Social Media Ethics: If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online

Twitter feuds, social media ethics, broadcasters, celebritiesThis week’s lecture boils down to one thing: If you wouldn’t say it in person or on air, don’t post it on social media. It doesn’t matter if you’re a well-known celebrity or a relatively unknown graduate student, the rule applies to all! The nature of social media (especially Twitter) is that anything you say can go viral in minutes. Even if you have post-posting regrets and delete a controversial comment, there’s a good chance that others have already seen, documented, or shared your content.

Social media has changed the dimensions in which people can connect with news personalities, public figures, and celebrities. Long gone are the days of only seeing them when they’re in a controlled setting (work, press circuits, etc.). Social media gives us access to what public figures are doing and thinking 24/7. While this unlimited access is great for the fans, it does add a little bit more pressure to the public figures.

For instance, if a broadcaster feels passionate about a specific issue, they may have to stifle their opinions in order to remain unbiased for the viewers. Journalists also may have access to information that hasn’t been made public yet. They shouldn’t take to social media to spout off about confidential information until they have been given the green light from an editor or producer. Broadcasters and journalists always have to be aware that they’re representing an organization/brand whether they’re on the clock or off.

As a news editor or producer, you have to be vigilant about what your reporters are saying online. At a previous newspaper that I worked at, we had an older staff, many of which hadn’t yet embraced Twitter. These factors made it pretty easy to stay on top of what our reporters were saying on social media, on and off the clock. As news continues to evolve and Twitter plays a larger role, they’ll have to put formal social media guidelines in place. These guidelines will have to explain that the reporter is in the public eye and represents the brand, and they don’t have the luxury or saying whatever they want online.

Kimmel Kanye Twitter Feud

Celebrities have a little bit more leeway when posting on social media. Although social media is an extension of their brand and certainly can affect their public image, they’re not bound by rules stating that they need to remain impartial. Sometimes letting their opinions be heard can make them seem more human and can earn them more fans/followers. However, just because they can tweet every single thought, doesn’t mean that they should. There is a fine line between appearing more human and looking plain crazy (cough, cough Amanda Bynes). As entertaining as it is for us regular people to read about Kanye feuding with Kimmel, it’s best to keep the drama off social media. It makes you appear unprofessional and kind of like a middle school girl! (That applies to everyone, not just celebrities!)


Social media and the Boston bombings

I was at work when bombs exploded in the streets of Boston during the city’s infamous marathon. As a runner myself, I had so many questions, but without access to a TV, I turned to Twitter for answers and updates. I wasn’t the only American who logged into a social media account for coverage on the Boston Marathon bombings. According to the Pew Research Center, a quarter of Americans received their information about the bombings from social media.

Social media is a great tool for news seekers, but it also has rapidly increased the flow of information, which can lead to more inaccuracies by news agencies online. Even CNN tweeted inaccurate information after the attacks on Boston. It’s no surprise that rapidly evolving situations can also lead to ethical concerns.

It was the Boston Marathon bombings that forced me to reevaluate the content that I share on social media. After the attacks, I retweeted a photo of a victim that included a heart-wrenching story. I later discovered that this information was completely made up. As sad as it is, there are people who try to capitalize on tragedies. If you’re going to share information that you find on social media, it’s best to make sure that it comes from a reliable source. Even reliable sources get it wrong sometimes, so do your own investigating before you share any content on social media.

Several broadcasters and companies were blamed for trying to capitalize on the Boston tragedy. One broadcaster posted a photo of one of the victims in his hospital bed on Facebook. He then asked his followers to “like” the photo to wish the boy a speedy recovery. Because I don’t know the broadcaster or his relationship to the victim, I can’t accurately speculate on his motive for posting the photo. If the post was his way of getting page likes, it’s obviously unethical. However, his post could have been to raise the boys spirits and to raise awareness (money) to help the victim. Only he knows his true intentions.

Ford also got put into the spotlight after the attacks. The car company posted the following image:

Boston Marathon bombings, social media, ethics, Ford

Many people scolded the company for using a tragedy to promote products. Once again, without being the one making decisions for Ford, I can’t really speculate on their intent. I think it would have been in better taste if the company had dropped the Ford logo in the corner and used an image of real first responders on the scene in Boston. This approach would have made it seem less like an advertisement, and more like a genuine thank you.

Social Media Moderation: How to handle negative comments

A social media moderator’s responsibilities include maintaining an organization’s standards on its social media pages, as well as fostering an environment that is beneficial for both the organization and the organization’s followers.

If you remain transparent with your followers, you open yourself up to taking some criticism. Even if the comment is indecent or obscene, it’s important that you don’t react in anger. If a comment should cross the line, it’s in your duties to delete that comment. If a comment criticizes your organization, you have the opportunity to address the user’s concerns and maintain your organization’s reputation, but it’s still important that you are respectful to all users who follow your pages.

Below are two fictional examples of social media comments that criticize different organizations, as well as how I would ethically respond to such comments.


