Social Media: Is This Another “Devil” We Must Live With?

    As individuals and organizations adopt the social media and use social networks for corporate purposes, the world of communication is becoming slightly distressed as this new means of communication gives rise to unanticipated ethical challenges.
    Aside the improper use of social networks seen today, anyone can set up a blog and regard himself or herself as a journalist without the slightest inkling of the standards of journalism and good practices. Content producers on social media find themselves dealing with almost viral information, being a different playing field from the offline media. Consequently, the set of ethics used offline do not perfectly fit social media activities. This piece highlights the ethical challenges of the new media.

    Like technology, Social Media has simply transformed communication, making communication easier and life more fun. Yet, the social media has not come without a price. We are faced with several issues relating to ethics and standards of using the new media.

    Today, there's hardly any distinction between producers and consumers of information. The quickest place to get fresh news is the social media – Twitter, Facebook, forums, blogs – where information is often half-baked, incomplete or totally false. This is a severe breach in ethical standards of communication. The social media, being an entirely new playing field, allows things that were considered wrong in the past or, at best, leaves them as gray areas. Also, the way information is sought by companies and where information is gotten via social media now lie in gray areas.

    Also, job seekers question why employers should pry into their social network activities and their past in order to determine whether to employ them or not. Companies wonder why employees should divulge company information on social networks outside work hours. Employees believe it is their right to stay in touch with family and friends on their favourite social networks during work hours, whereas companies feel this would be distracting.

    In favour of employers, a research by a non-profit Ethics Resource Center (ERC) in the United States reveals several adverse effects of social networking including the fact that, employees that spend more than 30% of their workday social networking are “more likely to see their jobs as temporary”.

    Is This Relevant to Me or My Company?

    With close to 1 billion Facebook users, over a billion bloggers worldwide and millions of social networkers on LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and other social networks, the social media is definitely here to stay. It is therefore in your best interest and the interest of your company to get acquainted with the social media.

    Your daily interaction on social media as well as the legal issues surrounding the use of social media can severely affect your reputation. Whether you have an online presence or not, there is a high likelihood that information about your company is already in circulation within the cyberspace via the social media.

    As such, it will be really lethal to overlook the way your company conducts herself on social media. Also, a good understanding of the ethical missteps of the new media will let you know when your online rights and privileges are being undermined. Moreover, facts reveal that more organizations plan to increase their investment in social media marketing in the next few years. This creates a need for a greater understanding of the ethics governing the use of the various social media platforms to avoid unnecessary disputes with competitors, employees, the public and other stakeholders in your company.

    The fact that almost anybody can have access to mouse and keyboard to run researches, write and also publish information online is not a yardstick to thread down the rights of other people or groups. Moreover, companies need an awareness of the ethical challenges surrounding the use of social media in order to develop updated staff handbooks based on the current realities of the social media. Individuals – job seekers and employees – also need an understanding of the width and depth of the social media to guide their use of the various platforms.

    Social Media Defies Traditional Ethics

    Already, concerned individuals claim that we are losing some of the most important values of relationship and friendship to the social media. These include interpersonal values of honesty, patience, openness, respect that were developed via face-to-face communication. In this age that majority of people are represented online by avatars (sometimes for security reasons) rather than their real pictures, there appears to be a greater possibility of losing some core moral values. On the Internet there is no way to ascertain if a person is male or female, young or old, white or black; and this may give room for deception in communication.

    Conversely, some people believe this level of anonymity brings fairness to interactions, limiting discrimination to a great extent. They stress that social media is creating a better world for all of us. People connect online based on mutual interests regardless of backgrounds, tribes, location or even language in some cases. This way, greater innovations are made and people are more likely to function at their best. Nonetheless, there are so many ethical issues surrounding the involvement of individuals and corporate bodies in the social media.

