Ethics and Social Media, pt. 2

So Wednesday I established a foundation for how we can conduct ourselves ethically on social media. The short version of that is that we need to recognize what we’re responsible for, realize who we’re responsible to, and develop a plan of action which best takes into account all of those responsibilities. For a the longer explanation, you can find Wednesday’s post here. I talked briefly about what this means to us as providers of content and how best practice is beneficial to us as well as everyone else. Today I want to expand on a few of the ideas I presented, and give a few examples of what I consider ubiquitous examples of best practice. A lot of this will probably seem like old hat if you follow any one of a thousand social media gurus, but I’m arguing that not only are these things good ideas, they’re ethical obligations. This does assume that creating more connections and deeper connections are reasonably high priorities, but I don’t think that’s terribly unreasonable.

Some Notes On Best Practice

Best practice isn’t a checklist, it’s a process. It changes as we imagine new ways to do things, as we change our priorities, and as we achieve our goals. It’s also self-enforcing. We know when we’re really doing our best, and when we’re not. It’s never going to be best practice to get away with what we can if we know we won’t get caught, because we’d never endorse that for others. It’d give them an opportunity to deliberately act against our interests. That said, actual best practice isn’t achievable. It’s what philosophers call a normative ideal, something which always lays on the horizon. The goal is to have the best approximation to it as we can, and to be able to explain why it’s the best approximation. This can seem daunting, but it’s actually an advantage, because it creates a continuum rather than a two-sided equation. It takes the question of “Are we ethical or not?” and changes it into “How ethical are we?” In addition, it eliminates the notion of an unassailable moral high ground, because we all have room for improvement. So when going over these points, it’s not about whether we’re doing them, but about how well we’re doing them and how we can improve.


With social media, can’t always choose what we’re hearing, but we can choose who we’re listening to. We have to say “You! I want to hear what you have to say,” whether that’s through friending them on Facebook for putting them in a Google+ circle. When we do that, we’re acknowledging our stake in their words, so not listening at that point doesn’t properly take into account our own interests. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing and it certainly doesn’t mean liking everything they say, just holding them responsible for saying it, and being open to discussion about it. That’s what we want from them, after all.

Be Authentic
This is a term that people throw around a lot, and it essentially means be yourself. Don’t misrepresent yourself, or try to be one person on social media and another in real life. Not only is it good advice, but given our criteria, it’s an ethical obligation. Deceiving our stakeholders doesn’t respect their stake, and it isn’t something we’d want to endorse as best practice.┬áImagine yourself as a corporation, and your audience as your shareholders. If you misreport how things are going, or try to deceive them, and they even get a hint of it, it could cost you their investment. Which in social media terms means their connection. The best way to eliminate the risk of being found out is to not do it at all, especially if our goals include deeper connections with other people, whether that’s personal connections on Facebook or professional connections on LinkedIn. If we value those connections, we need to respect that by being honest.
Be Positive

Being positive means trying provide constructive criticism and insightful feedback. It doesn’t mean only post good news or happy things, but framing bad news in a way that focuses on solutions, rather than problems. Everyone’s seen that status update that’s just venting and yelling, and I’ll admit that sometimes I’m sympathetic, but it doesn’t inform me on how I can help, or what I can do. They’re talking at me, not with me, and in social media, you always want to be in a position to talk with your audience, even if it’s a more personal medium like Facebook.┬áNow this may seem strange, seeing as I’ve already established an obligation to being authentic. What if I’m not authentically positive? The answer is that I need to get that way. It’s not something we’re born with, it’s something we can learn. Being positive and constructive is the best way to respect our stakeholders interests, even if that means being critical of them.

So today I’ve taken the model that I laid out on Wednesday and applied it to what I think are three of the core principles of best practice in social media. What it really boils down to is that our ethical obligation is to do better. To look at what we’re doing right now, and then commit to ways to improve. That’s what’s going to help us manage our responsibilities better, and lead happier lives. We’re always imagining how things could be improved anyway, and we can justify that with explanations of best practice. Tell me, what kinds of things do you think are best practice in social media?


  1. You nailed one of the things, which is to be constructive. When I realized my first blog was all about basically a place to bitch, I pulled it down. There was no point to any of it.

    Now that I have my own blog, I've talked a number of times during my blog-fu series about things that we as bloggers need to focus on. I don't want to turn this into an advertisement for my site though, so I'll simply say that if you want more info on any of the following items, browse to the "Blogging" section here:

    Create a plan for your social media experience – why you're writing, who you're targeting, what you're talking about and how much time can you invest without lowering the quality of your work?

    Cite your references! Always give credit where it's due.

    Communicate with your readers! Depending on what you're talking about or how seriously you want to be taken, use a casual or formal writing style. Don't use strong language or tone. Comment on articles that interest you AND respond to anyone who comments on yours. Dialog.

    Index your content so that down the road, visitors can look back at stuff you've talked about in the past. Chronological order, while valid, is a terrible single way to organize thoughts.

    Schedule posts, split up content and write ahead. People can only take in so much at once, especially walls of text. It's a little bit carrot on a stick, but it means you'll constantly have reasons to interest people in what you have to say, even if something comes up in life that takes you away from your site.

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