Social Media and Ethics
IT 273 Networking Concepts
The use and proliferation of social media in our daily life has drastically changed how we act and interact with each other. There are generally two views on social media itself. It facilitates people being able to connect in seconds to people all around the world where there is an internet connection, and to broadcast thoughts they have in the middle of the night. The opposing view to this is that it separates us more than ever before because now communication is done through electrons and rarely so much in face-to-face contact. Whether true or not, social media has changed how people connect to each other and consume media. In recent years, social media has been used to destroy people from things that were posted many years prior to whatever happened.
Social media is a collective name for websites or applications which allow for users to post text, images, and video for their followers or the general public to consume and interact with. All social media sites have similarities, but some are better suited to other types of posting. Some social media sites like Facebook allow people to find each other who have lost contact. Facebook and Twitter allow the users to create text posts that share their thoughts to the world and allow for the users to then reshare those thoughts and provide their own commentary. LinkedIn is geared toward professional people connecting and finding jobs. These sites different from traditional media in that they are free to use, and the content is entirely driven by the users rather than what the editors post to their own websites or broadcast over the airwaves.
This has affected the workplace because now, when an employee has something to complain about with regards to their company, they can post it on social media. What would have been kept in-house as a small affair can turn into a scandal enough that it causes true embarrassment to the companies themselves. Companies, being aware of the potential for damaging their reputation. To combat this, many companies have put strict social media policies in place that are used to determine what types of information can be posted, as well as how they will be perceived in the court of public opinion based on social media. For instance, social media posts sparked outrage over a bakery that would not create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. And this outrage bubbles over to the media who cover it with a slant as well. This headline is designed to get clicks and be shared on social media: “This Homophobic Bakery Will Cater Dog Weddings but Not Gay Civil Unions (Abad-Santos, 2013)”. This company received major fallout, which went all the way to the supreme court.
For myself, I do not use social media for much more than looking at cat videos and pictures of celebrities and seeing what they are doing. My own social media feeds of posts I make are incredibly bland by design. I know how to use it as an investigative tool because of my profession. However, I have watched the way social media outrage is directed from traditional media. My perceptions of multiculturalism and diversity have not changed exactly, as I temper what I see in the media (of all kinds) with the facts and figures that come out from places like the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports. With those two items in balance, I am aware that those concepts are buzzwords designed to incite social media mobs who may not look for facts and do further research in either direction, and instead send hate and death threats where they are not warranted because: that person I disagree with is a NAZI.
An organization I was a part of for eleven years saw, during the time I was there, the social media policy come into existence and change to create stricter rules. I worked for the Houston Police Department, when I started, social media was relatively new. In 2012, a sergeant posted racy photos of herself on Facebook along with photos of herself in uniform. After this, the social media policy changed to indicate that no employee of the department could post photos that could embarrass the department. I personally know three jail guards like myself who posted images of our inmates on their Facebook pages, resulting in, while not an outright ban, a strict policy against employees posting pictures from inside Departmental facilities. My opinions on social media have not impacted the department, as I am barely a casual user of social media. Many officers, who wish to share the things they see with other officers, or even post their displeasure about things that have happened with the brass. But in an effort for officers to keep themselves insulated from any retribution; most officers have become reticent to post anything about the job itself on social media.
In the world of networking, there are several things a network administrator may be tasked with doing and monitoring that may have ethical implications if action is taken based on the tasks of questionable ethics. One such action involves an invasion of privacy in a broad sense. The question is: does the company have a right to read emails of employees at any time they desire to do so? The simple answers are yes, or no. However, as with all things, there are more things that need to go into consideration for it, and how does telling the employees that their emails are monitored affect the risk to the employer?
There are two opposing views to this that stem from a privacy standpoint. A company that reads all emails from all employees is likely monitoring for leaks of trade secrets or illegal activities on the part of the employee. The company needs to protect itself from possible legal implications of what should happen if that employee is transacting personal business on company time and with the company’s email servers. This is especially concerning if the employee is releasing secret information to a competitor. Companies want to monitor for its employees tarnishing the company by using off-color language or making offensive comments about a group of people. On the other side of the coin, the employees expect that they have some rights to privacy regarding their emails. The employees believe that their emails will be protected from viewing because it is how they communicate with their coworkers and clients. Workers’ rights organizations believe that the practice of monitoring emails is “[dehumanizing], undermine trust and loyalty in the workplace, and [intimidates] workers. (Fredman, 2017).”
The company’s needs to keep themselves safe do not necessarily outweigh an employer’s need or desire for privacy. The courts have frequently sided with the employers in examining what goes on with their computer systems when it relates to their employees’ actions. While it is not necessary for employers to do so, most will write policies, and insist that the employee sign off on it in the handbook regarding how they will monitor the employee’s use of the computer systems. The policies outline, hopefully, in specific language how the company will be examining what an employee does with their email system. Employees have similar protections for themselves regarding their emails by putting a specifically worded confidentiality clause in their signature denoting that the email is for a specific party, and that a party receiving it in error is to disregard it. Best practices for an employee are to not transact personal business from a company email address.
I believe that both parties have their own strongly held opinions regarding the situation. Both concerns can be addressed easily without trampling on each other, necessarily. I believe that balance must be found. For instance, if, as a manager, I believed that one of my employees was leaking to the media about an internal problem that was being investigated, and these leaks resulted in a significant amount of consternation against the company. I would narrow down a list of employees who would have access to that information and using the written policy of the company, examine their work emails for any trace of evidence that the employees were going to the media. If that yields results, discipline can be taken, and the company is protected because of written policy. Just because I can look at an employee’s emails, does not mean I should do so on a regular basis. Most employees are likely to be following the rules. And it should be used as an investigative tool to root out wrong doing.
Abad-Santos, A. (2013, October 29). This Homophobic Bakery will Cater Dog Weddings but Not Gay Civil Unions. Retrieved October 1, 2019, from https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/colorado-bakery-civil-unions/314490/.
Cavaliere, V. (2012, October 3). Houston police sergeant faces dismissal over posting nude photos of herself online . Retrieved October 1, 2019, from https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/mom-faces-firing-online-nude-pix-article-1.1173604.
Fredman, Josh. (2019, October 1). Is It Ethical for Your Employer to Read Your Emails?. careertrend.com. Retrieved from https://careertrend.com/ethical-employer-read-emails-8336.html
Imani, F. (2016, November 9). Is it Unethical or Ethical for a Supervisor to Read an Employee’s Email? Retrieved October 1, 2019, from https://work.chron.com/unethical-ethical-supervisor-read-employees-email-13637.html.
Williams, E. (2017, November 21). Ethical Issues and Email Accounts in the Workplace. Retrieved October 1, 2019, from https://work.chron.com/ethical-issues-email-accounts-workplace-16688.html.
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