As with any technology that provides its users with numerous benefits, there are also a fair amount of ramifications, including legal and/or ethical issues. One of the legal issues that surround the world of social networking is defamation, or the posting of false or offensive materials online. The number of lawsuits and allegations for defamatory content has risen due from social networking, and although the site may be protected, the user who posts the defamatory comment can still be held liable (Fayle, 2007). Another legality that comes up with social networking is the issue of copyright infringement. The use of third party content, such as photos or text may come into violation of copyright law if taken without permission. Video sharing sites, such as YouTube, have been targeted in the past for copyright infringement. Again, in this case, the user still may be held accountable even if the website is protected (Fayle, 2007). In terms of ethics, a major uncertainty is whether businesses or employers have the right to make employment decisions based on content from a perspective employee’s social profile. Many employers look into social profiles before hiring, and there is always the chance of being turned down for a job or interview because of unfavorable material (Ossian and Paddock, 2010). That being said, there is also the likely potential for bias and unwarranted prejudice to occur if companies base their hiring decisions solely from the content off one’s social network. The only way to minimize these legal and ethical risks is to stay cognizant of all materials, including messages, text, graphics, and photos that are posted on one’s social networking profile.
Being part of a social network not only means being able to communicate and connect with likeminded people, but also understanding the possible security risks that are at large, especially with online users. The largest hassle anyone on the Internet can face is identity fraud, which runs rampant with social networking. Almost anyone can forge a false identity on a social network and pose as someone else (Harris, 2009). Without absolute verification of someone’s identity, one could befriend a complete stranger and not even know it. In addition, hackers create programs, which can retrieve your password and gain access to unauthorized information to sell online. Without the proper settings and privacy controls, there always stands a chance of someone stealing your private information or photos and make it public (Harris, 2009). There have been numerous past cases in which hackers have gained access to profile information and publicized content through mass email. The risk of spam and malicious viruses also exist on social networking sites and can pose a threat to your computer.
Online social networking runs the risk of creating social issues at school, in the workplace, and especially among minors. Social networks, although stated as beneficial to students and businesses still pose as an easy distraction from school or work. Students who try to log on to their social networking site during school hours may be penalized for violating school policy. Many schools have blocked students’ access to such sites to prevent distraction. Employees are also guilty of trying to access social networking on work computers, and may be subject to penalty or even termination of employment. The bigger issues with social networking lie with the concern for child safety. Minors who engage in online social networking are held vulnerable to cyber bullying—the receiving of hostile or threatening messages/materials via online communication, or cyber stalking—using the Internet to stalk or harass individuals (Chapman, 2009). Furthermore, minors, particularly females are also prone to becoming targets of sexual predators, who pose as teenagers online to gain profile access (Chapman, 2009). The aforementioned problems are all serious issues that all online users, parents, and authority figures should be aware of when using or allowing children to operate social networking sites.