Social Media Ethics

The Internet is full of all types of information, both good and bad. Companies, consumers, marketers, and influencers are all creating content and posting it for the world to see. As social media has grown into what it is today, there have been questions about how to act ethically on platforms. Organizations – like the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) – have ethics codes to help guide their professionals in their actions, not just on social media, but also in their career in general.  

I see PRSA’s Code of Ethics as a great one for all to follow while on social media. The organization outlines the importance of advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness while practicing public relations. Although this code of ethics focuses on public relations professionals, it acts as a strong guideline even for those using social media for personal use. 

When writing on advocacy, PRSA states “we serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent. We provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.” When using social media for personal use, users serve as advocates of themselves. In doing so, they can share their viewpoints with the world on their platform.  

In terms of honesty, PRSA states “we adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.” Similarly, users should not use social media to spread gossip or hurt others. As their social media accounts are viewed as a form of the extended self, users must understand that what they say online acts to represent who they are even in the real world.  

PRSA writes on expertise and says “we acquire and responsibly use specialized knowledge and experience. We advance the profession through continued professional development, research, and education. We build mutual understanding, credibility, and relationships among a wide array of institutions and audiences.” Social media can be used to build “mutual understanding, credibility, and relationships” personally as well as professionally. Using social media ethically can help advance relationships and careers.  

As far as independence, PRSA writes “we provide objective counsel to those we represent. We are accountable for our actions.” Just as PR professionals are responsible for their actions, so are social media users. Users should understand that what they post can have repercussions. When posting certain content, they must be willing to be accountable for their actions.  

Loyalty is defined as being “faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.” In some ways people may interpret what users say on social media as representing what some of their friends and family may value or think. Users should consider the consequences of what they might say and determine how it may affect those who they are close to.  

Lastly, fairness is possibly the most important value with PRSA stating it as dealing “fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.” Social media is a marketplace of ideas and with so many people having differing opinions, users must be able to appreciate different views and not shut them down simply because of these opinions. Everyone has a right to share their opinions and understanding that is essential to practicing good social media ethics. 

PRSA provides a set of ethics that are great to follow when using social media. These points are generally for professionals; however, they may prove beneficial for those using social media every day. Social media can be a large and confusing place with broad guidelines. Establishing personal ethics can help users better use social media while avoiding potential conflict.  

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