“I am disgusted about the state of your store on 1467 Justin Kings Way. The counter was smeared in what looked like grease and the tables were full of trash and remains of meals. It makes me wonder what the state of your kitchen is?!!! Gross.”


“Hi (commenter’s name). We’re so sorry to hear about your experience at our restaurant. I assure you this is not the standard that we hope to meet. If you wouldn’t mind, could you private message us your contact information? We would like to get more information about your experience and make sure that something like this never happens again. We appreciate your business and want to make this situation right. Thanks for sharing your experience!”


“Your reporting on the Middle East is biased in the extreme. You gave almost all your air time to spokespeople for the Israelis last night and there was no right to reply for the Palestinians. The conflict upsets me so much and your reporting of it, saddens me even more and makes me f**king furious.”


Because this commenter used obscene language, I would delete this comment from my organization’s social media pages. I would send the commenter a message notifying them that their comment was deleted, and I would explain why their comment wasn’t allowed. If the commenter hadn’t used the obscene language, this is how I would reply:

“Hi (commenter’s name). We’re sorry to hear about your frustrations. We strive to have balanced reporting, and we always want to hear both sides of a story. If you watch/read (link to article/video), you’ll see that we talked to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Thanks for sharing your feedback, it’s passionate people like you, that ensure our reporters are doing their job right!”

Social Media Moderation

social media moderationIf your brand has a presence on social media networks, you are most likely going to get a fair share of feedback, both positive and negative. If you’re in charge of monitoring the brand’s social pages, it’s your job to moderate the conversations, and determine if a comment is out of line and needs to be removed from the site. As easy as it would be to delete any criticism of the brand, you have to maintain a transparency with customers so they continue to trust and follow the brand.

A social media manager’s job can be made easier with moderating policies or guidelines. Unfortunately, not every brand (including my own) has such a policy in place. It’s left to my discretion to choose how to respond to customers’ comments. Fortunately, I have yet to run into any major problems. The only time I have ever deleted a post, was when it was spam. The rest of the posts I leave out there for the world to see. I “like” and acknowledge on the praises on Facebook, answer any questions a customer may post, and try to help customers who may have some discrepancy with the brand or its social media.

Before you post or moderate any social pages, you have to be aware of the norms and behaviors of each different network. You most likely wouldn’t share the content that you post on LinkedIn, with your Facebook followers. While that is an obvious example, there are plenty of other examples out there. There are general norms of each network, but how a company approaches those networks, is going to differ from each different brand or person.

In my personal experience and usage, I share more personal posts and articles with my Facebook community. My Facebook followers are made up of mainly family and friends, so I have a level of comfort when posting on the network. I don’t think as much or worry how I’m going to be perceived because my followers all know me pretty well.

More professionals and colleagues follow me on Twitter, so it’s a completely different vibe. It’s a way more casual version of LinkedIn. I try to share professionally-related content, but I do it in a more fun, and trendier way. I love a good hashtag! I use more abbreviations or jargon because Twitter only allows so many characters. I also allow more of my humor and personality to shine on Twitter.

I view both Instagram and Pinterest in the same light in terms of how I moderate my pages. Both networks allow me to post more creatively. I think brands have the same advantage when using these networks (at least if they’re using them correctly!). These networks allow a brand or individual to reflect who they are or who they want to be. For brands that are struggling to bridge the gap between being professional and human, these networks could help you accomplish that.

Victoria’s Secret – A brand in which I trust

Picture 1It takes a lot to earn my trust “in real life,” and even longer to gain my trust online. I interact with more individuals than brands on social media because many brands don’t know how to do social media right. I don’t want to follow a brand that constantly tries to sell on social media, and it’s obvious when a brand is posting scheduled, automated messages. I want to connect with the people behind the brand. If a brand engages with me, it goes a long way in earning my trust, and ultimately turning me into a brand advocate. One brand that has done that for me, is Victoria’s Secret.

Victoria’s Secret is constantly posting and keeping their social media pages up-to-date, which demonstrates their authority in beauty, lingerie, swimwear, and fashion for women. The brand’s massive amount of followers on each of their social media pages also proves their authority in the industry. Why wouldn’t I trust a brand that the majority of my friends like or follow on social media?


When customers complain on the various Victoria’s Secret’s social platforms, the brand addresses their complaints in a timely fashion. This transparency is helpful, shows a human side to the brand, and it proves that the brand actually cares about their customers.

Recently, a customer wrote that he bought a gift for his wife, and they forgot to take the security tag off (right). When he went back to the store, the manager told him he had to wait in a long line to have the tag taken off. I’m sure with the amount of social media followers Victoria’s Secret has, they could have easily ignored this customer an it wouldn’t have been noticed. Instead, the brand apologized to the customer and asked him to send a private message with the stores location so they could properly address the problem.


While I appreciate Victoria’s Secret’s responses to complaints, what really sets the brand apart for me is their engagement with consumers. It’s amazing to see how many customers they have conversations with on Twitter (right). This proves that the brand cares more about the customer and their experience, than making a sale. The feeling of having an actual two-way relationship with Victoria’s Secret on social media helps me to trust the brand even more.

