The Effect of Social Media on Society Essay Example


Last year, we saw many complex ethical issues that arise from our use of technology in society and as individuals. From the debates over the proper use of social media in society to the adoption of uncontrollable technologies such as facial recognition that pushed the bounds of our concepts of personal privacy.

Some of the most talked-about ethical issues in technology, even as 2021 is just getting started, are the debates over online content moderation, the role of social media in our public discourse, and the merits of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. If you are unfamiliar with Section 230 and the debates surrounding the statute, it essentially functions as legal protection for online platforms and companies so they are not liable for the information posted to their platforms by third party users. In exchange for these protections, internet companies and platforms are to enact "good faith" protections and are encouraged to remove content that is "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable,". But what exactly does "good faith" and "otherwise objectionable" mean in this context of the raging debates over the role of social media today? Some argue that platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others must do more to combat the spread of misinformation, disinformation, and fake news online.

But on the other side of the aisle, some argue that these 230 protections are being used as a cover to censor certain content online often in a partisan manner, being inconsistently applied (especially on the international stage), and may amount to violations of users' free speech. They argue that 230 must be repealed or modified substantially to combat bias against certain types of political, social, or religious views. As technology policy expert and ERLC Research Fellow Klon Kitchen aptly states, "All of these perspectives are enabled by vagaries surrounding the text of the law, the intent behind it, and the relative values and risks posed by large Internet platforms". Regardless of where one lands in this debate, we will likely see inflamed conversations over this statute and the extent to which it should be maintained if at all.

Thousands of police units across the country were testing or implementing facial recognition in the hopes of providing better identification of suspects and to keep our communities safer. Throughout 2020, municipalities and state governments completely banned or substantially limited the use of facial recognition in their communities over the potential misuses as well as the racial divisions in our nation. In 2021, we will likely see this trend of legislation on facial recognition systems continue as well as increased pressure on the federal government to weigh in on how these tools should be and can be used, especially in policing and government. Outside of policing, there is likely to be substantial debate over how these tools are used in public areas and businesses as our society begins to open back up after the COVID-19 vaccines are more widely available. The potential for these tools to be used in identification, health screening, and more will lead to a renewed debate over the ethical bounds at stake and the potential for real-life harm to those in our communities.

These pieces of legislation have challenged how many people think about the nature of privacy and have also raised several ethical concerns regarding what is known about us online, who knows it, how it is used, and what we can do with that data. If we have a right to privacy, where is that right derived, and how does it align with our other rights to life and liberty? As COVID-19 challenged many of our expectations concerning privacy, there will likely be a renewed focus on the role of technology in our lives and the extent to which the government has a role in these debates. It is far too easy to take a myopic view of technology and the ethical issues surrounding its use in our lives. While 2021 will likely have a plethora of things to engage with, we should address the pressing ethical challenges that technology poses to present a worldview that can address these monumental challenges to our daily lives.

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