Social Media Ethics: 4 Common Dilemmas

When you think ethics, images of two-faced politicians and greedy companies cooking the books probably come to mind.  In reality, ethics is
Editor, Mashable
June 19, 2009 When you think ethics, images of two-faced politicians and greedy companies cooking the books probably come to mind.  In reality, ethics is always a two-sided coin with your reputation and your livelihood on the line.  Good ethics leads to trust and friendships, while a lack of them can leave you looking over your shoulder. Social media is no exception.

Misguided ethics have taken down companies, politicians, and even entire nations.  While ethics is not a black-and-white subject, the decisions you make could affect your company or even your livelihood.

With that in mind, here are several common ethical dilemmas that will occur as you utilize social media:

1. The fine line of spamming: We all want to promote our companies and their products, but there is a difference between reaching out and spamming Twitter and Facebook with links and promotional messages.  When you promote your product, please remember to provide others with value in return.  Answer questions and talk about subjects beyond your company.  Spam is never received well.

2. Feuds with others: It’s easy to let an argument spill into a public spat within your Twitter feed, but is this really beneficial to your followers?  Social media is about helping others, not about putting them down.  Public feuds and calling people out is more likely to damage your reputation than help it.

3. Lying: One of social media’s core tenants is transparency, and lying is the complete opposite of that.  Not only are you misleading people, but social media has revealed so many liars that it just isn’t worth the risk.  It’s easier than ever for someone to do the research on what you say.

4. Misrepresentation: This also follows from the “be transparent” rule. While you may not be lying by saying you worked at Google and Yahoo, it’s misleading to use that information if you worked at each for three days as a contractor.  Don’t use a brand name or an accomplishment unless you truly have the right to it.  You’ll not only make enemies, but you could get into legal trouble as well.  Be forthcoming.

I have only provided four specific examples, but there are countless social media dilemmas you will encounter that will require your judgment.  We want to be clear that social media is an open and transparent platform, and more often than not, being disingenuous will eventually be called out.  This often is a worse result than just being honest in the first place.

Consider the implications before making a decision, and most of all, be transparent and honest.  People are more likely to forgive you if you own up to your mistakes and faults.
Editor, Mashable