You may question why brand trust is so important. Because I trust and feel as though I have a relationship with Victoria’s Secret, I’m more likely to tune into what they’re posting on social sites. This is critical because customers are so inundated with advertising clutter. Also because the brand has earned my trust, I’m more likely to engage and share what they’re posting on social media. Their social media behavior has turned me into a brand advocate and free advertising is rarely a bad thing! Lastly (and what some would say is most important), because I trust the brand, when I’m in the market for a swimsuit, underwear, or perfume, they’re the brand that I will turn to. Victoria’s Secret’s products and social media always keep me coming back for more!

LinkedIn’s Terms and Conditions

linkedin-android-walks_0Social media terms and conditions is a subject area that is a little dry, so when asked to assess a network’s user agreement, I wasn’t sure which network to choose. In the hopes of being somewhat original, I focused my attention on LinkedIn. I can’t argue LinkedIn’s value, but much like terms and conditions, it’s not the most exciting social network. I was pleasantly surprised when I went to LinkedIn’s User Agreement page. I’m not saying that I’ll go to the page for pleasure reading, but after looking at Facebook and Twitter’s user agreements, I think LinkedIn may have the advantage.

Like Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn’s User Agreement is long and contains a lot of jargon. There’s really no way around it if they want to protect themselves. Unlike the other two networks, LinkedIn breaks down each section of the User Agreement into concise, easy to understand segments (below). Not only does this help ensure that users are reading the terms that they’re agreeing to, the organization and breakdown helps users to actually understand what they’re agreeing to, which is an ethical win for LinkedIn. No user can claim that they couldn’t make sense of the terms and conditions.

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Another great aspect of LinkedIn’s User Agreement is that there is a breakdown of what user responsibilities are, and then a section about what the company’s rights and obligations are to the users. On Facebook, the majority of responsibility is placed on the user. It’s nice that LinkedIn acknowledges that they have some accountability in the equation. This section also provides the network some security because if someone comes to the network with a complaint or problem, they can point to the User Agreement and show that they were up front about both the user’s and company’s obligations.

You hear about the implications of unethical behaviors on the “more social” social networks all the time. False representation or catfishing, has effected celebrities and professional athletes, and now there’s even a show dedicated to the unethical practice on MTV. As inconvenient as it may be to discover that someone else is using your photos or falsely representing you on Facebook or Twitter, can you imagine the negative implications of being falsely represented on LinkedIn? This is the network that is viewed as professional, so a fake profile could really ruin your career and your life.

While LinkedIn can’t force anyone to be an ethical person, the company’s User Agreement does take the necessary steps to protect users and the company itself. When LinkedIn users sign the User Agreement they agree that, “You promise to only provide us information and content that you have the right to give us and you promise that you LinkedIn profile will be truthful.” LinkedIn states that they have the right to suspend or terminate the profile of anyone who creates multiple or fake profiles. It seems as though LinkedIn has considered the major ethical implications, and they’ve done everything in their power to create a positive and secure user experience.

Social Media Terms and Conditions – The Small Print

I’m so connected to my computer and social media, when I login and see an updated user agreement or terms of services, I usually just scroll to the bottom of the page and click the “I accept” box. It doesn’t stop there, I recently signed a new lease and when handed a long document that the lady told me was “just your standard leasing agreement,” I signed the dotted line without reading all the terms and conditions. I could have signed my life away and I would have no clue!

This week’s lecture and readings reminded me a lot of the South Park iTunes agreement episode.

The problem with terms and conditions is that they’re just too long and usually contain jargon that’s hard to understand. It was a real struggle for me to make it all the way through the long list of terms and conditions, and there’s no way I would have read every word if it wasn’t for class! I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person, but when reading through Facebook and Twitter’s user agreements, I have to admit that I was confused.

I don’t know that there is any quick and easy solution to making terms and conditions completely user-friendly because the social networks have to include the legal jargon so they don’t get sued. However, I think that there are steps that could be taken to ensure that social media users are actually reading the terms that they’re agreeing to.

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When reading through Facebook and Twitter’s terms and conditions, I liked that Twitter highlighted and summarized information in terms that everyone could understand (above). Organizing terms of service in this manner would help ensure that even if users didn’t read every single word, they would at least understand what they were agreeing to. I doubt that either network would legally be able to summarize all terms and conditions in this way, but I’m guessing it would increase what was actually read.

In Facebook’s terms and conditions this is a lot of emphasis put on “You,” as opposed to the company. As unfair as this may seem, you are the one who is using Facebook’s services, so you have to be responsible for how you use the network.

Some of the areas that I think need to be included in the terms and conditions of the social networks are user rights, privacy, how the site will share/use user content, account security, and provisions applied to advertisements/businesses. All of these areas have some crossover with ethical issues. To highlight an ethical concern that I’ve heard a lot about lately, I think it’s beneficial that both networks emphasize the fact that it’s against the rules to request that a user give you their password or account information. This will prevent the unethical practice of businesses requesting the information of potential employees.