Unit 7 Social media ethics

Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should:

  • have considered the ethical dilemmas raised in social media
  • hav extended your knowlege of relevant concepts and terminology

Activity 1: Starter quiz

Work alone. Group the issues into appropriate categories. Be prepared to explain your choices to a partner.


Data Privacy
Misinformation and Disinformation
Free Speech vs. Hate Speech
Algorithmic Bias
Exploitation and Human Rights
Cultural and Social Impact
Surveillance Capitalism
Accessibility and Inclusivity


User Data Protection
Content Integrity and Governance
Ethical and Social Consequences
Inclusivity and User Profiling

Activity 2: Key issues in social media ethics

Read about each of the nine issues listed below. Identify the issues that you have experienced.

  1. Data Privacy:
    • Many users are not fully aware of what they consent to when they agree to a social media platform's terms and conditions.
    • Personal data is often extracted and analyzed without explicit permission from users.
  2. Misinformation and Disinformation:
    • The rapid spread of inaccurate or deliberately false information.
    • Users are increasingly exposed to viewpoints similar to their own, leading to polarized perspectives.
  3. Cybersecurity:
    • Unauthorized access to sensitive information can have severe implications.
    • The unethical intrusion into accounts can lead to dissemination of false information.
  4. Surveillance Capitalism:
    • Gathering detailed profiles based on a user's online behavior for targeted advertising.
    • Using algorithms to subtly influence user behavior and opinions.
  5. Free Speech vs. Hate Speech:
    • Striking the balance between allowing free speech and curbing hate speech is difficult.
    • There is an ongoing debate about who gets to decide what content should be removed or flagged.
  6. Exploitation and Human Rights:
    • The exposure of underage users to inappropriate or harmful content.
    • The often poor conditions of content moderators who sift through harmful or traumatic content.
  7. Cultural and Social Impact:
    • The promotion of unrealistic standards of beauty can lead to negative self-image among users.
    • Platforms often propagate and reinforce cultural stereotypes.
  8. Accessibility and Inclusivity:
    • The gap between those who have easy access to the internet and technology, and those who do not.
    • Much of the content is in dominant languages like English, limiting access for non-English speakers.
  9. Algorithmic Bias:
    • Algorithms can perpetuate existing societal biases.
    • There is often a lack of clarity about how algorithms make decisions.

Activity 3: Social media ethics

Identify the ethical issues in each of the following situations.

  • Public vs. Private Spaces
  • Online Etiquette
  • Social Exclusion
  • Fake News
  • Misinformation
  • Credibility
  • Echo Chambers
  • Algorithmic Bias
  • Political Polarization
  • Data Mining
  • Targeted Advertising
  • User Privacy
  • Hate Speech
  • Cyberbullying
  • Mental Health Impact
  • Digital Footprint
  • Ethical Hiring Practices
  • Online Reputation Management
  • FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)
  • Social Comparison
  • Mental Wellbeing
  • Cancel Culture
  • Digital Justice
  • Public Shaming
  • Content Responsibility
  • Discriminatory Ideologies
  • Ethical Sharing

Activity 4: Introduction to social media ethics

Work in pairs and discuss the content of this slideshow.

Activity 5: Real-world ethical dilemmas

Work in groups. Discuss each ethical dilemma in turn.

In order to secure a contract to deliver a service, the service provider was asked to return 10% of the contract fee directly to the representative for company X. This would reduce the profitabiilty of the contract, but as the profit margin before taxes is 50%, this still leaves a profit margin of 40%. This "tea money" wa payable in cash, and without agreement to this arrangement, there would be no contract. Local taxes, however, still need to be paid.

Having provided many language courses to a university hospital, the language provider was asked to offer an online specialist writing course for medical students. The course would be for one academic year, involving 30 online lessons and submissions. One hundred and sixty students would be enrolled and each submission would require a tutor to provide feedback on the student work. The language provider invoiced the company based on the number of teaching hours that would be needed for teachers to provide feedback on the written submissions. The provider offered a 50% for upfront payment, which the university hospital agreed to. However, as expected by the language provider, the drop-off rate was high and the grading of the written submissions could be automated to speed up the feedback process.

An holding company bought a tutorial school which had a large student base. The seller of the tutorial school agreed to an asset purchase. To maximise his profit, he sold many one-to-one courses at a large discounts, which did not cover the cost of providing tutors, prior to handover. The new owners of the school, however, refused to honour those purchases.

A teacher decided to buy a school. The school was trading well with a healthy balance sheet, good cashflow and a strong income-expenditure ratio. The teacher managed to raise enough cash to cover the cost of the purchase but opted to conduct due diligence himself to reduce cost. The school management provided full access to all the accounts, and drafted a detailed agreement for the equity sale and purchase of the school business. The teacher set up his own website advertising the school. After completion of the sale, the school went bankrupt in a few months.

Activity 6: Introduction to assessments

This table suggests names for the sub-issues listed in Activity 2.

Ethical issues Sub-issue 1 Sub-issue 2
Data Privacy Consent Data Mining
Misinformation and Disinformation Fake News Echo Chambers
Cybersecurity Data Breaches Account Hacking
Surveillance Capitalism Profiling Manipulation
Free Speech vs. Hate Speech Moderation Censorship
Exploitation and Human Rights Child Safety Work Conditions
Cultural and Social Impact Body Image Societal Norms
Accessibility and Inclusivity Digital Divide Language Barriers
Algorithmic Bias Discrimination Transparency


Can you:

  1. describe the key dilemmas related to social media ethics

If you can not, make sure that you do before your next class.

Running count: 80 of 80 concepts covered so far.