“Twethics” – A Blur Between Professional & Personal?

“Twethics” or ‘Twitter ethics’ is widely discussed and debated on the social networking platform in both professional and personal ways.


It is important to note that the ethics of many other online social networks in business should be considered for a well-rounded professional online profile – for more general reading on this topic, see this article from the Institute of Business Ethics).

In order to understand the significance of what I will be discussing in this blog post, here is an example of when it can all go wrong.

Before even being able to look into the topic in detail, just googling the hashtag #hasjustinelandedyet, resulted in many articles about the offensive tweet, and seeing the top result from the Independent newspaper proves its global spread.

Top Google search results for #hasjustinelandedyet
Top Google search results for #hasjustinelandedyet

Searching for the hashtag on Twitter also brought up many recent results so the impact of such a story cannot be restricted to the few weeks after it happens –  it must be taken seriously.

This is where the problem arises – Justine Sacco tweeted this statement from her personal Twitter account, so should her employer have taken any notice? Clearly they did, and I believe this was the right thing to do. Not only would it have reflected badly on her work, but also on the company (MacMillan, 2009).  Linking back to my discussion of ‘Multiple Online Identities’ in Topic 2, I wrote about the possibility of being “caught out” when using different sites for different purposes and this definitely applies in this situation.

The IT consulting giant IBM publish their own set of guidelines on appropriate uses of social media by its employees. After having recently attended a training event with them for the Student Consultancy program at the University, it interests me to know that they are one step ahead of potential problems.

The lines between public and private, personal and professional are blurred in online social networks. By virtue of identifying yourself as an IBMer within a social network, you are now connected to your colleagues, managers and even IBM’s clients. (IBM, 2014).

IBM is just one example of a company which guides employees to the benefits and risks of their online activity. Therefore, I think education is key in this sense. Had Justine Sacco known that her tweet was able to spread so rapidly, would she have posted it in the first place? Probably not.

To conclude this post I’d also like to mention and recommend some Twitter accounts which I have used frequently this week to aid with my research of this topic and finding further resources:

  1. @SocialBro
  2. @Hootsuite
  3. @commPRO_Social


IBM Social Computing Guidelines. (n.d). IBM.

Macmillan, D. (2009). A Twitter Code of Conduct. Bloomberg Business Week.

The Ethical Challenges of Social Media. (2011). Business Ethics Briefing, Institute of Business Ethics.

Withnall, A. (2013). PR executive Justine Sacco apologises after losing job over racist Aids ‘joke’ provoked #HasJustineLandedYet Twitter storm. The Independent.

Photo Credit: mkhmarketing via photopin

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *