Playing Social Media Hide & Seek

We all like to think that our expression on personal social media sites are actually personal, but by posting our lives in a public domain you make it free for the world to see–including the law.

According to Government Information Security Articles, it is entirely possible that the new acquaintance you just added as a friend is really a fed pulling incriminating information about you off your facebook page. The article, Feds consider going undercover on social networks confirms this notion.

By friending people under false pretenses these law officials have access to possibly incriminating information about possible suspects. It allows the feds to catch tax evaders, criminals, and even those who are a part of fake “convenient marriages”.

With this kind of privacy violation, no piece of information is safe. Phil Elmore, of World Net Daily explains that even if you’re not a criminal, you very well could still be being watched. This new government technique relies on the idea that if you’ve done nothing wrong now, you very well may do something wrong in the future.

Due to the outrage of many, The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the Justice Department to change its policies under the Freedom of Information Act, which this kind of surveillance directly violates. Not to mention that this directly goes against some sites terms of service which require you to dutifully use your real name. For example, by creating a facebook page under a different name you are going against the conditions and rules of that very website.

This seems like a pretty clear invasion of privacy, right?

HOWEVER

Is this any different from internet stings to catch predators of children who watch and produce child pornography? Police experts lay waiting posing as underage kids in chatrooms everyday in order to catch those adults who solicit sex to minors. Is this kind of practice unethical or merely a means by which law enforcers do their jobs?

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Social Show and Tell

Have you ever wondered how much of your facebook information is really private?

Many college-aged students, such as myself, are on the social networking site facebook everyday. Some of us might even admit to being the site for hours a day; posting every thought, comment and picture that screams “look how much fun we’re having” for the whole world to see.

What many of us don’t realize is that we’re feeding advertisers consumer information that have been targeted for their product, and we have no say in the matter.

In 2007 Facebook added the Beacon feature to their private policy. This addition used a cookie on your computer that would follow and record your other online actions as well as purchases you made and would then post this information on your facebook. (Media Ethics, Chapter 5) This feature was quickly removed after an uproar from the public. However, this tactic is widely used and is known as behavioral advertising, and its goal is to match you to advertisements that correlate to your interests, and it’s considered the next big thing.

SFGate.com agrees that this practice might seem shocking but it certainly isn’t a new idea, and as long as facebook users are content with the site, the site will continue to see information about you without your consent.

Although Facebook has incorporated privacy settings, The Engineering Ethics blog explains how complicated it is to change your privacy settings due to numerous pages of hoops one has to jump through in order to be private.

And yet, many of us don’t think about the ramifications of our online actions, or what privacy it might be costing us.

Let’s look at an example. Say you’ve posted a picture of you as your main profile picture. You have a relatively private profile, so that people who are not in your social circle/acquaintances can only see your main picture.

HOWEVER

By positing this picture aren’t you making it public, knowing full well that anyone could take it?

Such is the case of Stephanie Booth, as posted on her blog Climb to the Stars. In one of her posts she addresses the case where a picture of her was screencapped and was published by IB COM without asking her permission.

What do you think? Are we living in a digital age where we have to give up some bit of privacy in return for connectedness and speed?

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A Guiding Hand or Plagiarism?

As noted on PR-Squared.com’s article Guess Who’s Talking: Social Media Ethical Dilemmas, it is common practice for PR companies to search blogs within their client’s industry. The agencies find blog posts that are pertinent to their clients and that are written by influential bloggers. The agencies send their clients example drafts of comments to leave on the blogs, and urge them to engage in the social media conversation. At a glance this seems like no big deal.

HOWEVER

Is this an ethical relationship-building strategy? Here’s the same situation put into everyday metaphorical terms:

Let’s say that you’re on an online dating website and you’ve developed a flirtatious relationship with a prospective significant other that you’ve become attracted to. Now let’s say you found out that their mother was the one who sought out your profile and drafted said prospect’s topics of conversation.

Not feeling too genuine, huh?

Well, many PR professionals would disagree. Shift Communications believes that blog monitoring is simply another piece of the public relations professional’s job.

Best Social Media Marketing Tips agrees with this mentality. Since the importance of social media is on the rise, monitoring influential bloggers who might say something about your client is imperative work.

But where do we draw the line? Why is it okay for PR professionals to be seeking relationships with bloggers but not for the mother in the example to attempt to get her son out of the house and meet a nice girl?  What about if a client cut and copied suggested comments, written by their PR agencies, right onto the influential blogger’s post?

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BOO! It’s Ghost Blogging

In my past post I touched briefly on the issue of Ghost Blogging, but I feel that it’s a larger issue that presents more ethical issues than previously stated.

Todd Defren on PR-Squared discusses the differences between Ghost Blogging in a personal blogs that are associated with a company as compared to corporate blogs which are more bureaucratic. It writes about the difficulties of maintaining a good, solid blog–the time-commitment.

