UOSM2008: Topic 4 Discuss the ethical issues raised by business uses of social media

Social media is an umbrella term used to describe interaction through a plethora of online tools including internet forums, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus and many more. The IBE (Institute of Business Ethics) notes that ‘social media exhibits unique characteristics when compared to ‘traditional’ media forms.’[1] It differs owing to its speed, and its potential for a global audience. It is free or low cost in comparison to other forms of media and does not require much technical knowledge. It is highly interactive, content can be commented on, contributed to or shared. The IBE states ‘social media blurs private/public boundaries’ when ‘companies make use of social media (originally designed for personal use) for business purposes, and likewise employees access personal sites while at work.’[2]

Moreover, ‘social media poses an ethical challenge for businesses, through employees’ use of social media on behalf of the company, as well as their personal use.’[3]

Let’s look at the case of HMV Twitter fail. The Guardian’s Sam Jones reports ‘Angry employees ‘live tweet from HR’ to announce ‘mass exectution’.[4] See tweets:

HMV Twitter feedHMV Twitter feed

All images sourced from The Guardian.

Sky’s Niall Paterson and Peter Barrow, Director of Reputation Communications on the HMV Twitter fail raising key astute points on the topic – highly informative and engaging video raising questions – What are the repercussions? and What does this mean for conventional forms of media?

In addition, Argos, in August 2011 fired an employee ‘for gross misconduct after he complained about his job on his [personal] Facebook page.’ He did not name the company in his complaint, but Argos maintained that the comments breached their ‘social networking policy and could ‘damage the reputation of the company.’[5]

Social Media Week in Washington DC’s article ‘To Tweet or Not to Tweet? The use of social media in the workplace raises ethical issues’ infographic reveals


Rachel King highlights the questionable behaviour of ASNs (Active Social Networkers), but simultaneously ‘raised the issue of the lack of internal communication around policy parameters which could provide guidance to ASNs to effectively do their jobs, engage in a reasonably and responsible manner, and assist in spread the corporate mission through their social media activities.’[6]

On hiring, employees immediately become unintended brand ambassadors, therefore, it is of paramount importance that clear social media policies must be established, communicated and upheld. What are your thoughts on negative blogs or tweets about your colleagues and employer?


[1]Institute of Business Ethics, ‘The Ethical Challenges of Social Media’, Issue 22, December2011, https://www.ibe.org.uk/userassets/briefings/ibe_briefing_22_the_ethical_challenges_of_social_media.pdf

[4] Jones, Sam, ‘HMV Workers take over official Twitter Feed to vent fury over Sacking’, The Guardian, 31st January 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/jan/31/hmv-workers-twitter-feed-sacking?CMP=twt_gu

[6]Social Media Week Washington DC,’To tweet or not to tweet? The use of social media in the workplace raises ethical issues’, February 16th 2012,  http://socialmediaweek.org/washingtondc/2012/02/16/to-tweet-or-not-to-tweet-the-use-of-social-media-in-the-workplace-raises-ethical-issues/#.UydYq-d_sTE


8 thoughts on “UOSM2008: Topic 4 Discuss the ethical issues raised by business uses of social media

  1. Hi Alysia,

    I firmly co-sign your standpoint on social media policies. Clear rules and appropriate sanctions are needed to manage these issues and prevent them. So. if both company and personal use are being monitored does this then mean we have limited freedom, and a strong pressure to remain professional at all times? It requires constant vigilance and reviewing of your posts before you upload them.

    The Asda case you mentioned reminds me of a few stories I know of overstated punishment for personal activity and it makes me wonder how ‘ethical’ we are expected to be.

    http://humanresources.about.com/od/social-recruiting/qt/honor-the-social-media-privacy-of-job-searchers.htm This article mentions that employers go as far as asking for employees passwords. Surely, many if not most people would believe this to be an invasion of privacy, or does the reputation and image of the firm always come first?

