Spotlight on Ethics: Social Media and Ethics

In today’s digital world, social media is an integral part of every communication strategy. We use it throughout the day in our personal and professional lives and find ourselves responding as fast as possible to take advantage of opportunities or mitigate crises. Unfortunately, sometimes those reactions can unintentionally get us into some sticky situations.

Building ethical practices into social media processes ahead of time can help avoid inadvertent problems. Questions to develop ethical social media processes include:

  1. What triggers the deletion of content? Social media is designed to generate conversation. Sometimes, that conversation may not go the way you want. While it may be tempting to delete negative posts, that limits the free flow of information. A documented policy clarifies when to delete a post – and when to not delete. Your policy should include narrow and specific reasons for deleting posts, such as the use of profanity, disclosure of confidential information and attacks directed at individuals or groups of individuals. Posting the policy on your social media channels creates transparency and can help avoid backlash if a poster is upset you deleted a post.

  2. Where will we source images and graphics? We all want to find that perfect photo or gif to include in a post, and there are many options at our fingertips. Know ahead of time where you will source image and graphics. In-house talent and stock photo services are easy, safe sources. If you search the internet for graphics, be sure they have a Creative Commons license. Be sure to read the terms and conditions of the license to see what it allows. Check with your legal counsel for specific guidance.

  3. Are you including necessary context? Some industries, such as the banking industry, require specific disclosures when talking about products and services. The Federal Trade Commission also has rules around sponsored content and advertising. Knowing those is an important first step, however, you can get into some grey areas outside of those requirements. Be sure to include any necessary context in posts so your followers have the information they need to make informed decisions. Are claims backed up by research? Are the people who are endorsing your product being compensated? Are you being compensated in some way to promote a product or service from another organization?

  4. What are our privacy triggers? Posting photos of customer and employee events is a great way to generate buzz for your organization. Since these posts occur in real-time, it’s important the team understands your process. Some areas to consider include posting photos of minors, obtaining signed waivers and notifying participants ahead of
    time the event will be photographed. Every organization will have different triggers based on the industry and culture. For example, posting photos of an invitation-only event for
    patients who are being treated for a specific condition could raise privacy and HIPAA concerns. Again, check with your legal counsel for specific guidance.

Thinking through these ethical considerations can help ensure social media channels are a positive tool to promote your organization. If you have questions about social media ethics, feel free to reach out to me.

Kerry Francis, APR is the Ethics Officer for PRSA Central Ohio. You can reach Kerry at [email protected].

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