    Most importantly, the increasingly careless attitude towards content creation is a huge concern. Like I said earlier, anyone could start a blog and refer to himself or herself as a journalist without any inkling of the standards and ethics of journalism. Bloggers want to uphold their freedom of speech and freedom of opinion, even in areas where their activities affect a large amount of people. In a rush to publish information to their audiences, many content creators churn out half-baked contents or baseless information, causing wide disparity in reported news.

    Not long ago, just after the crash of the DANA aircraft, information on social media varied from blog to blog, and social networkers tweeted different information. While some people claimed the aircraft was going to Lagos from Abuja, others said it was to going to Abuja from Lagos. Who can tell the amount of harm caused someone affected by the wrong information! The ease and speed of information dissemination on the web has simply given room for information to travel so fast that damages are made before corrections are published.

    Bloggers & Social Networkers Influence the World Like Celebrities

    Now that bloggers and social networkers that have many fans are becoming strong influencers in the media, companies try to use the influence of top bloggers and influential social networkers to shape the public's perception of their brand by paying for blog posts or tweets. This is called Compensated Endorsement of Blog Posts or Tweets.

    Some bloggers feel they are entitled to their own opinions about a brand and therefore have a right to do this. However with due regard and fairness to their audiences, it is expected that such paid endorsement as well as other methods of compensation or close relationships be disclosed and labelled as such on blog posts.

    Job Seekers and Employers Are Also Plagued by Social Media

    More and more job seekers are concerned that recruiters peruse their online social life in deciding whether to hire them. While they claim their social life is quite separate from their professional or corporate life, recruiters believe they need to know their applicants better in order to make better hiring decisions. This sort of activity is also considered to be in gray areas as far as recruitment is concerned. Based on the fact that information shared on social media can be regarded as “a yell in a crowded restaurant”, it is understandable such information may not depict the true picture of a person’s personality.

    Another area of huge concern to employers is employees’ social networking activities during work hours. In the past, companies found it easy to censor social networking sites and some webmail services to prevent socializing online during work-hours. Today, most employees have mobile devices to stay connected to friends and families. Hence, employees socializing during work-hours still remain an issue to organizations.

    On the other hand, many employees believe preventing them from accessing social networks during work hours is like seizing their mobile phones. They believe they have a responsibility to their families and friends via social media, even during working hours. Many companies have already conceded to this and are focusing on helping their employees use social media without damaging the company’s reputation.

    For example, corporate information that some employees see as harmless and therefore discuss carelessly on social media could be regarded as trade secrets by their employers. There are cases where employees made negative comments about their organizations on social media and were severely dealt with. These employees felt they could handle their after-work hours as they deemed fit, whereas their employers expected some obligations to their company even after working hours.

    Similarly, some employees may want to take advantage of anonymity on the web and state negative information about competitors, which could lead to severe legal issues if found out. This sort of activity is obviously unethical. While some companies would really frown at this, other companies may prefer to turn a blind eye. If discovered, trust will be seriously breached and this could have a long term negative impact on the company.

    Cyber-bullying Among Teenagers is a Result of Social Media

    On the part of the general Internet community, cyber-bullying is a challenge that is yet to be properly tackled, especially among the youngsters. The same social media that help people develop meaningful relationships also harbours bullies and other uncultured persons. In most countries, parents are really concerned about how cyber-bullying will affect their children emotionally. Most especially on forums, there is a high disregard for mutual respect in the manner of communication. This is an area of huge concern to many social media platform providers.

    All these challenges were borne out of speed and ease of using the web. Thus, the web seems to have brought both ill and good to the world. However, it is clear that the web is still growing and evolving; so challenges should be expected and tackled as they come.

    Wondering how to live with this new devil called social media? You must have a long spoon: Read Are You Using Social Media the Right Way?

    Dr. Ayoade Oyedotun
    Dr. Ayoade Oyedotun
    Dr. Ayoade Oyedotun is the co-founder of Afrimash - An Online Shopping Site for Agricultural Items. His daily work encompasses customer service, sales and marketing, human capital management, and business operations management. He is passionate about working smarter using the Internet technology.

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