Online Social Networking Services and Privacy Ethics

          Social Networking Services have always been surrounded by topics or issues that are not very amenable to empirical measurement. This issues include, democratic freedom, privacy, friendship, identity and, good life. Most of these issues are closely intertwined with a society’s traditions and concerns that help in construing ethical theories, which include: motivations, virtues, duties, rights and, consequences. Social Networking Services [SNS] distinctive functionalities as well as the novel features are closely linked to the above ethical theories. They take precedence over other computer interests and ethics on information that share the functionalities of the Internet i.e. intellectual property and, copyright related issues.

          Philosophers have engaged in countless debates on complexity layers as well as sense of urgency that have mushroomed because of Social networking services and, issues to deal with privacy. Some philosophers argue that privacy should be discerned from control of information, information access restriction or even contextual integrity.

SNS Activities

          SNS fundamental practice raise concerns that cover, how prone information is to third parties. Mostly, this information is used for surveillance, commercial and, data mining purposes. Additionally, software that have got the capacity to carry out facial recognition and to identify from uploaded photos automatically a person’s appearance, applications of a third party nature ability to publish by collecting a user’s data without their awareness and, permission do exist. Moreover, SNS use ‘opt-in’ automatic privacy control, tracking a user’s online activities using cookies after they have ceased using a SNS, tracking a person’s physical movements by use of social networks by use of location-based SNS that are used to track movements considered illicit.

Government Agencies

          Government agencies have also found themselves entangled in this complex web of SNS. They engage in information sharing of users as well as the patterns that make up a user’s activity. This information includes personal data, or data that is related to other entities or persons. The extent of sharing by the government is not limited, and, they may disburse the data to other entities besides itself. Therefore, a user’s privacy is not guaranteed.

Creation of Ethically Questionable Notions

          It can be appreciated that the entry of SNS has created an information environment that is very complex because of the privacy violation issues and norms. While it may be argued that the limitless potential to share information through SNS, is what makes the services by SNS remain attractive, users fail to discern the consequences of their sharing of information through SNS. Giving users immense control over their information could potentially lead to decrease in privacy for others as well as themselves. Users of SNS have got a lot to learn on what motivates them to use the SNS. To some it may be profit motivated or personal motivation. What is anticipated however is the notion that SNA if looked from a business perspective would require a formula within which privacy violation as well as dignity violation is accepted.

Utilitarianism defined

          In trying to come up with the best way to explain how control of SNS as well as their ethical effects to society, the impact of SNS can be looked from a consequence-based ethical theory or Utilitarianism. This will entail having a course to be used as the strategy of maximizing overall happiness. In the current age, utilitarianism has been taken to be part of consequentialism.

          Utilitarianism opines that the worth of a moral action is determined by the outcome. However, there is debate on how much consideration actual consequences should be allocated. He same is applied to intended and, foreseen consequences.

          John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham are the pioneering contributors to this theory. Bentham in his book Fragment on Government (Bentham, 2001) opines that utilitarianism is a fundamental axiom. This axiom is derived from the measure of wrong and right which happens to be the sum total of the happiness experienced by the greatest majority.

          Jeremy Bentham in his book An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (Bentham, 2001) argues that humans are under pleasure and, pain as the two most influential governance principles or as the two most influential sovereign masters. From these two masters human beings discern what they are supposed to do. The principle of utility has been used to disapprove or approve all actions in accordance to their ability to diminish or augment an interested party happiness.

          Bentham introduces the hedonic calculus which he opines is useful in calculating the value of pain and pleasure. Bentham posits that the value ascribed to pain and pleasure is measured by taking into consideration duration, intensity, remoteness and, uncertainty or certainty. In addition, Bentham adds that considering production tendencies of an action are also necessary and therefore to discern the fecundity of an act (Bentham, 2001). Moreover, the chances present of triggering equal sensation or opposite sensation should also be considered. Bentham adds that the extent as well as the number of individuals affected by the action should also be considered.

Application of Utilitarianism Principles to SNS

          From the definition and explanation offered by Bentham, hedonic calculus can be considered as the guiding point of legislators because they are aimed at reducing and, avoidance of pain. The government has centered its business as that of promotion of happiness of the entire society by rewarding and, punishing according to the appropriate proportion.

          The principle discussed above has been utilized in SNS to a very great extent. SNS like Facebook have helped people achieve different forms of happiness by allowing them to create communities as well as personal identities which are both virtual and real. In addition, the SNS have given an individual the power to perform, construct, manage, negotiate and present this creation in the best way a person knows how (Penslar, 1995).

          It is this creation of virtual communities and identities that have attracted the attention of philosophers. The philosophers opine that SNS like Facebook have given individuals so much power as to how they manage their creation. They argue that, individuals have the ability now to represent themselves in the virtual world in a way that is very different from the real world. In fact the SNS allow people to behave in a manner that may not be permissible in other social places like schools and homes (Penslar, 1995).

          This form of thinking is premised on the principles of utilitarianism which further the idea to a person that they should act in a way that enhances their happiness. Ethically, this represents creation of communities where a hyperactive communication style is created and helps in compensation of informational absence (Penslar, 1995).

Additionally, SNS further personal identity deindividuation by allowing reinforcing as well as exaggeration of shared traits like religion, sexual orientation as well as political inclinations. This has got the effect of making individuals in a SNS appear as champions or representatives of marginalized persons in a community.


The ethical consequences of SNS are based on an individual according to the utilitarian theory. What a person sees to yield more benefit is the preferred choice and the ethically correct choice. This ethical theory is beneficial because one can compare a solution that can be predicted and make use of a point system to discern a choice which will benefit many people in a society. Utilitarianism allows for logical as well as rational arguments for any decision and it allows a person to use the decision on a case-by-case milieu.   


Bentham, J. (2001). The Works of Jeremy Bentham: Published under the Superintendence of His Executor, John Bowring. New York: Adamant Media Corporation. 

Penslar, R. L. (1995). Research Ethics: Cases and Materials. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

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