Ethical Challenges in Social Media
Social media application have proven to be an effective way for companies to stay in constant interaction with current and potential customers. Social media tools usage has grown extremely fast in the past ten to fifteen years leading to quick exposure of many firms and industries. The scope and speed of social media creates information that is available almost instantaneously at a global scale. Social media has created a synergy between personal and business lives of users as companies make use of social media for personal reasons and vice versa. Due to its ongoing opportunities and vast potential, social media has created various ethical challenges. Ethics is a very serious matter in any organization and any ethical misdemeanor can lead to loss of sales and customers as well as expensive lawsuits.
Providing incorrect information, making an inappropriate comment or simply using social media in an irresponsible way can undermine a company’s credibility and create an integrity risk. For example, an employee that backlashes on a customer regarding the company’s products on a social media websites will not only potentially violate the organization’s code of conduct, but will cause negative responses from consumers such as boycotting products. All employees must be well educated and act with integrity, respecting the company’s values and code of ethics. Moreover, organizations must take in consideration various negative comments employees might make on their personal social media websites, putting the company in a bad light. Serco Group in UK has found an effective way in dealing with this issue. All employees have access to an internal Facebook page that is designed for members of the organization to discuss various disagreements and issues, instead of making them public on social media. The company will then address the feedback provided in an effort to make the work environment more employee–friendly and minimize conflicts.
Perhaps, the most common aspect regarding social media benefits revolves around marketing and advertising. Social media provides a cheap and effective way for organizations to launch their products and services. However, unethical behaviors exercised by various employees can have negative impacts. Lawyers Weekly is a social media page in Australia designed to inform the public of various legal considerations companies and individuals should be aware of. In one of their articles, they provide an example of how a company made public details on LinkedIn regarding a recent court win that brought in a small fortune. It was later determined that the divulged information has breached various laws and legal considerations and has lead to the company losing the award they were entitled to. This example applies on personal legal instances as well.
Due to the fact that social media information travel a lot faster and reaches a wider audience than traditional media, organizations are tempted to constantly write, promote, and share ideas and interesting facts. As a result, companies have been involved in plagiarizing, and stealing information from others with or without intention. For example an organization that is involved in releasing breaking news and media delivery could with or without intention use pictures and footage from another source without giving proper share of ownership on social media websites. Establishing if a breach of ethics has been established can be tough and it may lead to extensive and overwhelming court cases. Organizations should always conduct research and provide the sources of their information when posting on social media websites.
Larger organizations have employed social media teams that have the duty of handling social media interaction, posts and disclosures. Moreover, they must stay within the organization’s ethical boundaries and not cross any legal limit. Social media teams can help employees learn the proper use of social media and educate them on company policy use of virtual interaction. The best way to address a challenge is to prevent it.
- The Ethical Challenges of Social Media, December 2011, https://www.ibe.org.uk/userassets/briefings/ibe_briefing_22_the_ethical_challenges_of_social_media.pdf
- Managing the Workplace Ethics of Social Media, July 2010, http://www.corporatecomplianceinsights.com/managing-the-workplace-ethics-of-social-media/
- Using Social Media to Boost Ethics and Compliance, August 2013, https://www.shrm.org/hrdisciplines/ethics/articles/Pages/Social-Media-Ethics-Compliance.aspx
- Ethical issues when using social media, October, 2013, http://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/opinion/ethical-issues-when-using-social-media
- Ethical Challenges Facing Organizations Online, January 2014, http://inbound.business.wayne.edu/blog/ethical-challenges-facing-organizations-online
(All credit and accolades for this tremendous blog post are for Alex Apostolescu who is the author and content creator.)