The name of this class should be changed from Social Media and Digital Business to Digital Business and Ethics. The Carroll School of Management puts an emphasis on business ethics first semester of freshman year with Portico. Following with mandatory philosophy and theology classes, there is an emphasis throughout the Jesuit education on ethics. This Social Media class furthers that emphasis in a perspective that is not usually seen. Traditional philosophers like Aristotle, Machiavelli, Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham were creating their doctrines in a time without the technology that is present today. While they created guidelines broad enough to apply to many situations, social media and digital business has redefined the ways people communicate and interact. As a final review of this class, I would like to take the perspective of these philosophers and analyze some of the key themes I found interesting.
Aristotle: The Golden Mean of Social Media and Digital Business
Lets talk about memes. The term “meme,” derived from “gene,” is the spread of information that is mutated along the way that changes the original meaning. Some meme sensations are: Crazy Girlfriend, Vladimir Putin, Adam Sandler, Leonardo Dicaprio and others.
Some are famous, others, like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, are accidental. People can become famous over night. On the other hand, they can also be destroyed overnight. Alicia Lynch lost her job, received death threats to her and her parents, received anonymous packages to her home, was viciously attacked on twitter, and stalked in other horrible ways. She made a mistake, while being a horrific, distasteful one, and it went viral. Another meme victim – the dentist who killed a lion. There have been many others who have killed lions but for some reason, Walter Palmer was singled out as the devil for committing an act many before him have done.
Aristotle believed in the golden mean, or finding the balance between two extremes. Memes are the equivalent of excess and exaggeration. In Aritstotles spectrum, the spread of memes fall under the excess of absurdity and impulsiveness. There is no rhyme or reason as to who is going to be chosen and for what reason therefore, there is no virtue.
Machiavelli and Big Data
Machiavelli’s theme throughout The Prince is as follows:
A rulers objective should be survival and glory and it is to be achieved by any means possible, including by immoral actions. Now, BIG DATA. I am still stuck on how Target knows you’re pregnant before your family does! Is tracking consumers ethical? When does it become invasive? Can companies sell your information, even in the form of numbers and algorithms? When do people stop being people and just numbers? Some companies, like Target, do not inform their consumer just how much information they really have on them. Facebook is also a culprit of misrepresentation of big data. Recently, Facebook was caught performing a study on its users where it altered the users mood.
Machiavelli would agree that these companies have a right, and even an obligation, to monitor their users to increase the success and control of the company. He would say companies are doing the moral thing by not relaying how much information on the consumer is actually taken. The company must avoid making themselves hated or despised, they must remain in control and monitor their brand to be successful. Nevertheless, Machiavelli never had to deal with the consumers who have access to the mass amounts of information available today. What he preaches is easier said than done. If these companies continue to monitor users without accurately depicting what they are monitoring, it could damage their brand.
Immanuel Kant – ALL OF THIS IS WRONG!
Kant believes in the categorical imperative, it is absolute and there are no exceptions. Before technology, a person had to relay their feelings in person, or on the phone, or by mail. There was little anonymity to what you were trying to relay. You needed the courage to go up to that person and ask them out or tell them off. Now there is this cloak of invisibility (yes, Harry Potter reference). These anonymous websites like Yik Yak or Boston College’s Confessions page are cyber-cesspools that allow individuals to say whatever they want with the worst intentions. Yik Yak was filled with sexist, racist and horrendous statements, many targeted at specific individuals. BC’s confession page was meant to be an outlet and it turned into a disturbing story that was a “hoax.”
(Full, disturbing confession found here).
In Brian Pietrylo vs. Hillstone (reading from Oct 6), Brian created a website to exclusively bad mouth his job with other coworkers. While declared a miscarriage of justice, he should have been held accountable for his actions! He would never had gone up to his boss and said “You suck!” Kant would say that these individuals intentions are immoral and certainly not in good will. He would believe that everyone should be accountable for their posts and I would have to agree with him.
Last, but not least, Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is defined as the sum of all pleasure that results from an action, minus the suffering of anyone involved in the action. Don’t we receive so much from social media as a society? There is now an outlet for mental health issues like depression. People know that there are others out there like them and can receive help and support. On the contrary, there are psychopaths out there who now have other psychopaths to talk to! Pandoras box has been opened. Social media is creating a homophily where people can find other like-minded people and while sometimes it can help, it can also divide. Companies are, inevitably, filtering social media to appease the user. This is leading to more filter bubbles and confirmatory biases. Not only that but also the concept of fake news. People in this filter bubble have received fake news confirming their beliefs! Won’t that only get worse? There is a divide in America that social media is currently exacerbated with filter bubbles, so isn’t it hurting more than helping?
Does the sum of lack of privacy and cyber bullying outweigh that of marketing and communicating? How do we measure how many people are helped versus hurt? Who gets to decide? What are the next actions to take? What is moral and immoral about social media? While this class gave me a lot of answers, it gave me a lot more questions, but, it also gave me the tools to answer them.