Corporate Social Media Ethics: The Machine vs. the Man & the Myth

Corporate Social Media Ethics: The Machine vs. the Man & the Myth

As an attorney, I've spilled a lot of ink over what businesses and individuals have the right to do. As an ethics and compliance professional I've spilled a lot of ink over what is right for businesses to do. This is the beauty and the beast of having the dual role of advising a company on legal issues while maintaining its place in the ethics industry. Today we examine the dichotomy between what companies have the right to do with respect to their employee and customer data online versus what they should (or should not) be doing.

2017 has seen the apex of the corporate embrace of social media. While it may have seemed ubiquitous before the fact is that this year has seen nearly every company embrace an understanding of the power of the information available online. We see social media's pervasiveness all the way up to the Executive Branch's use (or misuse depending on your point of view) of Twitter. Given that nobody can honestly argue that business use of social media is essential to remain competitive, we first take a look at how companies are using social media beyond the marketing realm.

Know they Enemy (but how well should you)?

Social media consultants are teaching companies how to mine the web for important diamonds of information about customers, competitors, and employees. This information can be used to weed out sales prospects that are unlikely to buy and/or employees who might not be a good fit for the company. While this seems harmless, there is certainly an ethical dilemma when searching anonymously through the blinds of the social media glass window. Take for example the situation where a conflict of interest becomes apparent, yet unknown to the other party. If the potential lead or hire is a good fit many businesses are choosing to hide behind their anonymity and justifying the ends with the means. This seems all well and good until you are caught, but how would you like it if you knew a competitor was playing dirty? You might not react so kindly. While you may have the "right" to use your social media accounts to mine data about your prospects and potential new hires, it certainly may not be the "right" thing to do.

"I'll be Back:" How Anonymous are You and can You Terminate Your Social Media Presence?

Many companies have asked me for legal advice on creating anonymous social media accounts for the purpose of engaging in effective corporate espionage. These stories all tend to start with some version of "I want to gauge the competition but don't want them to know it." So the entity creates a seemingly anonymous Twitter account or Facebook profile to do their ethical dirty work. The problem with this approach is that nothing is truly anonymous. It doesn't take a degree in hacking to determine not only the IP address where a social media account was generated but even the email address behind which the account hides. Some social media experts are savvy enough to hide behind multiple layers of protection, but when considering the ethics of this kind of behavior the ends don't justify the means. This certainly falls into the category of not having the "right" nor being "right."

Keep Your Friends Close . . .

Another important ethical dilemma that arises frequently in business social media use is companies patrolling their employee accounts for information that they are disgruntled or likely to quit. This information is often used against employees. Discounting the potential labor law issues with policing employee social media use, constant monitoring of employee personal accounts to take the temperature of the workforce is not only arguably unethical, it's just plain creepy. There are plenty of ways to ask for feedback on how your corporate culture is doing that don't involve spying on others online. For example, corporate training sessions, performance reviews, and social events hosted by the company are a chance to get face to face with your workforce and make sure that employees are content with your business management style. Again, while you may (or may not) have the "right" to monitor employee social media data, most of the time it is not "right" to do so.

If the "looking through the blinds" Bitmoji above gives you the creeps, always keep it in mind when considering the ethics of your business social media use. You never want to be the company that is seen as unethical and laying in the weeds, as the ethical and reputation costs can far outweigh the gains from engaging in questionable social media ethics.

Syntrio is a leader in both the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law, and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of compliance violations within the organization. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

 

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio.

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