Facebook and Morality

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Does Facebook corrupt human morality? The question of whether or not Facebook compromises moral judgment is a complicated one, and one that does not actually have a clear answer one way or another. In this regard, there are two key viewpoints that can be observed here: that of the affirmative and that of the negative viewpoint. Of these two viewpoints, it is clear that Facebook does indeed corrupt human morality and judgment, but the way that it does so is perhaps a bit different than what most would seem to believe. That is to say, the effects and overall direction of the moral corruption that can be observed here are not what most seem to acknowledge when they think of Facebook or similar social networks. Therefore, in order to come to a more retrospective understanding of this issue, it is necessary to take a closer look at it within the purview of morality as a whole, including some of the most prominent arguments on both sides here. 

For starters, one of the key arguments that is made, and rightfully so, for Facebook being a detrimental force on human morality is one that is common for all forms of social media: it deteriorates the communication process. This might not seem related to human morality at first glance, but there have actually been a large number of studies that have found that this reduction in communication can lead to less-informed opinions and an overall lack of care being taken with regard to a number of moral issues. For instance, according to one source, social networks such as Facebook deteriorate communication because they serve as a replacement for it (Manovich, 2009). To that end, it is clear that this replacement of communication has more than merely an immediate effect. In fact, it can serve to deteriorate human morality in ways that people would not be able to possibly predict unless they knew of its effects beforehand. This allows Facebook to function as something of a replacement for in-person communication, as well as other forms of communication in general, and it is clear that this morality is one that intrinsically tied to human interaction in general, and stopping that interaction also necessarily deteriorates this morality. 

Another key reason that is frequently presented for why Facebook can adversely affect human morality is that of the ways that it leaves the users to be judge, jury, and executioner, so to speak. This means that users have more freedom than ever to make decisions and act on them appropriately, and while this might appear to be a major benefit within the purview of Facebook, along with many other social networks, it can go awry just as many times as it can go well, further deteriorating this morality. Indeed, according to another source, the role of the journalist, including, in many cases, the role of passing moral judgment, is one that is increasingly being given to those who utilize social media, and Facebook serves as the most prominent example of this (Narayanan et al., 2012). Furthermore, there are a number of people who believe that Facebook is detrimental, within this purview, because it can cause people to believe that their own moral judgments, for lack of a better term, are gospel, and this can lead to a number of cases where people believe their judgments to be completely important and all-serving. 

On the other side of the argument here are those who believe that Facebook is beneficial within the purview of human morality and that it does not deteriorate it. In fact, there are also many who believe that it can actually enhance this morality and improve it in the grand scheme of things. Indeed, this same source can also be utilized as a means to help prove this concept as well. For instance, according to this same author, "Social media has broken the barrier between the average citizen and the official journalist. The source can now be a reporter by merely using a handphone to announce something on Twitter. The manner in which the discourse in news is conducted has, in turn, blurred the editor-driven distinction between what constitutes news and what does not" (Narayanan et al, 2012, p. 74). Essentially, this means that this element of human morality is one that can actually benefit as a result of the ability of Facebook, and similar forms of social media, to function as a soapbox of sorts for which people to discuss and come to conclusions regarding a number of issues. 

Another of the most prominent arguments that support Facebook as a way to improve and generally increase human morality is one that focuses a great deal on the ability of Facebook to be able to share content. Through this exchange of content, it becomes more and more clear, to many of those who believe in the ability of Facebook to improve human morality, that this allows for an open exchange of communication. According to one source, this comes about as a result of the comments as well as the ability of the people to be able to learn new things as a result of these comments (Manovich, 2009). In this regard, this means that Facebook is actually improving the communication process, not stifling it, as many also believe (Manovich, 2009). Indeed, it is clear that there are a number of components of this concept of communication that are related, tangentially or otherwise, to the concepts of morality. 

This argument about how Facebook can improve morality is one that is further supplemented by another relatively simple argument: that Facebook allows for people to be contacted easily that would not have otherwise. This might appear to be a somewhat cynical or bleak viewpoint, and as such, it is clear that many believe this particular purview to be unacceptable or otherwise undesirable because of the aforementioned lack of sympathy that many have for communication and morality. However, it is clear, from an examination of many of these most prominent arguments, that Facebook actually enriches human morality, at least these proponents argue, through its ability to bring people together, and this is extremely effective and important because it means that Facebook functions as something of a tool or a vehicle to discuss morality and similar issues with other people that would not have been contacted. The cynicism here, then, occurs primarily because there are many who believe that people would not have contacted others, such as those who might have different moral opinions than them, if Facebook did not facilitate this process so easily. 

After all, Facebook is a website and application that allows for a large number of connections to be formulated relatively easily, and this is actually an extremely important element of Facebook, from the perspective of human morality. This means that, at heart, Facebook is a program that has the potential to impact human morality one way or another, positively or negatively. It seems, then, that applying one ethical theory to this, that of virtue ethics, allows for this issue to be understood on a much more fundamental and important level. That is to say, virtue ethics would dictate that Facebook does indeed deteriorate morality, at least on some level, because it primarily serves to muddy many of the most prominent virtues within the individual, leading to these situations wherein ethics are thrown by the wayside in favor of more immediate, instant gratification. This is one element of Facebook that has perhaps grown somewhat infamous simply because of the numerous ways that it can go awry. That is to say, the ability of Facebook to function as something of a distraction is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness, and is important to understand this from the perspective of virtue ethics because virtue ethics place a strong emphasis on the individual. 

