Topic 4: Ethical issues raised by educational and business uses of social media

Kietzmann (2011) describes social media as the use of mobile and web-based technologies to create highly interactive platforms via which individuals and communities share, create, discuss, and modify user-generated content.

Social Media is a relatively new medium; Facebook and Myspace being less than ten years old. Individuals and businesses have been quick to embrace all that Social Media has to offer but, in their haste, many have been slow to process the potential ethical issues that come with this new technology.

ethics in social media

Social media differs from traditional media, as the content is user generated. This content, when published, is instantly available to a global audience, which can be a blessing or a curse. Businesses & individuals can instantly reach a huge target audience, which is a marketers dream. However, social media is often interactive in a way that traditional media is not. Thus, users can comment on and edit published material, making it difficult, if not impossible, to control content. Over social media, it seems people can say anything about an individual or business with few repercussions.

According to a survey by the Institute of Ethics (2011), one of the main ethical challenges that companies highlighted, with regards to social media, was integrity risk. When business use social media, employees act on behalf of the company to publish content. Employees can then, through personal social media accounts, comment on this content. If any employees post irresponsible content it can undermine the company’s commitment to ethical practice and expose it to integrity risk, potentially damaging the companies reputation.  A great example of this was in 2010 when an employee managing Nestle Facebook page went on the offensive. See the link below:

Social media is an effective medium through which brands can market themselves and engage with customers directly. This poses new ethical challenges. It has become common practice for companies to create profiles on social networking sites to advertise their goods and services but it is here that they need to be careful not to mislead customers. Dave Kerpen (2011) recalls an incident where he received a message from a New York state senator. The senator struck up a conversation encouraging Dave to contribute to his campaign. Dave, a social media guru, somewhat suspiciously replied “Wow, it’s great you’re using social media for your own campaign. ” To which he received the reply, “Thanks allot. We have an event next week too. It would be great if you could support me.” As it turns out, after some probing, it was a volunteer impersonating the senator on his behalf.  This was misleading and potential damaging, coaxing people into giving money under false pretences. To avoid misleading consumers, employees and individuals should declare that they are being represented.

Reviews and comments on social media sites have come under question recently, with a number of companies being found to purposefully mislead customers. A review by Mashable discusses research by Gartner that suggests that by 2014, 10-15% of social media reviews will be falsified by the companies. Is this ethical? In my opinion no, but it doesn’t seem to be a crime. Personally, I would boycott a company if I became aware of such practices.

Another ethical issue raised by educational and business use of social media is the screening of applicants. Many feel this is too deep an invasion of privacy.  In a recent article from Scientific America, it is suggested that this practice could drive away-qualified applicants.

Social media raises a host of ethical issues. In order to fully address these issues, companies need to fully assess the risks and be aware of the challenges presented by social media before using it. Companies must be aware that any unethical practice that comes to light can be published instantly and globally, and the damage done could be irreparable.


Kietzmann, J. H., Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I. P., & Silvestre, B. S. (2011). Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media. Business Horizons, 54(3), 241–251. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2011.01.005

Institute for Ethics,  (2011). The Ethical Challenges of Social Media (pp. 22–25).

Kerpen, Dave (2011) Likeable Social Media. MeGraw Hill. Pg(107)

Jacobson, R. 2014. Facebook Snooping on Job Candidates May Backfire for Employers. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 23 Mar 2014].

Mashable. 2012. By 2014, 1 in 10 Social Media Reviews Will Be Fake [STUDY]. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 23 Mar 2014]. 2014. Nestle’s Facebook Page: How a Company Can Really Screw Up Social Media. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 23 Mar 2014]


6 thoughts on “Topic 4: Ethical issues raised by educational and business uses of social media

  1. Hi Jazz, I really enjoyed reading your blogpost. I especially liked the ethical you raised that business may mislead customers with customer reviews that may be made up by the companies itself. This Guardian article ( reported that ‘90% of consumers claim online reviews influence their buying decisions.’ This is an issue which cannot be ignored. Personally, when I use amazon or ebay to buy products I will always look at the customer reviews and the star ratings. If this is biased due to fake reviews or the companies themselves setting up fake accounts to write the reviews this will not be true, and will make me lose trust in the company or seller. I would also be inclined to like you to boycott these companies.

    On this blog ( ) there is an infographic which gives you tips on spotting fake reviews which would be beneficial to everyone who relies heavily on online reviews in their decision to purchase. Do you think that as companies pay for more fake online reviews in the future, that consumers will have to look for alternative ways to base their decision to purchase online, and if they do what do you think they would base their decision on?

