What is the ethical issue?

Social media describes the social interaction through a suite of technology based tools, many of which are internet based. It includes, but is not limited to, internet forums and networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, WhatsApp and blogs. Its speed and scope means that once content is published is it available instantaneously, to a potentially global audience.

Employees’ use of social media on behalf of the company, as well as their personal use, poses ethical challenges to organisations. Using social media in an irresponsible way can undermine the company’s commitment to ethical practice and expose it to integrity risk. Employees managing content on their company’s social media pages may carry a risk to their company's reputation. Alternatively, employees may post negative comments about their company on their personal profiles. Not only is this difficult to control, but it may also result in reputational damage for the organisation.

Companies need to be wary of how social media impacts their duty of care. It is hard to monitor cases of ‘cyber-bullying’, along with cases of harassment and discrimination. The challenge is determining acceptable levels of monitoring employees’ personal use of social media, while avoiding any limitations to individuals’ freedom of expression.

Companies commonly use social media to promote their products and services. The ability to interact more directly with customers is both an opportunity and a risk. It is common practice for companies to advertise their goods and services on social media, while declaring that they have promoted their advertising and/or have an interest in the company if the advertisement is published by a separate party. To prevent reputational damage, companies need to be aware of fair competition guidelines when deploying various tactics for social media advertising and be open about how they use data.

 

IBE Guidance

A summary of good practice
  • When using social media, it is important to be mindful of your company’s reputation, the right of others to privacy, conflicts of interest and the trust which customers, suppliers and other business stakeholders place in you. Considering the risk to customers, the company, colleagues and yourself is vital when using social media, as information posted online can become global and available both permanently and for republishing.
  • With regards to advertising on social media, employees can declare they are representing their company to avoid misleading consumers.
  • Organisations should seek to ensure that work-related issues remain internal, by providing effective ways for employees to voice their concerns internally. This should help reduce the risk of internal company matters being discussed on public forums.

 

Further resources

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Business Ethics in the News 2019

This briefing provides an overview of the ethical concerns and lapses that were recorded by the IBE in its monitoring of media coverage in 2019. It gives an overview of which sectors and issues related to business ethics were most covered in the news. For 2019, we have recorded a total of 361 different stories involving lapses of companies with a UK presence.

29 January 2020

Publication type: Board briefing

Corporate Ethics in a Digital Age

This Board Briefing suggests questions for those in the boardroom to ask to help address the ethical challenges of AI in their businesses. It uses case studies to highlight the real-world dilemmas which boards are facing.

04 June 2019

Blog

Views my own - ethics and social media

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.

14 May 2019

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

The Ethical Challenges and Opportunities of Social Media Use

Social media presents organisations with both ethical challenges and opportunities. As it blurs the boundaries between our personal lives and work, it can be a difficult balance for companies to protect their reputations, uphold their responsibilities to stakeholders, and empower employees to use social media ethically and effectively.

02 May 2019

Blog

What were the ''hot'' ethical issues of 2018?

Now here is a surprise! The UK public’s trust in business has jumped and is at its highest level since 2003.

05 February 2019

Publication type: Other

A Year In Review: Ethical Concerns and Lapses 2018

Read the IBE's annual analysis of business ethics news stories from the last year - which were the sectors and issues most in the news in 2018?

30 January 2019

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Beyond Law: Ethical culture and GDPR

What are the wider ethical implications of GDPR? How can an organisation’s values be embedded and monitored so that the new regulation becomes a measure of those, rather than simply a set of compliance rules that must be ticked off?

30 May 2018

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Business Ethics and Big Data

This briefing seeks to bring some clarity to the ethical issues related to Big Data, defining why they are relevant to companies and where the main ethical risks might lie. It also provides a set of questions that can help ethics practitioners liaise with their colleagues and make sure that their organisation lives up to its values when dealing with Big Data.

07 June 2016

Publication type: Report

Ethics in the Provision and Use of IT for Business

This report draws attention to the issues, dilemmas and challenges that are common when IT is used to achieve business initiatives. It provides guidance for all business managers on planning, implementing and evaluating the provision and use of IT so that ethical challenges are anticipated, and the organisation's ethical values and commitments are not compromised.

07 January 2010