With the increased number of people that are becoming both creators and consumers, there is also the increased urgency around behaving ethically when it comes to social media. These blurred waters in the vast ocean of content calls for guidelines to give users direction and save them from becoming (or being victims of) social media ‘pirates’.

It’s easy to get caught in a social media storm because of copyright, privacy, hurtful commentary or misinformation. You may not be able to control what other users do, but you can ensure you keep your own (personal or other) brand afloat — even when the sea of social media gets rough.

Ready to sail into ethical waters? All aboard as media update’s Maryna Steyn sets course for social media ethics!

Ethics and the sea of social media

In the online environment, what is said or done can have major repercussions. Social media has a long memory and deleted comments, posts or content still live on in the minds of users long after it has been removed (or on the phone of someone who took a screenshot and is keeping receipts!).

This affects a brand or individual's reputation to the point where it can even wreck a new business deal or future job opportunity. Or even worse, (ay laddie, worse!) are the immediate consequences that can lead to you being blocked on some social media platforms altogether.

If we assume that no one intentionally wants to offend by expressing offensive comments or views, the truth is that anyone can still land in a vortex of unethical behaviour. This is because making obvious social faux pas are not the only issues that can arise. Let’s look at a few:

When it comes to sources, ethical behaviour means citing sources, using reliable sources as well as ensuring you comply with copyright policies. This relates to both reposting content or using it at a source.

The right thing to do is to research the entities from whom you gathered the information. They need to be reliable and trustworthy. Remember to reference the sourced content and give credit where credit is due.

Social media and privacy can unleash a whole different debate, but when it comes to behaving ethically in the digital space, the most important thing to do is constantly ask: Is this private information?

Even if users opted into sharing their own sensitive information online, ethically speaking, it’s best not to reshare it or post any content that can infringe on a person’s privacy. This means phone numbers, ID numbers, account information or personal addresses.

Mistakes and misinformation
Everybody makes mistakes, but in some instances, a small mistake can lead to a tsunami of misinformation. This is because a simple typo can lead to a whole different meaning or message.

So, double check facts to avoid mistakes! Also ensure that what you post isn’t contributing to spreading fake news. Only distribute messages that you can ethically stand by.

Transparency and honesty
Because you are operating in the public eye, honesty and transparency is vital. Not only does it improve your brand image and make you come across as being more authentic, but it builds trust between you and your audience.

It’s ethical to be open and honest when you need to deal with a difficult situation such as providing apologies for mishaps, or technical errors.

Cyber bullies and intimidation
It’s not just children on social media who experience hate comments and cyber bullying — even the most talented Youtubers and singers receive negative comments on the daily.

Some individuals prefer to respond to these remarks in a positive, humorous way. Others choose to ignore the haters altogether. If you find yourself in this position, just make sure you are not stooping to their level.

But when you are active on social media, take care not to bully or intimidate other brands or individuals — only use your power for good and ethical intentions.

Ethical guidelines to sail in the right direction

Behaving ethically isn’t that hard. When you find yourself in a situation where questions about ethics can rise to the surface it’s best to stick to the golden rule. If you don’t know what that is, we got it right here:
Operate under the guideline that you should do unto others as you want them to treat you.

It’s fair to say you want others to give credit to your work or not share personal information, right?

But what do you do when the ethical lines aren’t that clear? Here’s a few questions to help you out.

1. Is this information I'm sharing correct and fair?
This is important to confirm that you are not spreading false information or accusing people of things they didn’t do.

2. Is this my opinion or is it fact?
It should be clear whether a post contains your own opinion or actual facts. State when it’s your personal opinion or if it’s a fact. This is the ideal opportunity to cite your sources too! Understand that users and brands are allowed to have their own opinion even when it differs from you or your brand.

3. Who will see my content?
More than just hiding bikini pictures from your grandma and future boss, think about who will see your content. For example, if it’s children, you need to avoid using bad language. If you are talking about upsetting topics, it’s best to add a trigger warning.

4. Am I being respectful?
Social media is filled with different people with unique views. It’s important to be respectful to other people and their views even if you don’t agree. You don’t want to be a Karen, do you? (No offense to anyone named Karen.)

5. Am I taking responsibility?
Yes — with great power does come great responsibility. If you have a lot of followers on social media, or you are posting about important topics, you need to take responsibility for what you say and do. This means when you make a mistake, you should own up to it. But if you also stand by what you said — even if the public doesn’t — holding your ground shows your character.

6. Is it necessary?
Some things are better left unsaid. Similarly, some things are better left unposted. Choose what you post wisely as some statements, videos or images can come back to haunt you and your brand.

Not only will ethical behaviour help prevent negative publicity and social media storms, it will help build positive and long lasting relationships with your audience. This will undoubtedly ensure your social media journey has happy, ethical sailing.

Shiver me timbers, you have reached the end of this article. But before you go, what rules do you live by to keep your social media behaviour ethical? Let us know in the comments below.

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Now that you know how to stay out of murky waters when it comes to social media ethics, why not dip your toes into the Three reasons why your social media profile is so important.
*Image courtesy of Canva