But research is very mixed on what that answer is when the data is voluntarily revealed. For example, if someone "likes" Apple on Facebook and Apple then in turn markets Apple products to that person, it should be asked whether Apple is acting improperly. Companies with products that compete with Apple could do the same thing. Research bears out that this question comes down to personal and professional ethics and that can literally vary from person to person, company to company and country to country.
Another wrinkle found in research is employee accountability. Such a subject is raised all over scholarly journals on the subject of employer and employee ethics. One such article regarding the use of social media by nurses (Griffith & Tengnah, 2011). Nursing is a special profession because there are screaming implications about privacy when it relates to medical data. Many countries have extremely stringent laws regarding patient privacy and loose-lipped nurses can wreak havoc on a hospital's day-to-day operations and/or patient privacy.
It is easy enough to condemn the hospital for monitoring the social media accounts of its medical staff but it is also quite easy to think of reasons why the hospital should absolutely do so. If employees are speaking publicly about sensitive data, it can absolutely hurt patients and hurt the hospital and the hospital does have a duty to respond. The article regarding the nurses focuses mostly on the accountability of the nurses. Some may find this to be short-sighted as the one may focus on the ethics of the hospital in terms of their general social media surveillance but much bigger concerns are in play, as noted above.
In summary of employer use of social media to keep tabs on employees, research articles on the matter either come down against the employer or the employees for their actual or possible actions. Both are worthy of note and should be taken into account. To dismiss either would be careless but to only look at one or the other would also be improper. Researchers should look at the entire equation and realize that both employers and employees have duties. The employers have a duty to make sure that they haven't made a careless hire but they shouldn't be nosing into things that don't pertain to work. Employees should not reveal sensitive data or speak ill of their employer lest they find out what "at will" employment means. Free speech is what it is but loose lips can cause consequences and laws generally offer no protection, whether one views that as unethical or not. No opinion on any of that is being offered in this report but research shows that this is the way it is in the real world, love it or leave it.
Children's Use of Social Media
While many researchers and pundits bristle at the automatic presumptions that corporations and retailers are acting in an evil fashion or that users are aloof idiots, there is little confusion or divergence with most people about protecting minor children online. Research bears out that there are very legitimate concerns about the safety of children online. The question as to whether or how much children should even be using social media is a question that is often raised. Parents who are ignorant or ambivalent about what their children are doing on social media networks are either condemned or placated depending on the motive of the people doing the talking (Nolan, Raynes-Goldie, & McBride, 2011).
However, even if someone argues that publicly data and people are fair game, research confirms that involving children and child predators in the mix changes everything. Questions about autonomy and safety shift from black and white to shades of gray or vice versa (Nolan, Raynes-Goldie, & McBride, 2011). Even with the media and public's inherent tendency to protect children, this issue is not black and white either. Many argue that children should be allowed to use social media without fear while others argue that acting under this presumption and allowing children free reign borders on child negligence because of what could happen (Nolan, Raynes-Goldie, & McBride, 2011).
Review of Research
The research to be found on the topic of social media as it relates to user privacy is very mixed. The main reason for that is likely because analysis of the topic is less qualitative and more quantitative. Also, it is almost impossible to analyze the topic without at least some preconceived notions or opinions. There are two very distinct ways of looking at the subject. The first is that privacy should rule the day and that even legal appropriation of publicly available information is improper. The other camp would argue that unless user accounts have been compromised or innocent children are being impacted, or something else of that nature, then nothing incendiary is going on.
Perhaps the only analysis that occurs that is truly "above it all" is research that just recites things as they happen and readers are left to form their own opinion and undertake their own action plan. It is hard to be more definitive given the inherently subjective nature of the topic at hand as many people, including researchers and people who are ostensibly supposed to be neutral, will allow their politics and preconceptions to color their research and analysis. It is hard to find an answer to a question, after all, when one has the desired answer figured out in advance of trying to "answer" the question of whether social media privacy is a true concern.
A sterling example of when research quite obviously turns into social activism is illustrated quite clearly in an article that was found during the research for this report that bemoaned the fact that user resistance is not what it "should be" and that people needed to rise up against social media entities encroaching on privacy (Huey, 2010). This work appeared in a scholarly reviewed journal that relates to international law. The author behind this work obviously has the right to print and publish this work but to say that this work is scholarly is a bit of a stretch. The article is urging a political and social movement and that is not in any way the aim of scholarly research.
That all being said, there are two conclusions that one can draw based on the research data available. The first is that many parties exist in the world that will use social media data without a second thought. Some of these people's motives are insidious while others are innocuous. However, they most certainly do exist and they will probably not alter their behavior anytime soon. Retailers will use consumer data to market their products, law enforcement and similar entities will use data to pursue criminals and potential parties to a lawsuit and employers will "check up" on their employees and prospective hires.
This leads to the other conclusion that should be drawn from the research. Users must be extremely careful how they proceed with social media. They should think long and hard about what they reveal online, who they associate with and what they do on these social media sites. The reasons for this are quite obvious based on what the research displays. Disastrous or at least embarrassing things can happen to people that behave carelessly online and this is just as true for regular citizens as it is for public figures. Regardless of the cacophony of pro-privacy advocate voices that resonate in the public and media spheres, the reality of the situation needs to be called what it is and people who use social media need to react accordingly.
At the end of the day, users need to protect themselves. It should not be assumed that social media companies will protect all their users from all conceivable outcomes. Personal accountability and self-control online are things that all users need to possess. That being said, social media companies need to do their due diligence as well. Allowing users to engage in a free-for-all is not a solution and will inevitably lead to chaos. Politicians need to be careful as well. Users engaging in stupid or ill-advised behavior need to understand that they are not protected from consequences as social media sites do not have the time or the resources to babysit their users. If something illegal is happening, then they should absolutely step in and cooperate with authorities. However, the censoring and policing of "improper" content is not right unless it's illegal. Infringing on free speech is unethical and often illegal to do.
References (all of these came from EBSCOHost)
Awan, N. & Krishnan, M.. (2012). The Personal Privacy Paradox. MIS Quarterly. 30 (1),
Collins, J. (2010). Fortify Your Facebook Settings. Journal of Accountancy. 209 (6), 42-
Cortland, a. (2012). Court Unlikes Claim of Facebook Privacy. Best's Review. 112 (10),
Culnan, M. And Carlin T. (2009). Online Privacy Practices in Higher Education.