Charities warned to start asking ‘uncomfortable’ questions about ethics of social media platforms

Charities need to start asking themselves ‘uncomfortable’ questions about the ethics of social media platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest, digital expert Zoe Amar has warned.

Speaking to the audience of the WCVA’s gofod3 conference in Cardiff today, Amar said charities must be prepared to start asking some ‘tough’ questions about the platforms they are using ‘in the here and now’, and whether they ethically align with their goals as an organisation.

“Companies like Facebook are already using incredibly sophisticated technology. The algorithms that they, and other companies, such as Pinterest, use can form opinion for good or bad,” Amar told delegates.

“They can change the outcome of elections and, as we saw in a tragic case a few weeks ago, make it all too easy for vulnerable people to find images of self-harm, which in one tragic case caused a young woman to take her own life,” she added.

Amar went on to explain how the impact social media can have was shown in recent days, when a video taken during the Christchurch shooting was uploaded at a rate of one per second and was edited so it avoided moderation filters.

“Social media companies might have invented some of this technology, but I don’t think they’re in control of it any longer. And this means that as a sector, we must ask ourselves some very difficult and very uncomfortable questions,” she said.

“Do the ethics of these platforms really fit with the values of our charities? That is an issue we urge charities to consider in the Digital Code of Practice.”

Digital disruption

Amar stressed charities must keep up-to-date with the pace of changes to technology and re-frame the way they think about ‘technological disruption’.

“Disruption is often talked about as the 'big innovators', but in its very essence it’s about how the behaviour of the people in this sector is changing. As a result of that, the charity sector will need to change too,” she said.

“The big issue here is not the technology itself, it’s that the technology is not yet widely trusted, so it’s not yet scalable. But it will reach a tipping point sooner than we all realise and we must be ready for it.

“We need to keep an eye on how [technology] is changing the behaviour of beneficiaries, donors and stakeholders.”

The Digital Code of Practice explains about some of these issues and more. Find out more information here.

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