Ethics or Reckless? Are you monitoring what you post?

Transparency, anonymity and respecting others are the golden rules that public relations professionals like to emphasize when dealing with social media ethics. It’s very easy to get carried away and stretch the truth, or flat out lie, but like all things in life there are consequences to unethical behavior.

To really understand social media ethics, it’s important to understand what the term “ethics” actually means. Countless definitions exist, but the Oxford Dictionary defines it as “moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.” How might this apply to social media? Well, a person’s behavior (and sometimes their morals) are consistently displayed on social media. Since social media is designed for users to voluntarily share their thoughts, feelings and personal lives to their followers, it’s difficult to find a case where some form of ethical conduct is not present.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the ASHA Code of Ethics (2016) states that under some circumstances, inappropriate use of social media could lead to an ethical violation under this code. This code is not considered a civility code, but rather a guideline for professionals in support of day-to-day decision-making related to professional conduct. So, although this code may not be “official” in the sense of being written into law, it does provide legitimate precautionary advice that could result in avoiding legal misuse/mistakes. Two important professional proscriptions that are written into this code are: breach of confidentiality and avoiding misrepresentation.

Breaching confidentiality is not only unprofessional but, in the case of a business, it can damage an organization’s overall image. Posting personal details about a client, employee or anyone else online, no matter how seemingly insignificant, could result in legal ramifications and should be avoided, not only for legal reasons but because it is breaking an ethical obligation.

Avoiding misrepresentation, specifically in the promotion of services or products and listing of credentials, can be very tricky since some violate this code unintentionally. ASHA gives a great example of this: say “an audiologist in a metropolitan area ear, nose, and throat (ENT) practice promotes his practice by posting [on social media], ‘Highest qualified practitioner in the area!’ This post violates the code because no basis exists for the statement and it is misleading to the public.” Although this audiologist was simply trying to promote his practice by posting about it, he broke the code of ethics by making a suggestion which has no proof, and is therefore misleading and unethical.

Determining what is ethical and what isn’t can be really difficult, especially since not everyone always agrees on what is and isn’t ethical. A good ethical (and life) suggestion to consider, is that if you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying it to a person’s face, then it’s probably best not to post it.

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