Ethics and social networking sites : a disclosive analysis of Facebook

Light, Ben & McGrath, Kathy (2010) Ethics and social networking sites : a disclosive analysis of Facebook. Information Technology and People, 23(4), pp. 290-311.

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Purpose – This paper aims to provide insights into the moral values embodied by a popular social networking site (SNS), Facebook.

Design/methodology/approach – This study is based upon qualitative fieldwork, involving participant observation, conducted over a two-year period. The authors adopt the position that technology as well as humans has a moral character in order to disclose ethical concerns that are not transparent to users of the site.

Findings – Much research on the ethics of information systems has focused on the way that people deploy particular technologies, and the consequences arising, with a view to making policy recommendations and ethical interventions. By focusing on technology as a moral actor with reach across and beyond the internet, the authors reveal the complex and diffuse nature of ethical responsibility and the consequent implications for governance of SNS.

Research limitations/implications – The authors situate their research in a body of work known as disclosive ethics, and argue for an ongoing process of evaluating SNS to reveal their moral importance. Along with that of other authors in the genre, this work is largely descriptive, but the paper engages with prior research by Brey and Introna to highlight the scope for theory development.

Practical implications – Governance measures that require the developers of social networking sites to revise their designs fail to address the diffuse nature of ethical responsibility in this case. Such technologies need to be opened up to scrutiny on a regular basis to increase public awareness of the issues and thereby disclose concerns to a wider audience. The authors suggest that there is value in studying the development and use of these technologies in their infancy, or if established, in the experiences of novice users. Furthermore, flash points in technological trajectories can prove useful sites of investigation.

Originality/value – Existing research on social networking sites either fails to address ethical concerns head on or adopts a tool view of the technologies so that the focus is on the ethical behaviour of users. The authors focus upon the agency, and hence the moral character, of technology to show both the possibilities for, and limitations of, ethical interventions in such cases.

Impact and interest:

44 citations in Scopus
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28 citations in Web of Science®

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ID Code: 61427
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
DOI: 10.1108/09593841011087770
ISSN: 1758-5813
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > INFORMATION AND COMPUTING SCIENCES (080000) > INFORMATION SYSTEMS (080600)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA STUDIES (200100)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Past > Schools > School of Media, Entertainment & Creative Arts
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2010 Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.
Copyright Statement: This article is (c) Emerald Group Publishing and permission has been granted for this version to appear here Emerald does not grant permission for this article to be further copied/distributed or hosted elsewhere without the express permission from Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Deposited On: 18 Jul 2013 04:06
Last Modified: 27 Jul 2016 07:34

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