This new digital age of communications like the Wild West of media. The mostly uncharted terrain of social media allows individuals and organizations to take advantage of information put out on the internet. Still, we do not know whom to blame when users are victimized for their words. Everyone is at risk for exploitation and degradation if they are not careful online. There is an undefined line between what is illegal and plain unethical in the media world. Commoditizing User-generated-content is an unethical business practice.
It is unethical to allow social media companies to commoditize the ideas on their service that users create. Media platforms such as Instagram, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and many more benefit from the content created by their users. These users are voluntarily uploading their ideas while companies are making millions from it. According to Petersen (2008), “the architecture of participation [in social media] turns into an architecture of exploitation and enclosure, transforming users into commodities that can be sold on the market.” The companies may also sell top-of-the-list spots to other big companies thus leaving smaller voices at a disadvantage. Ciolli wrote, “the Internet lacks any true town squares or other public forums, with virtually all websites, message boards, blogs, and other online media owned by private individuals and organizations” (2008). We are fighting for the right to a free market place of ideas online but how can we call it a free market of ideas on a platform that is owned by a company who is profiting from other’s content? We do not tolerate taking credit for other’s work. However, in this situation, media platforms indirectly take the ownership of user-generated-content and make money from it. Users do not realize their exploitation because they are too busy being participants. These organizations exploit users and we allow it because we have not discovered the full capability and consequence of the internet.
Despite what I say, commodification of user-generated-content is legal. We cannot hold these organizations accountable for a crime they did not legally commit. This is because users are agreeing the organization’s terms of service policies. These policies often allow their service to take information that the users post, and sell it to third parties. Media organizations including many of “America’s economic and political elites—including elected officials as well as wealthy individuals, corporations, and law firms” experience a broad immunity due to the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (Ciolli, 2008). This act does protect users from companies claiming ownership over a user’s content but it also allows companies to use the content in whatever way they want with the content without having consequences. According to Johnson (2014) it is easy for us to “accept current data practices and outcomes as natural or inevitable, and to make data use the only moral question of interest” (263-274). Use of user-generated-content as well as commodification of data are both practiced unethically by many companies and cannot be isolated from each other in the grand scheme of the issue. In order to take control of user-generated-content, users will have to realize that their words and content are more valuable then they may seem online. A marketplace where everyone wins is something that is going to have to be demanded and cannot be owned or censored by anyone.
As of now there are not many rules regulating the ways of the internet and social media. Mainly because we are still arguing over what is fair and what the people want. Nevertheless, I still believe there is a least an unspoken common sense law that businesses and users alike should follow. Social media is a great way to connect us all but it can also be what destroys and divides us. It will be up to social media corporations to find a way to give back to the community not just for business purposes. I think the main solution for users is to educate themselves on how social media corporations work other than just advertising. There are smart ways to use social media and safe ways to socialize online. The ethics of the internet will be a communal experiment for a while. The first step to a solution is to understand and accept our mistakes.
Anthony M. Ciolli. 2008. Chilling Effects: The Communications Decency Act and the Online Marketplace of Ideas. ExpressO. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from http://works.bepress.com/anthony_ciolli/1
Carney, David First Appellate District. (2001). Court Appeal of the State of California (A086349). Retrieved January 31, 2015, from Law Tech Journal, website: http://www.techlawjournal.com/courts/kathleenr/20010306op.asp.
Cooper, G., Cottle, S., Doucet, L., Duncan, S., Gormley, B., Joye, S., Klein, A., Newton, J., Scarff, L., Thorsen, E., Wardle, C., Watkins, R. & Wynne-Jones, R. (2014). The Future of Humanitarian Reporting. London: City University London. Retrieved from http://www.city.ac.uk/centre-for-law-justice-and-journalism/projects/the-future-of-humanitarian-reporting
Galanty, Nancy (2014, September 3). BuzzFeed Content Practice: Illegal or Simply Unethical? [Web log post]. Retrieved January 31, 2015, from http://www.mediabizbloggers.com/guest-mediabizbloggers/BuzzFeed-Content-Practice-Illegal-or-Simply-Unethical–Nancy-Galanty-MyersBizNet.html.
Johnson, Alan Johnson (2014). From Open Data To Information Justice. Ethics and Information Technology, 16(4), 263-274. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10676-014-9351-8.
Peterson, Soren Mork (2008). Loser Generated Content: From Participation to Exploitation. First Monday, 13(3). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/article/view/2141/1948#p8.
Feature photo [user generated content on a price scale] retrieved from: http://www.bloggingehow.com/2014/12/google-facebooks-user-spying-is-more.htm.
[User generated content cloud] retrieved from: https://www.tes.com/lessons/kyQuo_zUQxjH7A/flipped-learning-3-0-user-generated-content.
[Social media puzzle] retrieved from: http://blog.orlandoinfiniti.com/orlando-infiniti-socialize-with-us/