Twitter Ethics in Business

Twitter is one of the most frequently used social media. It may be because it is so easy and fast to use. Maybe it’s because tweets are so brief. Knocking out a few tweets does not take much time or thought. Twitter has been used for a number of nefarious and malicious uses. Though most people who tweet do it responsibly, there are thousands of misleading, deceptive, criminal, or maligned tweets that go out daily. Though young people use social media more than anyone, Twitter has caught on in business too. Many business people, especially entertainment and sports personalities, use Twitter extensively. Regular business people and employees use Twitter also—often to promote a product or a cause their employer wants to rally support for. Public relations business people use Twitter often and they are business people who ought to subscribe to some form of ethical behavior. Angela Dwyer has suggested that there are at least four categories of tweeters and they all face ethical challenges. First, there are Paid Tweeters. Sometimes these are celebrities or sports stars that are paid by companies to tweet as a form of advertising. They typically do not disclose that they are being paid to tweet. The FTC has said that celebrities in this category should disclose their relationships with advertisers when making endorsements but it is hard to enforce. Second, there are Company Tweeters. These individuals write reviews or tweets about promotional offers for their own companies. Some company tweeters are enthusiastic about their own companies and products and want the world to know. Others are tweeting because their boss has asked them to do so or they want to be viewed favorably come raise and promotion time. Third, there are Out-of-Context Tweeters. Sometimes while attending events, these tweeters tweet hurried reactions or impressions that contain unverified or false information. Or, they do not present the context in which something was said or done. In other words, they do not provide the big picture. Tweets such as this have the potential to misinform or distort. To make matters worse, they are often retweeted before fuller or more accurate information is given. Fourth, there are Ghost-Tweeters. When someone is paid to write tweets on behalf of someone else, the ghostwriter, or Ghost-Tweeter may put out information without any confidence about whether the information is factual or accurate. Politicians, executives, sports stars, and other highly placed business people may use Ghost-Tweeters who are simply following a script without knowing for sure of the accuracy of its information.

In short, there are many opportunities and ways by which social media such as Twitter may be abused, misused, or be implicated in questionable practices by businesses and business people.

Are these forms of tweeting ethical? How do you draw the fine line between ethical and unethical in each of these categories of tweeting? Which category faces the most ethical challenges in business?

Are there other categories of tweeters you can think of? Do they face ethical challenges?

Some people may say “hey, don’t sweat it, it’s only a tweet! You need to be on guard yourself!” Is this a reasonable response to business use of Twitter or other social media? Who cares?!

  1. Are there other forms of social media that business uses that are more ethically challenging than Twitter? Describe them.
  2. Should companies that use Twitter have a code of conduct for guidance in what represents ethical tweets? What key ethical principles should guide the use of Twitter?