I resisted the Facebook phenomenon as long as I could, but the lure of rekindling connections with long-lost friends proved to be too much to resist. Now that I have joined “the Book,” I find myself somewhat troubled by certain types of posts that many individuals find perfectly acceptable, but that are reasonably worth questioning with regard to appropriateness. However, none of these considerations is definitive, intending only to stimulate conversation and thought about what is and is not okay to post on social networking sites like Facebook.
One commonly cited Facebook faux pas is the posting of illicit photos of individuals engaging in questionable substance use or sexual activities. If you wish to post these types of photos about yourself, you should obviously be wary of potential employers, graduate admissions committees, and uptight family members viewing them and judging you accordingly. Posting photos depicting other people in compromising situations is clearly not acceptable, as you are subjecting them to potentially detrimental consequences without their consent to do so.
Another phenomenon that is somewhat disturbing and far less openly discussed is the posting of controversial, ill-thought-out political opinions. Take the following example. One of my Facebook friends has been posting a great deal about the Israel-Hamas conflict going on now. His views have been consistently pro-Hamas, going so far as to state that were he firing rockets into Israel, he’d make sure they were on target. There are a couple of important reasons for thinking this is not acceptable.
First, a posting of this type is essentially supportive of killing other people for the sake of a political agenda. I am of the opinion, rightly I think, that killing is always wrong and must be justified in order to be considered morally permissible. In addition, statements like this carry the potential to be deeply offensive to Jewish people and to anyone who supports Israel’s cause. There are freedom of speech issues at work here, but freedom of speech doesn’t make immoral actions moral simply because they are free. Its possible for certain types of speech to be clearly unethical yet protected by freedom of speech rights, and controversial political opinions supporting violent murder seems to qualify into this category.
The final phenomenon that I want to consider here is that of openly and deeply religious statements. There is nothing wrong with being a religious believer and being open about it. However, those who choose to advertise this about themselves should be aware that some people find certain types of religious language to be deeply troubling and potentially offensive. For example, one of my Facebook friends recently posted about her enthusiasm over receiving a new ring engraved with a biblical verse stating something to the effect of “redeemed by faith through the blood of Christ,” or something like that. There are two reasons for being cautious with this sort of posting.
First, and I think most importantly, the non-believer will view statements like this to be nothing short of publicized insanity. As a confirmed atheist, ideas like redemption through sacrifice of a divine savior are obviously false and potentially troubling should one take such beliefs too seriously. The further, more obviously ethical worry is the problem of a double standard. If I, as an atheist, were to post something like “Eli thinks religion really is the opiate of the masses,” this would be clearly offensive and viewed as a derogatory claim regarding religious believers. However, deeply religious statements carry similar implications. My point is that when atheists advertise their beliefs about the absurdity and potential danger of being deeply religious, it’s frowned upon, but when believers are open about their faith, the nonbeliever is expected to be tolerant. This double standard places an unfair burden on the nonbeliever.
This discussion is not intended to advocate a definitive view regarding what is and is not acceptable to post on social networking sites like Facebook. It is, however, intended to make the reader think twice about the sorts of things they post on these types of sites, and what sort of ethical weight such actions carry. By being mindful of the way our actions, including cyber actions, count morally, we can better learn to be ethical in all that we do.
About the Author
Elijah Weber is a graduate student at Bowling Green State University. He holds a Master's degree in philosophy from Colorado State University, and Bachelor’s degrees in sociology and philosophy from Chapman University. He currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife Laura, his son Brandon, and two cats.