    I liked the examples you gave, including the video. It shows in one way some of the repercussions we face for misconduct online, even if it’s just a mini rant that we later delete.

    Kind Regards,


    • Hello – thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog post.

      I’m glad we’re in agreement that social media policies are a necessity, and that clear regulations should be frequently/appropriately communicated to employees. You make extremely valid points and raise concerns regarding – if both company and personal use of social media sites are monitored that it would result in limited freedom and a strong pressure to remain professional at all times. This is true, but I would like to think that through the use of employing strong privacy settings a personal account could be kept truly personal, whether this is naive or wishful thinking, perhaps.

      Social Media Policies or terms of use are of a greater importance when we consider how several employees or even just an individual operates through a company social media account, where they act as the company’s spokesperson or mouthpiece. Individuals, in some cases, can find themselves with an instantaneous global audience in the millions with one company tweet – take @cocacola as an example. Companies need to take precautionary measures to avoid employees publishing inappropriate content or locking their employer out of their social media accounts.

      And as a final note – the link you have provided that makes claims that companies have demanded passwords to employees or prospective employees personal Facebook accounts is a total invasion of privacy and I do not believe there is a need or place for doing so!

      Once again, thank you for taking the time to read and contribute as it helps me develop my thoughts on this topic further.

  2. Hi Alysia,

    I enjoyed reading your blog post. The first paragraph is really engaging and introduces the topic ideas well. Your choice to focus just on the business side of the question also works well as it allows you discuss more in-depth ideas, this may have been preferable in my own post as I struggled in my own post to find a balance between the business and education ethics ideas with such a short word count. You picked some really good examples too.

    However, I think the way you discuss social media and the web in your introduction does not necessarily apply to developing countries. You refer to the internet as ‘free or low cost in comparison to other forms of media’ whereas my own blog discusses ethical problems of access. In developing countries the cost of internet usage (and phone charges to set up internet usage) is massive compared to the average earnings. Remote area’s also struggle with connectivity in general. Maybe have a look at the top section of my blog and see what you think?

    Though equally you could argue ethics of business are of less concern to developing countries as big business is less prominent in these areas

    • Hello

      Yes I will admit that was a conscious choice as I felt that it would be better to take a focused approach and explore the ethical challenges social media posed exclusively to businesses, with a look to comment on or contribute to other #UOSM2008 members posts that tackled social media uses in education.

      I completely take on board your criticism regarding my neglect of access to and use of social media in developing countries. It is not something that I had considered. (I shall read your blog post now and other relevant materials.)

      I thought your focus on ‘access issues’ was extremely interesting and thought provoking. Your summary of Juliana Rotich’s TED talk serves to convey your argument about the unfair nature and ethical issue of the digital divide. I have since found this article in the UN News Centre which may be of interest to you: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43459#.UzIV6-d_sTE

      ‘“The Internet offers a lot of potential and opportunities for sustainable development,” said the Director of the Division for Public Administration and Development Management of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), Haiyan Qian.’

      On a personal note I believe the internet is an endless resource, one in which you can learn and gain new skills – therefore, I would have to conclude and agree that reduced access in any form – whether that be owing to limited access in a developing country or blocked websites such as Facebook, YouTube or Twitter in countries such as mainland China – is an ethical issue.

      • Communication for development, as they put it, is a really good way of phrasing it.
        ‘the rising use of social media platforms by delegates […] enable(s) discussion to continue beyond the meeting rooms’ -this is a feature I noticed when I attended a web conference at uni earlier this week, the discussion continued on Twitter which was really beneficial for sharing additional ideas and resources.
        The article I’ve posted below notes that a relatively small proportion of the population account for a significant portion of the populations total usage. The article you provided helped me to build on these ideas, indicating those with the means to gain access are likely to be those in positions of power, such as delegates,
        who are likely to have access to funding as well as having a higher than average wage in the country.


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