Social Legal and Ethical Issues of Social Networking Website Facebook Essay

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Social, Legal and Ethical Issues of Social Networking Website Facebook

There has been an amazing growth of the social networking sites and their impact in the lives of the users is phenomenon. Facebook which has over 250 million users has influenced the lives of many users in meaningful ways allowing them to connect and stay in touch while socializing through innovative platforms. Facebook is therefore raised several social, ethical and legal concern because of the many users it has and the amount of information it contains. These issues is made more intricate because of the nature of internet which allows for information to be easily shared or made accessible to myriads of people often strangers in a matter of seconds. While some issues are as a result of the different technological aspects of Facebook platform and application, a great deal of them can be solved by excising simple caution with information being shared (Goldman 2007, p.57). This paper will address the different social, ethical and legal issues affecting Facebook. The different sides of the arguments will be considered and various studies will be described to explain these issues further.

Privacy Issues

More personal information than is necessary is sent by the Facebook's application to the developers of plug-ins according to a study conducted at the University of Virginia. Anyone is able to create plug-ins which are then put on the personal pages of Facebook. Personal information could then be easily grabbed by identity theft by developing an application says Adrienne P. Felt who was the study leader. Facebook officials defend their application platform arguing that for it to function properly its necessary that it is liberal with the user's information. They further insist that they would deny access to any application developer who builds a plug-in which is malicious because it would be violation of terms of service of Facebook through data misuse (Young 2008).

Since the company allowed for this freedom in May 2007, there has been creation of thousands of applications for Facebook. Usually the plug-in is added to the user's page and enables some information about the user to be shared to other users who also have added the application. For instance, in Visual Bookshelf the users share a list of books that they have read once they have created it with friends. Other plug-ins have been created by some college students like the stream headlines which the Facebook page of the user is filled with information from the public relations office and other one to allow the library catalog to be searched by users through Facebook.

For an application to be installed in the profile of the users, a box must be checked which gives the application permission to track personal settings and have access to information of the user. There are further warnings from the site which advises the user not to add the application if they are not willing to grant the application access to the information. Ms. Felt disputes this saying that personal data are not important to most of the application on Facebook for the to be able to perform their functions for instance knowing the user's birthday or the friends isn't important to an application enabling catalog search at the library. She argues that there is need for settings to be fine tuned by Facebook to protect the user privacy better.

Her study involved examination of 150 third party plug-ins which were also most popular in Facebook to evaluate if private information were used by them in the accounts of the users. The results were interesting in that no information was needed by 8.7% of the applications, public data such as network, name and friends list was used by 82% and only 9.3% of the applications required any private information like birthday. Though no private information had yet been misused by the Facebook developers, in the future malicious ones might do so therefore before installation of application randomly, the users should first evaluate it. Facebook's servers don't actually run the applications but rather the developer's servers which they also operate. Facebook is contacted by the application server whenever the profile of the user is displayed, and requests private data from the user, the data is then processed by the application and the content to be displayed is sent back to the user. Any data from Facebook is expected to be thrown away by the developers once the content to be displayed has been sent back to the user as part of the Facebook's terms of service (Cotten 2008, p.73).

The company's policies were defended by the Facebook officials by claiming that the types of useful applications that can be developed will be curtailed if the access to users' data is limited to the developers. Several aspects of the access of data cannot be fine tuned by the users because the settings are buried somewhat and changing them involves going to the privacy section and selecting profile section. They further claim security and privacy to be a major priority for Facebook.

B.J. Fogg who is a director for Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University and also co-teaches Facebook application development course at the university concurs that more information than is necessary can be seen by the Facebook applications. However there are minimal risks for use of the Facebook applications and involves trade-offs between benefits and risks.Since sensitive data such as social security numbers are not stored in the site, there isn't much damage that can be done even if the all the information from the user's Facebook profile are snag up by the malicious application developers. He further adds that there is high incentive for strict enforcement of the policies of Facebook and abusive applications ban. Monitoring of the information by the installed applications is known by most users of Facebook. The ethic of openness is practiced by Facebook and being on Facebook makes the person to share certain things freely with other people.

A survey by Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that the most users did not have much concern about their sharing of information online. Of all the respondents sixty one percent were willing to share any information about them that could be discovered online and they didn't see the need to limit.

Effect on education

There have been studies which have linked the use of Facebook and lower grades in colleges. A pilot study in San Diego has indicated that students who have signed up for the social networking get lower grades than their counterparts who hadn't signed up at the university. However it is claimed by over three quarters of users that the use of Facebook does not affect their studies. According to the study co-author Aryn Karpinski, there is no direct causal relationship between lower grades or less studying with Facebook but a relationship does exist. GPA of typically 3.0 to 3.5 was common for the Facebook users and that of between 3.5 and 4.0 for those users who had not signed up for the service. An average of 1 to 5 a week was found in the users and the non-users studied for 11 to 15 hours averagely in a week. 219 students were surveyed by the research at the Ohio State consisting of 117 graduate and102 undergraduate students. 148 of the respondents had an account at Facebook. About 85% undergraduate participants had an account while the graduates were only 52% who were Facebook users. There was a higher likelihood of students who participated in extracurricular activities to use Facebook than those who worked at paid jobs and used their time accordingly (Karpinski 2009).

A disconnect is found in the student claims and the study findings regarding the GPA results whereby 79% of the user of the service denied impact of Facebook in their academic performance. The users claimed in the open ended questions that their use of Facebook wasn't frequent enough for any noticeable impact on their academics. Facebook's use leading to lower grade cannot be necessarily be deduced from the studies because other factors are involved for instance personality traits.

Some students might still have gotten lower grades because if Facebook wasn't there then other ways of avoiding studying would have been found by the students. Too much time being spent on online socializing might have had an effect on the lower GPA. The fact that even graduate students exhibited this behavior is quite significant because they usually have GPAs of over 3.5 and if by their use of Facebook led to their lower grades makes it an amazing finding. Facebook is even popular in the lecture halls at the colleges. Students who are allowed to use laptops by the faculty members in the class have been found browsing the site during class time. The effect of Facebook will not disappear any time soon and better ways of dealing with the situation needs to be developed (Bugeja 2006).

Initially the profiles of the Facebook users was only visible to the confirmed friends…[continue]

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