Blog: Views my own - ethics and social media

Culture Club: Katherine Bradshaw, Head of Communications

In the same way as I was told as a child that watching too much television would give me square eyes, the prevalence of social media has led it to be demonised in the press as an example of all that is wrong with society.  Hiding behind a screen has seen an alarming exposure of the nastier side of the internet, as keyboard warriors and trolls seem to scream all the louder in social media’s echo chamber. Yet despite new stories of sinister algorithms and our data being used for nefarious or political ends, we seem as addicted as ever to using technology to share and connect with one another. 

Business ethics starts where the law ends, and no more so than when it comes to social media. As a relatively new technology, there is little case law, and so we must rely on our ethical values to guide us.

By its very nature, social media blurs our professional and private selves. When we put a disclaimer in our bio "Views my own, and do not reflect those of my employer” we may feel that is sufficient to distance our posts. You often read: "Retweets don’t imply endorsement or agreement.” Yet, as someone sharing the information, if it is libellous or inaccurate, then you can be held accountable for its dissemination.

When I run social media training within the IBE, I bring everything back to our values: Respect, Openness, Integrity. If what you’re posting contradicts your corporate values, even if it’s your own view, how does that reflect upon your employer? This becomes more ethically complex when we consider the current debate on employees being able ‘bring their whole selves to work’.

A recent example is that of BBC staff who were warned they could face internal sanctions if they express strong political views on Twitter, after several employees went public with their complaints about BBC programmes debating the rights and wrongs of teaching children about tolerance for LGBT people. "We all have personal views, but it is part of our role with the BBC to keep those views private,” said the Director of News in an email to staff. "There is no real distinction between personal and official social media accounts.” 

Social media presents opportunities for businesses to engage with the public. We have all seen the power we wield when we post a public complaint on twitter tagging the company, compared with the wait we may have on a customer helpline listening to irritating hold music. It is this accountability which has helped business regain some of the trust which was lost during the financial crisis.

Businesses are also seeing the benefits of encouraging employees to become brand advocates. Employees – ‘real people’ – can bring an authenticity to marketing where Instagram influencers are losing their allure.

So can companies have it both ways? Both encouraging employees to be authentic, yet only so far as it benefits the brand?

A social media policy is the first step in guiding staff, but it will not be sufficient in exploring the nuances of what ethical social media use looks like. Training, using scenarios and encouraging managers to discuss issues and dilemmas in team meetings, will help us all work out what it means to be both ethical and social in our workplaces.

1.Does it have any relation to my work? 
2.Could it be contrary to my organisation’s values? 
3.Is it clear that I am speaking in my own capacity and not on behalf of my company? 
4.Would I be happy to share this with my boss or colleagues in person?
5.Could sharing this have negative consequences for myself or my company in the future?

On social media at least, nothing is truly private nor truly personal. We are employees of our organisations, and as such, we are representatives. 

That means, just as we would in any face-to-face encounter, we must be careful what we say and think about how messages are received, not just by the person we’re interacting with, but by passers-by who may overhear. Despite what it might say in your bio, your online behaviour reflects both on your personal brand, and that of your employer. 

So by all means, keep your disclaimer, but don’t use it to hide behind. 

The IBE can help you develop effective social media policies and training scenarios to give your staff an understanding of what it means to use social media responsibly as an employee. Please contact Rozlyn Spinks, Head of Advisory Services 

Posted: 14/05/2019

IBE Blogs

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An ethical approach moves AI from threat to opportunity, writes Peter Montagnon

Culture Club: Views my own

Katherine Bradshaw explores the ethical dilemmas of social media at work

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Professor David Grayson, IBE's new chair, shares his thoughts on ethics and sustainability

Culture Club: Bringing your ethics training to life

Rozlyn Spinks shares some tips on what makes an effective scenario 

Research Hub: Changing attitudes to business

Linn Byberg looks at how millennials are changing business ethics

Research Hub: What were the hot ethical issues of 2018?

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Directors' blog: Trust in business is on the rise

Philippa Foster Back examines the results of IBE's public attitudes to business survey

Directors' blog: Making the FRC fit for purpose

Peter Montagnon asks some pertinent questions ahead of the Kingman review

Trust is the currency of ethics

Emmanuel Lulin, Chief Ethics Officer at L'Oreal takes a personal look at IBE's Ethics at Work survey

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