It’s very easy to think that Ghost Blogging is wrong. Jason Falls for example, believes that ghost authoring of any kind is a dishonest profession for very obvious reasons. We preach about transparency in corporate communication and yet Ghost Blogging negates this principle completely. If you hide behind another person’s by-line, then you are hiding that fact from your audience. Also, it is unfair to the ghost authors of the piece who gets no credit or glory for their writing.

HOWEVER

PR-Squared illustrates the other side of this dilemma beautifully. They compare Ghost Blogging to any other type of company writing such as newsletters, explaining that such writings aren’t written by one person, but instead are a collaborative effort. A corporate blog is more a product from that company and needs to be maintained in order to be well received. It is also assumed that they would not put just anyone at the helm of a corporate blog, especially if under the name of the CEO or another important executive. The ghosting author would have to know the issues, as well as the inner workings of the company in order to accurately imitate someone high in the ranks. This means that the ghost author’s information isn’t incorrect, despite the in-authenticity of the name attached to the post.

Paul Roberts,(a fellow PR blogger) brings up the issue of content being greater than source, meaning that what is said is more important than who says it. He uses the example of Reagan’s speech on the Challenger tragedy. Roberts explains how moving the speech was, and that it wasn’t until later that he found out the speech was written by someone else. His point is that the words were still beautiful, and it didn’t change the meaning for him by knowing that the poetic phrases didn’t come from our President’s mind. As long as we have valuable content to consider, does it matter where it comes from?

Do we value authenticity over content? Is Ghost Blogging truly unethical (by definition) or merely insincere practice?

Remember to try to distinguish ethics from morals


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A Little Birdie Told Me…

Is it ethical or unethical to tweet under someone else’s name?

Todd Defren, on his blog PR-Squared.com, addresses a specific instance of tweeting under false pretenses.

In this particular case our tweeter is a corporate executive who is renowned in his field. He is twitter-literate and his pages houses a pretty hefty fan base. He tweets regularly about the happenings in the company and beyond.

HOWEVER

He is going to be an integral participant in a company trade-show. He will be very busy at the trade-show, but he still wants his twitter page to update his followers on what is happening at the conference.

Said corporate executive asks others to tweet under his name, as if they are him.

Is this ETHICAL or NOT?

This is a prime example of Ghost Blogging, which is when some one blogs (or tweets) under another person’s name. This can apply to anyone from government officials (like Hilary Clinton) to entertainers (like 50 cent). So what’s the big deal?

If you choose to participate in Ghost Blogging you risk losing your on-line credibility. When you write for followers you develop a type of relationship with them, and if you lose their trust then you lose their loyalty. Dave Fleet offers alternatives to this possibly ethical dilemma:

  • Have more than one author in the first place. That way, if a situation arises when you’re unable to blog, it grants responsibility to the other author(s)
  • Include a disclaimer! If you audience knows you’re not the one writing from the get-go, then there’s no room for a breach in trust

Barry Schwartz, a participant in Search Engine Roundtable thinks that sometimes Ghost Blogging is implied with certain people who tweet, such as President Obama himself. The difference to him though, is that it’s a common cynicism that we all have to know that it’s not really him tweeting or updating his status on Facebook.

Author of The Art of the Start, Guy Kawasaki, is an example of another professional who is guilty of using ghost-tweeters. Social Conversations addressed this issue in their article The Ghost Tweeting Debate & Measuring Social Media. They acknowledge that Guy Kawasaki is a very busy professional in his field, and that it should be common sense that he wouldn’t have the time to maintain and update his own Twitter on a daily basis. After all, it has to be difficult to be a famous author, managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, and columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine, and still have time to manage a well followed Twitter page.

The issue with this particular situation is that he, like so many others before him, did not make it publically known that he was not updating his Twitter page, and it wasn’t until Dave Fleet accused him of this until this information was known.

So what do you guys think? Is it ever okay to blog as someone else?

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Ethics≠Morals–And Other Definitions

Ethics–a rational process founded on certain agreed-on principles when deciding between two unappealing options. Commonly accepted behavior, for example.

This is not to be confused with morals:

Morals–fall into the realm of religion IE The Ten Commandments. Learning right from wrong, for example.

Clarification as according to the book, “Media Ethics”: Ethics happens when there are conflicting decisions within a system of morals.

For further clarification, please see Wise Geek’s explanation.

With social media at the forefront of new and exciting marketing tactics, it was only a matter of time before the matter of ethical decision making came into play. Just like every other business model, those in social media need to be aware of the ethical issues in their industry. Here are some basic ethical practices you should know as any contemporary professional:

When it comes to ethics there is no blatant right or wrong answer. The answer exists within yourself , but you wont come to any conclusions without internally grappling with the problem first.

Some believe that ethics cannot be taught, however learning to think about ethics can be learned by anyone.

There are many tools one can use to figure out if a situation is ethical or not, and in this blog we will be using those tools to analyze compromising situations in our field.

***The Radio Television Digital News Association has recently addressed the ethical dilemmas that occur within social media, and have begun to create a code of ethics that can be applied to websites like blogs and Twitter. Some of these guidelines may be found here.***

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