The problem here, then, is that Facebook diminishes the value of the individual in favor of the collective. That is to say, the particular emphasis that is at play here is more of one that resembles a beehive, rather than an individual honeybee. Why is this significant? It is simple, it essentially means that the opinions and moral compasses of individuals are no longer important, but rather the impact that these individuals have on this great Facebook collective. This might not appear to be too large of an issue from the perspective of the overarching ethical and moral good, but the impact is actually massive as it correlates to a key lack of sympathy and true understanding for the minutia of the issues that are intrinsic to virtually any moral and ethical dilemma. As a result, there is a clear trend within Facebook and its users do not actually understand these issues and rush to conclusions. The problem here, then, is that these individuals still have the same conviction for their beliefs. Essentially, they think that they are just as right as an individual who has well-researched the issues. This is damaging from the perspective of morality because it means that these individuals will be less-informed, and although their opinions and, by extension, moral dilemma solutions will be just as valid as the next, it is clear that the end result is a great deterioration of the consequences of these moral decisions, as well as the mental routes taken to get there. 

There are also a growing number of people who believe that this issue is not quite so black and white and, indeed, there is some precedent for this. According to another article, for instance, the morality surrounding Facebook, as well as the technology intrinsic to it, is extremely complex, without a clear answer as to whether this morality is being degraded or not (Light, McGrath & Griffiths, 2008). This point of view is one that is supported as well by a number of ethical theories. For instance, some ethical theories point to the ability of morality to be subjective, meaning that determining, objectively, if Facebook actually degrades this morality is virtually an impossible prospect. Furthermore, there are also many who raise privacy concerns not just with the concept of Facebook, but that of determining whether or not the moral decisions that individuals make are truly sound or not. That is, this also speaks to the extremely subjective nature of morality, especially within such a rigid and well-defined framework. As such, properly determining many of these concepts has proven to be extremely difficult as the years have gone by. 

Another important dimension to this issue is that of the ways that Facebook itself is actually able to shape the user experience, such as through the position of openness that applications within Facebook necessitate. This concept is one that is mentioned by this same source, which mentions that personal information is at risk here, and this means that this information-gathering oftentimes distracts users from the administration of privacy, breaking this line of trust and endangering their identities (Light, McGrath & Griffiths, 2008). What does this mean from the perspective of morality or lack thereof? It is simple: Facebook is abusing its own users, and it can be said that there is a clear correlation here between the ways that Facebook does not appear to exhibit a great deal of morality with user information, as well as overall security and privacy, and the ways that the users themselves behave from a moral standpoint (Light, McGrath & Griffiths, 2008). That is to say, there are a number of complex elements here within the purview of morality, and it is obvious, from even a cursory examination of this issue, that privacy is intrinsically tied with concepts surrounding morality, and one cannot truly exist without the other. 

Deterioration of privacy and security leads to a deterioration of morality, and it is this simple concept that can be observed so readily within the application of Facebook. This concept is one that is alluded to by another source, which states that there is a great deal of information-gathering that takes place without the consent of the users themselves and that this means that there is a decidedly untrusting atmosphere within Facebook itself that, although subtle, is having a major effect on morality, especially as it relates to it deteriorating over time (Fraser & Dutta, 2010). The end result, from this, is that Facebook is having more and more problems with regards to privacy and security. It is clear, from the recent events surrounding Facebook and the trouble that it has gotten into, that there will soon be a general lack of morality within the application of Facebook as a whole. The problem, though, is that it is being done so slowly, and so subtly, that truly identifying this issue and subsequently taking steps to stop it, is proving to be all but impossible. 

Lastly, one final ethical component that can be observed within many of the most prominent arguments here is this element of judgment that has become so important within both society and Facebook as a whole. Judgment is generally rendered after sufficient facts have been gathered, but in the case of Facebook, it is becoming more and more commonplace for people to be able to pass judgment in a way that is not informed, and, as a result, there is something of a natural deterioration of morality simply by virtue of the way that the decision-making process is being impacted here. This might not initially seem to be extremely important, but the reality is that, over the course of many years, perhaps even dozens of years, this process is one that will be able to be examined and observed much more easily. As such, morality is something that is being deteriorated, and although Facebook is far from the sole reason for this, it is most certainly a prominent reason for this. 

Ultimately, it can be said that Facebook is indeed deteriorating morality, but the scale and methods that it is using to do so are a bit more subtle than many seem to believe or understand. It is perhaps for this reason, among all others, that Facebook has emerged as something of a prominent player within social media: because the numerous mechanisms within Facebook allow people to render judgment extremely easily and as such, there can be little doubt that the process of morality is one that is being slowly deteriorated. Utilizing this logic, it becomes clear that there is evidence, as mentioned by most of these sources, that Facebook is indeed imposing on the morals of many of its most prominent users. From this perspective, it is clear that there is a clear effect here.

References

Fraser, M., & Dutta, S. (2010). Throwing sheep in the boardroom: How online social networking will transform your life, work and world. John Wiley & Sons.

Light, B., McGrath, K., & Griffiths, M. (2008). More than just friends? Facebook, disclosive ethics and the morality of technology. ICIS 2008 proceedings, 193.

Manovich, L. (2009). The practice of everyday (media) life: From mass consumption to mass cultural production?. Critical Inquiry, 35(2), 319-331. 

Narayanan, M., Asur, S., Nair, A., Rao, S., Kaushik, A., Mehta, D., ... & Lalwani, R. (2012). Social media and business. Vikalpa, 37(4), 69-112.