Access and Feeds

Ethics in Social Media: Can Algorithms Maximize User Best Interest Instead of Company Profitability?

By Dick Weisinger

Social media increasingly comes under fire because of issues related to privacy and ethics. It has been criticized for spreading misinformation and encouraging addictive and anti-social behaviors. Some have pointed to the weak privacy controls on these sites as enablers for unethical and undesirable behaviors. A central cause of these problems is that the controlling companies are motivated by profitability and not the best interests of their users.

Øyvind Kvalnes, philosopher and associate professor at the Department of Leadership and Organizational Behavior, said that “the unique thing about social media is that it is not necessary to go through an external editor to publish anything. Subsequently, you have the editorial responsibility and must reflect over the ethical aspects of the publication and not just the legal aspect.”

Casey Fiesler, researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, said that “ethics can be a loaded term. Sometimes we talk about responsibility. Are the people who design technology being responsible and thinking about their product’s potential harm? In the end, I think of tech ethics as designing technology that does more good than bad for the world.”

Greg Fell, CEO of Display Social, told O’Reilly that “large social media companies make hundreds of billions of dollars from advertising revenue and share almost none of it with their users. Economic fairness should be part of the social media ethos. People should be rewarded financially for posting on social media, instead of being exploited by business models that are unfair and unethical. Ultimately, they will burn out their audiences and implode. Meantime, they are causing harm. That’s the problem with unethical behavior—in the long run, it’s self-destructive and self-defeating.”

A blog post on TRTWorld suggests that one “form of ethical design is simplifying decision-making and using algorithms to maximize what’s best for the user, instead of what’s most profitable for the company. For instance, an ethical algorithm would suggest what you need, over what benefits the company but harms you.”

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