Ethical Communication and Social Media Research Paper

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Ethical Communication and Social Media: Discussion and Implications

“Almost a quarter of the world’s population is now on Facebook. In the USA nearly 80% of all internet users are on this platform. Because social networks feed off interactions among people, they become more powerful as they grow” (Gaitho, 2018). Social media has created a manifestation of a branch of society that human civilization has never had to deal with before. Due to the fact that society is experiencing and using social media as people attempt to scrutinize its impacts, it can be harder to pinpoint all the numerous ways that social media affects the individual and the collective. One phenomenon that has grown out of social media is that people don’t only share information about themselves and their own personal lives, they also share information, articles, and images about various aspects of the shared world. This can be problematic as many people don’t check how factual the things they post are, something that can lead to the widespread dissemination of untrue information accepted as fact. The negative impacts upon society are obvious. This paper will explore the nuances inherent in ethical communication, such as how truth is everything and how sometimes even social media posts that portray negative suggestions about people/issues can have an adverse impact on society. Ultimately, this paper will discuss how the individual has distinct ethical obligations when it comes to the information they share and spread on social media as the sharing of inaccurate information on social media has real, negative consequences on the general public.

Ethical Theory and Implications

The main ethical theory to be applied to this topic would be consequentialism. The reason this ethical theory is the most appropriate for such a topic is because it is a very practical and straightforward way to determine the ethical consequences of something. “Consequentialist normative principles require that we first tally both the good and bad consequences of an action. Second, we then determine whether the total good consequences outweigh the total bad consequences. If the good consequences are greater, then the action is morally proper. If the bad consequences are greater, then the action is morally improper” ( This is so appealing for such a complex subject as social media because it doesn’t require one to have to dig deep into the more complex philosophical or intuitive connections to an act or principle. It merely asks the individual to determine the overall net-positive or net-negative results of an action.

When it comes communication within social media there needs to be more thought and awareness give towards ethical discernment. Ethical discernment means being able to realize ethical issues and concepts and to use these principles to make judgments and determinations about what to do (Tompkins, 2018). This needs to play a bigger role in communications online and within the realm of social media. “Practicing communication ethics involves discernment and decision making about what is good, right or virtuous to communicate. The failure of decision makers to communicate ethically is evident around us. Media repots of deceptive or false statements by people in business, relationships, and politics are all too common. Controversy over digital fake news has brought greater awareness of deception in communication (pew)” (Tompkins, 2018). If recent times have proven anything its that false information spread online has power: it has the power to make money for companies and it has the power to influence the action of people: how they spend their money, what they tell their friends and how they vote. As Tompkins illuminates, there is a greater nuance in ethical communication than just honest and deception and that the interests of the individual versus the collective have to be weighed (2018).

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However, society would be in good shape if more people were able to just post and share things on social media that were honest. Asserting honesty and truth as the basic standards for moral decency are actual strong points for ethical conduct within social media.

News and Social Media

A major ethical issue that connects to this topic is how news is spread over social media. It is common for an individual to share a story from a major news outlet on their Facebook page, without checking the veracity, assuming (usually correctly) that the news story has been properly checked and vetted. However, in the 2016 election there was the emergence of news stories that were deliberately created to be false and to paint certain candidates in a negative light. These news stories have since been examined and were meant to discourage from particular candidates from receiving votes. For example there has been proof to indicate that “(i) 62 percent of U.S. adults get news on social media (Pew 2016a); (ii) the most popular fake news stories were more widely shared on Facebook than the most popular mainstream news stories (Silverman 2016); (iii) many people who see fake news stories report that they believe them (Silverman and Singer-Vine 2016); and (iv) the most discussed fake news stories tended to favor Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton (Silverman 2016)” (Alcott, 2017). Suffice it to say, numerous analysts and commentators have put these facts together and have pointed out that it is likely that Donald Trump would not have successfully been elected president if it were not for the impact of the fake news spread throughout social media sites (Alcott, 2017). This represents a very real and very distressing consequence of social media and demonstrates how the things people post and share can have very actual effects on the real world. The ethical issue in this case was that one could argue that a candidate was wrongfully elected to president because this person gained momentum as a result of the lies spread by other people. Gaining a competitive advantage on one’s opponent by duping the American public is unethical and could have long term negative effects that members of society don’t even realize yet.

Websites that were creating fake news about the candidates of the 2016 presidential election and ads on social media that sought to drive people to these websites were concerted attempts to throw the election. This represented a conscious attempt to dismiss and disregard all ethical practices of communication in order to achieve a particular goal. Some have dismissed these claims as little more than an urban legend, but the research has demonstrated that this was absolutely true. “Social media plays a bigger role in bringing people to fake news sites than it plays in bringing them to real news….....

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Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election. doi:10.3386/w23089

Drushel, B. E., & German, K. (2011). The Ethics of Emerging Media: Information, Social Norms, and New Media Technology. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Gaitho, M. (2018, September 12). What Is the Real Impact of Social Media? Retrieved from

Kurtzleben, D. (2018, April 11). Did Fake News On Facebook Help Elect Trump? Here\'s What We Know. Retrieved from

Tompkins, P. S. (2019). Practicing communication ethics development, discernment, and decision making. (n.d.). Ethics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from

West, D. M. (2017, December 18). How to combat fake news and disinformation. Retrieved from

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