Ethical Challenges of Social Media

            When you look at how social media usage has grown over the years, you have to look at some of the challenges that face companies with regard to how employees use social media. According to a survey conducted by DLA Piper in 2011, 95% of employees use social media for business or personal reasons (Business Ethics Briefing, 2011). When employees put their whole lives on social media, there will be times when things are not appropriate. The challenge is how a business deal with this issue.

            In an Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) survey of large companies conducted in 2011, most employers cited integrity risk as the main ethical challenge (Business Ethics Briefing, 2011), while this is still a concern, I believe that the larger concern is a business image. While some of this could fall under integrity, depending on how you define it, most of this falls under public relations. How often have we heard of the employee that sent a tweet that they thought was funny (that was very offensive) and to keep their company image, a business was forced to discipline that employee? Is this fair? Should a company be able to discipline an employee for expressing a personal view on their own time? For companies, the answer has to be yes. The challenge is doing it in the correct way so that the company is protected.

            Companies can protect themselves from these social media challenges by setting up a clear policy that spells out how employees are to act on social media. Social media policy can be summed up in two words, be professional. Jay Sheppard, author of the book Firing at Will: A Manager’s Guide says that unprofessional workers will be unprofessional whether plugged in or not (Lauby, 2012). Some companies restrict employees from identifying what company they work for, while others say that the employee should disclose that information so that they can be monitored.

            When it comes to ethics, it’s not only the employees that need to be ethical, it’s also the companies themselves. Companies create work whether it’s logos or movies, and that work needs to be protected. There are several licensing options that companies can choose from, depending on how the company wants the work protected, but the company must also plan to use other companies’ work appropriately. If you are going to use other people’s work, make sure that they get credit. It’s also nice to give them a link back to their page so that others can read their work. Copyright law gives the author (or creator) of a work full ownership of that work, with a few exceptions (Slems, 2013). The main thing though is to give credit where credit is due.

            What it all comes down to is that ethics and social media is a big issue. Companies looking for what to do with this complex issue need to follow this simple advice. Treat others the way you would wish to be treated. In other words, set (and follow) a policy that makes sense and keeps your company’s name clean.

Works Cited

Business Ethics Briefing. (2011, 12). Retrieved from Institute of Business Ethics: http://www.ibe.org.uk/userassets/briefings/ibe_briefing_22_the_ethical_challenges_of_social_media.pdf

Lauby, S. (2012, March 17). Ethics and Social Media: Where Should You Draw the Line. Retrieved from Mashable.com: http://mashable.com/2012/03/17/social-media-ethics/#277iY0q_SkqB

Slems, M. (2013, February 13). Copyright Rules: Attribution is Not Enough. Retrieved from Wired.com: http://insights.wired.com/profiles/blogs/copyright-rules-attribution-is-not-enough#axzz3AzbDgGb0

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