While he himself claims that his tweets are ‘inspired’. And it is evident that Sammy Rhodes never directly copied tweets. His tweets are usually variations of the original, usually with different phrasing. Is it fair to deem that Sammy Rhodes violates ethical codes?
    I would like to question the boundaries separating ‘inspiration’ and ‘imitation’. Is it subjective or are there universal ‘ethical laws’? Sammy Rhodes could feel that his ‘inspired’ tweets are ethically accepted. Another example would be Instagram introducing ‘Instagram Stories’ function in 2016, it is distinctly similar to another social media: Snapchat. Is Instagram ‘imitating’ or ‘inspired’ by Snapchat? Or is it an original creating that coincidentally similar to Snapchats function? What do you think?


    1. Hello Jeremiah, thank you for reading my post and taking an interest on it.

      Ethical codes vary with people. However with Sammy Rhodes, I think it is more of an universal ethical law that he breached—everyone can relate to the unethical problem. He may had paraphrased the words, but the ideas were still stolen from other people. Of course, tweets aren’t legally protected or copyrighted by the laws, but with the rage on Twitter and how the case went famous, it is obvious that the reason to that is most people find his doings wrong.

      With Instagram’s case, I find it ironic because Instagram was just trying to keep themselves trendy with users, by imitating Snapchat’s feature. It doesn’t really matter what Instagram thinks about themselves, because other people are already calling Instagram a copy-cat and its new feature users number doesn’t win over Snapchat’s. People are already thinking it’s unethical of them to do that. Ethical doings are also judged by other people after all, not only oneself.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Maureen!

    You mentioned that the lack of parental consent in children’s digital activities is an issue, however assuming that parents have strict control over their children’s online activities, such as using parental control tools to filter & block content, do you think they could still be dangers? For example, news outlet & social media, are not known for negative content, and thus might not be blocked by parents. However, negative content might be available on such sites, such as a bullying article or racist tweets, that the children might “learn” from and affect them adversely.

    Additionally, do you think consent is an issue in businesses as well? For example, companies selling our personal information to third parties, such as Facebook allowing advertisers to have access to our private information to create more personalized targeted advertisements on us. Companies did not ask for our permission to share the information, as long as we use their services it is “expected” that our information no longer just belong to us.


    1. Hello Liting! Thank you for reading my post and commenting on it.

      By strict control, I would like to think it of children telling parents of what site they’re going to browse and why. Not just by filtering/blocking contents. Filtering and blocking contents may make children to feel curious about the contents and open them secretly after all. I would hope that parents are teaching and informing their children on whatever they found online. What is good and what is not.

      Of course, it is in businesses as well. After reading most of others’ posts on the topic, I find that privacy can be closely linked to consent. But with your example, facebook and most social media usually do ask for users’ permission entering their account. Most of the time, users would just not read the terms and conditions and immediately click “I Agree”. For those other companies, some cases count as a breach in privacy law, users who have been mistreated can report those problems to the court. 🙂


  3. Hi Maureen, your post provided good tips on how one should conduct himself on social media sites.

    However, you have also mentioned in your post that “an ethical issue that has been particularly causing trouble is consent,” followed by “The line between ethical and non-ethical doings online is often blurry as users don’t really understand when it is time to stop before creating further problems.”

    Based on the above, I can see that the root cause is because users, regardless of age, believe they can be whoever they want to be online when there is little policing or penalties for unethical behavior. When there are no rules, or rules are not clearly defined and where penalties are never taken out on the offender, it will lead to a situation where the user would not know “when is it time to stop before creating further problems”

    It is interesting to know that you weighed consent more significant then freedom of expression. Can you see where I am coming from ?


    1. Hello Nobusato, thank you for reading my post.

      Yeah, I agree with what you have written. It might have been because of the way I’ve been brought up, but I deem consent to be more important than the freedom of speech. It won’t be polite to openly say something immoral to the public. Too bad that laws don’t fully protect things online, otherwise those who have done unethical actions to others would have been given penalties and other users would be more careful to not do unethical actions online.


  4. Hello Maureen! I think simply grabbing off someone else’s work online without crediting or editing at all is absolute unethical too and it’s a significant issue to address. Your post reminded me of an article I came across where an Instagram user copied the entire feed of a famous travel blogger[1].

    With the popularity of social media as platforms to showcase creativity, it’s common for people to turn to those platforms for inspiration. However, do you think the idea of sharing contents online is being compromised due to copyright issues? Some users who genuinely want to share their ideas and information, and connect with others-alike online might be reluctant to do so because other users could easily copy and imitate their works.



    1. Hi Hui Juan! Thank you for reading my post and agreeing to it 🙂

      That is true, I’ve found many users who stopped posting works—some even deleted their accounts— because of plagiarism. This problem is also hard to solve since most works online are not protected rightfully by the law. I’m looking forward to the future when the laws can fully protect online plagiarism. Until then, I think there will always be users who are reluctant to share their works online.


      1. Actually, the law (at least, in the UK) DOES cover plagiarism, but the problem is finding the plagiarist and bringing them to court. What if the person who is guilty is stealing resides in Russia? What then?


      2. Nice to hear that UK’s law covers plagiarism. In my home country, I don’t think any kind of online plagiarism is covered…

        In my opinion, even if the plagiarist is on the run, the court can have the plagiarist’s works to be stopped or blocked on the internet. For example, in cases of plagiarism of academic journals, if the accused is not able to provide explanation, then the particular work should be deleted from all journals it is published in. I guess the same could be applied to say, music works or movies. Actually, especially in the entertainment world, as plagiarism is very often deemed poorly by audience. Therefore, even though the final work is rather interesting, any indication of plagiarism usually will turn people’s attention off.

        Thus, even though we may not be able to catch the plagiarist physically, by stopping their works from spreading, hopefully that is enough of a lesson to prevent them from repeating their crime and reduce any potential consequence towards the original author.


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