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The Ethics of Social Media Policy: National Principles of Justice, Security, Privacy and Freedom Governing Online Social Platforms in Russia, China and The United States

  • Author(s): Christensen, Morten Bay
  • Advisor(s): Lievrouw, Leah A
  • et al.

As social media have become a primary mode of expression and communication for large parts of the world’s population, social media platforms have also become vulnerable to less desirable actions. These include using social media for information warfare, recruiting and radicalizing potential terrorists or collecting data and information about users for purposes they have not consented to. The demand for an ethical discussion of social media policy at the national level is growing, and this study seeks to address that challenge. The study is an exploration of applied ethics in the context of information and technology policy. It addresses issues in information, media and technology ethics, applying a specific ethical theory to three cases. These three cases consist of Russian, Chinese and U.S. policies that relate to social media in a national information security or cybersecurity context, and which exist within the information and technology policy categories. Each of these three cases represent a specific type of social media policy. The Russia case is an offensive social media strategy within foreign policy, the China case is a broad, domestic social media policy and the U.S. policy is a very narrow social media policy within the larger, national security domain that has substantial consequences for privacy and freedom rights nonetheless. First, the case policies are analyzed through Sch�n and Rein’s frame-critical policy analysis method, which deconstructs the policy and adds to it the historical and cultural backgrounds that lends a broader perspective to the policy, and thereby, a more thorough understanding of its intended purpose and expected outcomes. Second, the now much more broadly unfolded policies are analyzed through the lens of political philosopher John Rawls’ theories of justice and fairness to ascertain their compliance with Rawls’ deontological ethics. Through this applied exercise, the validity of Rawlsian deontology as an ethical compass for information and technology policy is established. The findings are finally crystallized into an ethics test, The Rawls Test for social media policy.

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