Professional Ethics, The Law and Social Media

As interactive marketing and social media continue to change, there is gray area in the line between what is legal and what is ethical. As we explore what this means for brands and organizations, we must understand the the principals of ethics and how it relates to the legal system.

5 fundamental principles in ethics

  1. Utilitarian – Doing the most good and the least harm
  2. Rights – Respect for the rights of all
  3. Justice – Being fair
  4. Common Good – Serving the community
  5. Virtue – Transparency, being exactly who you are and who you represent

So why should we be concerned about ethics as it applies to social media?

  • Self serving interests can avoid violating expectations of others.
  • The broader view is that ethics can reach beyond the law of doing “the right thing”
  • When and what is communicated can be touchy in organizations.
  • Who owns the reader posted content? The author, or the website holder?

Proactive vs. Reactive

  • The Law is a response to conflicts
  • Good ethics can avoid conflicts

Who decides what and who “is right” when it comes to ethics in social media?

  • Everyone
  • No one

Are social media ethics different for print, media or broadcast media? NO, marketing is still the same, it is the tools and how we use them that have changed.  The existing guidelines still need the same transparency and honesty.


  • Some situations will expose new perspectives and facets into being.
  • Payment and disclosure: Bloggers are changing the lines between journalism and consultants. Executives and professionals need to stand by their word.
  • Honesty and integrity – Do we keep or discard negative comments on our blog? Just because we can censor something doesn’t mean we should. Negative comments can give positive comments context and credibility.
  • Privacy Protection vs the right to be heard. Privacy is gone and everything we write online is documented. Can it actually be more ethical to dig for more info about individuals? Does more info = more targeted messages = less annoyance?

Are social media ethics different from print media or broadcast media?

No. The existing principles have the same honesty and transparency. The legal view has a tendency to say, “This is the law. See the contract.” It provides a minimum floor of what you can do.  On the other hand, ethics puts the customer desires first. Employers need to ask and communicate expectations of employees when they are off the clock and help them understand what information is public and what is private. Brands have to trust people in their organizations and remind them they are stewards of the company. We are agents of our organizations and the key to social media ethics is good judgment.



About KakieF
To learn more about Kakie Fitzsimmons, please select "A NOTE FROM KAKIE" tab at the top left of this page. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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