“Privacy is dead, and social media holds the smoking gun” – Pete Cashmore


The rapidly increasing use of social media is impacts most areas of our lives in one way or another. Unfortunately, this has triggered a number of ethical issues to be raised within businesses in relation to social media. Ethical issues address the debate between what is considered right and wrong, these however can vary due to cultural and religious differences. Therefore, it can be difficult for the worldwide social media organisations, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to manage and act accordingly. A common ethical issue with social media is the privacy of their accounts and who has access to them, particularly when applied to a business or educational environment. I found the video below gave an interesting perspective into social media privacy.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9pFMSKPXSk

Because social media is relatively new and is developing rapidly, many employers and employees do not fully understand the legal boundaries when using it. For this reason, social media has been responsible for many people losing their jobs. An example of this is that Justine Sacco case which I have mentioned in my previous blog.

Cain & Fink (2010) outline the 5 questions relating to ethics and social media; 

1. Who is viewing the social media information?

2.How is the social media information accessed?

3. For what purpose is the social information used?

4. What are the criteria one uses for making judgments about social media information?

 5. What is the nature of “relationships” in social media?1

Privacy and data protection in terms of social media, is controlling the content they put online and who may view/access it. When people turn their accounts private to protect personal photos and opinions, they assume the content cannot be access by external people.

However, when may it be ethical or justified to access this information?

This brings up the debate when the government and police force can intervene and access this private accounts on social media. It is evident that there is a very blurred line between private and public information which then makes the issue of “freedom of speech” prominent.

Freedom of speech ‘the power or right to express one’s opinions without censorship, restraint or legal penalty’2

Although a set of guidelines have been set from the director of public prosecutions about what is acceptable and what is not, I believe these may not have been communicated to the public effectively. Everyone has a right to express their opinion on social media, but where should the line be drawn?

The pros

The positives about accessing private content on social media can vary from stopping a child from being cyber bullied, to preventing a terrorist attack! Obviously, in these circumstances invading peoples privacy is justifiable. On the other hand, should the government be allowed to monitor content on social media which we believe is private?


  1. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3058471/ [accessed on the 24th of April]
  2. Available from: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/freedom-of-speech %5Baccessed on the 24th of April]
  3. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9pFMSKPXSk %5Baccessed on the 24th of April]
  4. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/introduction/intro_1.shtml  [accessed on the 24th of April]
  5. Available from: https://www.ibe.org.uk/userassets/briefings/ibe_briefing_22_the_ethical_challenges_of_social_media.pdf  %5Baccessed on the 24th of April]
  6. Available from: https://blog.x1discovery.com/2011/11/28/can-lawyers-be-disqualified-by-merely-viewing-a-linkedin-profile-the-implications-of-indirect-social-media-communications-and-legal-ethics-rules/ %5Baccessed on the 24th of April]



7 thoughts on ““Privacy is dead, and social media holds the smoking gun” – Pete Cashmore

  1. Hello Eleanor! Your blog post is interesting and I tried to raise some of the issues that you mentioned in my blog post. I believe that as you said despite the privacy setting that we can establish external people can still access our posts. I think that sometimes authorities accessing our private social media platform can constitute a violation of our human rights but at times, it can be justified like in the case of criminal investigations. Do you think that the lack of privacy is the main ethical problem caused by social media? Do you think that individual can adopt any solution to try to preserve their privacy when they are on the web?


  2. Hey Michou18!

    Thank you for reading my blog and I appreciate the feedback! I’m glad that you agree with some of my comments. It is difficult to know which is the main ethical problem is caused by social media but I certainly think privacy is important. However, after reading other blogs regarding this topic I think the digital divide is very significant too. Individuals can try and make accounts as private as possible, but I do not think anything on the internet will ever be 100% private unfortunately.


  3. Hi Eleanor,

    I enjoyed your post but one particular sentence caught my eye. You mentioned that opinion on ethical issues regarding privacy can vary based on cultural differences. My whole dissertation was on the issue of privacy and the Edward Snowden files, and I conducted a series of interviews with a dozen UK participants. At the time I thought about whether the general sentiment would vary had I conducted my study in a different country. What interests me in particular is the reason behind different attitudes towards privacy in different cultures – what affects whether a certain society minds having their privacy breached. I also had the idea that to address different cultural needs, perhaps social networks might want to enact different privacy policies for different regions. However, I imagine the incentive to do this may not be high enough, and it could be difficult to achieve. What are your thoughts on this?


  4. Hey Ellie, great post. I agree with the video that you posted when it stated that the majority of people don’t even read/understand the privacy policies of their favourite social networking site – I know that’s something I’m guilty of! I had no idea that Facebook has the right to sell your information on to these mysterious third parties, including your personal details, photos, IP address, cookies and more.

    It was fitting that your link suggested ways to protect online privacy, but I felt that this was slightly flawed given that a digital footprint is impossible to erase, so is there really such a thing as privacy online seeing as nothing can be hidden? Your video suggests to never post ‘sensitive’ information online, which begs the question, what is sensitive? Because what is sensitive to one person is not the same to another, so the role of subjectivity and freedom of speech comes into play here as one person could tweet their opinion about a particular topic, and another person could find that opinion highly offensive even though the original poster of said opinion did not intend to convey their thoughts in a malicious or offensive tone, but merely as just exercising their right to state their opinion. And then they may get banned from Twitter for their ‘offensive content’, suggesting that freedom of speech is not allowed.

    You define ‘freedom of speech’ and state that everyone should have the right to that online, but then you counter that by implying that a ‘line’ should be drawn. Surely if a line is drawn, then censorship, restraints and legal penalties begin to prevail, eradicating freedom of speech. And given that online users are feeling the pressure to self-censor and restrain themselves from tweeting their true thoughts online in the fear that they could cause offence and given that people are getting fired from their online expressions, a form of legal penalty, then it seems to me that in fact freedom of speech online does not exist, or that it is indeed quite rapidly becoming extinct.


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