    • Hey,

      Thanks for your comments. It is such a shame, marketing with shame statistics and highly edited visual content has already made it harder for consumers to make informed decisions. Reviews where a way to try and bypass this glossy exterior. According to a study by Nielsen online reviews were the second most trusted form of advertising after word-of-mouth. Although some fake reviews are easy to spot unfortunately due to the impact they have on purchasing decisions it will no doubt become harder to spot as more money is ploughed into this form of false marketing. Last year state legislators in New York made an attempt to crack down on fake online review by fining 19 companies £350,0000 who specialised in fake reviews. However with so much money to be made I don’t know how much of a disincentive this will be. At the moment anyone with a spare ten minuets can make an bogus email account and leave a review, this needs to be made more difficult. Perhaps in order to leave a review users should have to log in through verified social media accounts. In the future the only way forward I can see would be for a better more secure system of leaving reviews.

      I hope this answers your question,



  2. Hi jazz,

    Your references to other concise helpful articles are embedded really well into the flow of your blog.

    In the Nestle article the author writes that having a profile picture as an ‘altered company logo is a compliment (and a very common online practice), not intellectual-property theft’. I disagree with this assertion as their logo is copyrighted and I think they initially had good intent in banning people from doing this (stopping people impersonating the company/ misleading in replies), they just went about it in the wrong way -really bad customer service being so rude and antagonistic!

    Also, the idea that social media reviews are often be falsified by the companies I agree is unethical. The ‘world of mouth marketing association (WOMMA) promotes full disclosure in marketing campaigns in their ‘social media marketing disclosure guide’, stating it is marketers duty to ensure that false and misleading information is not given. Although they don’t specifically mention this type of misleading content I think the principle definitely still applies.
    However, the power social media provides to some may use this negatively, reviews may contain false information for that reason. This could be particularly detrimental to small businesses and there’s not really a way to police reviews on social media. Is it as wrong if a business does false reviews to rectify the damage of other false reviews?

    Lastly, I agree an initial risk assessment for social media within business seem a good idea to provide some basic principles to bear in mind in the fast paced social media environment.


    • Hey Sam,
      When you search for a product or service online, one of the first things you’ll come across are ratings and reviews. I frequently use this to determine what products or service to buy. For big companies this isn’t a huge problem as they can afford to win people back with expensive marketing campaigns and rebranding, however it can be the death of smaller companies.
      Trip adviser in particular can make or break small hotels and restaurants, but it takes more than one bad review. Having worked in the hotel and restaurant industry I think its fair to say that that if you have a good product theres nothing to worry about. Bad reviews are a good indication that your doing something wrong.
      I think the real issue is that big companies are falsely misleading customers and gaining wrongful advantage over smaller companies. In answer to your question, yes I think it is wrong for a business no matter how big or small to falsify reviews even if its to rectify damage. I think it should be up to the consumer to determine the quality of a product and what information they take on board in choosing it.



  3. Hey Jazz,
    I have found similar ethical issues to those mentioned in your blog. In the case of an individual posting something about a company from the business or their personal account, wouldn’t what they’ve posted be open to interpretation, one person may think it’s a perfectly reasonable post, and another may think it undermines the company, how do you think this would then be dealt with?
    I found some brief information on companies being misleading. I think this is more of a serious issue than integrity and think this most definitely needs to be looked into a lot more! I think it takes advantage of social media, hiding behind another identity for your own gain, how would you combat misleading companies and how easy is it to catch them out?
    Your blog really gave me further insight to the issues I briefly touched on! It was really interesting to read!

    • Hey Emma,
      Of course anything posted is open to interpretation. However, as many companies pride themselves on portraying a fluid brand image especially on social media, any small discrepancies become an issue. Companies are generally aware of their target demographic and as such, no what is appropriate. If you compared the content sent out by IBM and that of Starbucks, you would see they have a very different tone. Within organisations there is a company culture which employee are aware of and were probably hired as their personality matched this.
      Now, with regards to your question about combating misleading companies. Last year state legislators in New York made an attempt to crack down on fake online review by fining 19 companies £350,0000 who specialised in fake reviews. Fines could be one way to approach this issue but it is notoriously difficult to police the internet. Also as I mentioned in a previous comment, I don’t know how much of a disincentive this will be. At the moment anyone with a spare ten minuets can make an bogus email account and leave a review, this needs to be made more difficult. Perhaps in order to leave a review users should have to log in through verified social media accounts. In the future the only way forward I can see would be for a better more secure system of leaving reviews, and to make sure companies are named and shamed for this practice.

      I hope this helped,



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