Fake news. We’ve all seen it, heard it or read it probably more times than we can count, today alone. Disinformation and exaggerated stories are everywhere in the online world, so much so that distinguishing between what is true and what is fabricated has become an automatic mental process when scrolling through social media. This leads to user fatigue, where the user is not persuaded to believe one story or another, but instead begins to doubt everything they read.¹ Many organizations and companies today are aware of the damage unethical online behaviour can cause and strive to have an online presence rooted in truthfulness and transparency.²
However, this does not mean that organizations are exempt from unintentionally contributing to unethical content online. The ever pervasive use of clickbait and sensationalism have normalized these tactics and are shifting the digital landscape in an unethical direction. Meaning, companies can still contribute to a deceptive media environment even if their intentions aren’t to do so. Instead of viewing being ethical as a title that, once achieved, requires no further work, consider it a continuous act and way of making decisions that lead to an ethical and honest outcome. When a company’s approach to social media is founded in producing ethical content and displays radical transparency, they will reap the reward of consumer trust and gain market share.²
“Just because something is happening and getting clicks doesn’t automatically make it best practice.
I have a deep conviction that a dedication to research and truth in brand content marketing will create value in the long term that cannot be matched by tantalizing click-baiting captions. Making decisions based on pervasive bad habits with only a monthly report in mind won’t drive value for clients.”
Colin Rose, Rose Agency Inc.
There are many practices, techniques and safeguards organizations and people alike can put in place to ensure that what they post online is honest and reflects their values. Creating foundational change may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Below, we present selected techniques and behaviours that are designed to combat the spread of deceptive content and to help translate your organization’s values through your posts.
A Social Media Policy Lights the Way
Whether your business is big or small, creating a social media ethics policy should be a priority. It serves as a basic guideline on what you, your employees and any other bodies involved in publishing content on your behalf should consider. Above all else, the policy is meant to be helpful and easy to digest, so an overly formal 200 page document might be a bit overkill.³ Consider it more of a resource written “by the people, for the people”.
What is included in the policy is up to you and depends on your business. A general requirement is that all posts must adhere to a high level of honesty and offer full disclosure of any partnerships. Highlighting the role social media plays in the business and the voice of the brand is equally important. It doesn’t hurt to include examples of what responsible behaviour looks like and what the expectations for customer interactions are.⁴
Behaviours to Adopt
Some of the most effective ways to be ethical online are individual practices. If there is an ultimate one to adopt, it is to simply pause before you post.⁴ Seems obvious, we know, but just as thinking before you speak never loses its importance, pausing before you post yields great results. Going a step further, implementing a checklist before publishing content is also beneficial.⁵ Going through simple questions can help catch slip ups that otherwise would have gone undetected.
For example, asking yourself if what you’re posting is truthful, offers full disclosure and reflects how you want your business to be viewed prevents potentially unethical content from being permanently shared with the world. Additionally, businesses that are committed to being ethical are positioned to last, as consumers increasingly value transparency. With the amount of unfounded content online, you may even stand out by having an honest and ethical voice.
Unethical behaviour online is not always blatant, making it possible to engage in it even if it’s not your intention. By implementing safeguards and practicing certain behaviours, you can greatly diminish the possibility of contributing to the mass of misinformation online. Having an online presence founded in transparency and honesty not only protects your reputation and the longevity of your business, but also gains you points among consumers.
1.Deibert, R. J. (2020, September 23). The Rise of Digital Despots. The Walrus. Retrieved November 5, 2020, from https://thewalrus.ca/the-rise-of-digital-despots/
2.The Future of Our Food: An Industry in Flux. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.goldbeck.com/employers/areas-of-expertise/future-of-food/
3. Barnes, J. W. (2015). Social media ethics made easy : How to comply with ftc guidelines. ProQuest Ebook Central https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca
4. James, S. (n.d.). Social Media Ethics: Why You Should Have a Policy. Retrieved November 10, 2020, from https://www.streamcreative.com/blog/bid/52570/social-media-ethics-why-you-should-have-a-policy
5. Bowes, B. (2017, August 12). Aug 2017: Unethical actions have serious consequences. Retrieved November 10, 2020, from https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/business/unethical-actions-have-serious-consequences-439985623.html