Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
October 20, 2009

What Does Ethics Have to do With Social Media Anyway?

The principles and values in ethics are both universal and timeless. However, the applications of ethics change with time as societies evolve. How do we apply the basic ethics principles in the world of the e-mail, Internet, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others? What is the difference between ethics in the real world and ethics in the virtual world? I see three major differences. 

Speed. Things happen very fast in the virtual world. One click that will take less than one second
can cause irreparable damage, or even send you to jail!

Space. Or rather, the perceived space between the issuer and the receiver. People do things and say things on the Internet they would never do or say in person or in public. However, anonymity is an illusion. You can be tracked down at anytime.

Scope. You can reach millions of viewers.

What are the specific values at play? Let me list a few:

  1. Truth, Accuracy — Make a practice of posting factual content; don’t knowingly post/publish information that you know is false.
  2. Transparency — Be open in sharing or making the identity of bloggers, e-mail authors or any Internet author accessible.
  3. Respect — Be mindful of bullying, insults or any inappropriate content.
  4. Privacy — Maintain yours and others.
  5. ConfidentialityDon’t post/publish confidential information.
  6. Responsibility — Consider the possible consequences of posting/publishing your content beforehand.
  7. Conflict of Interests — Be mindful of posting/publishing favorable comments on products or services while being paid to do so by the company that delivers those products and services; use moral judgment. 
  8. Accountability — Always be accountable for your actions — to your organization, its stakeholders, yourself and to others.

Making ethical decisions is never easy. The new technology adds to the difficulty because of the little time we have, or rather we think we have. We should always take time to do the right thing, remembering that fixing a problem once an error has been made is time consuming as well.

Emmanuel Tchividjian, ethics officer, Ruder Finn, has served as the ethics officer at Ruder Finn for a number of years and is also in charge of the new Ruder Finn Ethic Consulting practice.


Join Emmanuel, along with Wloy Gomez Villa, for their co-presentation “What Does Ethics Have to do With Social Media Anyway,” at the PRSA 2009 International Conference: Delivering Value, November 7–10 in San Diego, CA!

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