Ethics or Reckless? Are you monitoring what you post?

By Elyssa Dziwak | February 4, 2019

Transparency, anonymity and respecting others are the golden rules that public relations professionals like to emphasize when dealing with social media ethics. It’s very easy to get carried away and stretch the truth, or flat out lie, but like all things in life there are consequences to unethical behavior.

To really understand social media ethics, it’s important to understand what the term “ethics” actually means. Countless definitions exist, but the Oxford Dictionary defines it as “moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.” How might this apply to social media? Well, a person’s behavior (and sometimes their morals) are consistently displayed on social media. Since social media is designed for users to voluntarily share their thoughts, feelings and personal lives to their followers, it’s difficult to find a case where some form of ethical conduct is not present.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the ASHA Code of Ethics (2016) states that under some circumstances, inappropriate use of social media could lead to an ethical violation under this code. This code is not considered a civility code, but rather a guideline for professionals in support of day-to-day decision-making related to professional conduct. So, although this code may not be “official” in the sense of being written into law, it does provide legitimate precautionary advice that could result in avoiding legal misuse/mistakes. Two important professional proscriptions that are written into this code are: breach of confidentiality and avoiding misrepresentation.

Breaching confidentiality is not only unprofessional but, in the case of a business, it can damage an organization’s overall image. Posting personal details about a client, employee or anyone else online, no matter how seemingly insignificant, could result in legal ramifications and should be avoided, not only for legal reasons but because it is breaking an ethical obligation.

Avoiding misrepresentation, specifically in the promotion of services or products and listing of credentials, can be very tricky since some violate this code unintentionally. ASHA gives a great example of this: say “an audiologist in a metropolitan area ear, nose, and throat (ENT) practice promotes his practice by posting [on social media], ‘Highest qualified practitioner in the area!’ This post violates the code because no basis exists for the statement and it is misleading to the public.” Although this audiologist was simply trying to promote his practice by posting about it, he broke the code of ethics by making a suggestion which has no proof, and is therefore misleading and unethical.

Determining what is ethical and what isn’t can be really difficult, especially since not everyone always agrees on what is and isn’t ethical. A good ethical (and life) suggestion to consider, is that if you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying it to a person’s face, then it’s probably best not to post it.

Twitter: @ElyssaDziwak

Instagram: @elysinger4ever

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elyssa-dziwak-129572122/

Blog: https://socialbee.home.blog/

This Article Has 3 Comments
  1. Jessica Murray says:

    Elyssa,

    I LOVED the last thing you said. You’re entire piece is extremely informative and well explained, and I like that you concluded it with a basic, life-governing principle. Well, while it seems basic, it isn’t something everyone has grasped. I find your post ethical in itself for its reminder to all readers of basic principles of interacting with other people (both live and online). So many people mistake a screen for a means of harsher communication or a place where one can think less before he/she speaks. Thanks for clarifying this for all of us and thanks for attaching the informative links.

  2. Erin Joo says:

    Thank you for posting this Elyssa! This post sparked a lot of thoughts and questions into my mind as I think most topics that take ethics into consideration do. Something that stood out to me was the fact that organizations or individuals may not even realize the ethical dilemma that they have involved themselves in. “Seemingly insignificant” and “simply trying to promote” jumped out to me because without proper information and insights to ethics, organizations or individuals can act unethical without even realizing it. I believe that is the down side to social media and its accessibility. As we have discussed in class, I think it is more important than ever to have someone in the organization that is constantly questioning decisions, staying informed, and saying “what’s the worst that could happen?”.

  3. Ian Burleigh says:

    Great post, Elyssa. The ethics conversation is always an interesting one, and one that must take place. Especially as social media becomes more and more a part of our everyday lives, it is especially important for us as individuals, as well as companies, to be aware of the worst-case scenario. As we’ve seen examples of people and organizations posting insensitive and inappropriate material without intent to, we must continue to ask questions and stay informed. I really like your call to action at the end – it is extremely important to feel accountability towards what you and/or your organization post online!

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