Ethics for businesses using Social Media

Ethics in businesses’ use of Social Media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook is something which often gets overlooked. For instance, using myself as an example, I rarely consider the fact that whilst browsing websites, adverts for other sites I have visited (see below) will appear in the sidebar. However, this is of course a deliberate move by companies and advertisers, and the monitoring of online behavior and ‘behavioral targeting’ is in fact an invasion of privacy and therefore unethical.¬†

An example of a advertising in my siderbar

Here is an example of ‘Behavioral targeting’ OR advertising in my sidebar, on a completely unrelated website.

Another ethical issue we should be aware of is the fact that ‘temptations still exist for advertisers to fake their endorsements and literally purchase favorable commentary’ (Barry 2014). This has been the case on both¬†TripAdvisor and Amazon recently¬†where teams of writers were employed to boost products ratings and slate others.

A further issue is that of¬†unreported endorsements in companies use of social media and advertising, which also brings with it ethical implications. All compensations given to bloggers and tweeters, in order to promote a company and their products must be disclosed. An example of unethical endorsements happened in 2006, when Wal-Mart received¬†negative publicity when its PR agency…supported two bloggers road tripping across the U.S. writing positive stories about Wal-Mart’ (Vinjamuri,2011), whilst being funded indirectly by Wal-Mart, which is obviously¬†unfair and biased.

In order to counter this and to add transparency, Native Advertising is ‘perhaps the biggest trend in advertising’ (O’Brien,2014) right now, and involves companies sponsoring product write-ups / features, but with a clear indication that they have paid for the content, as demonstrated below:

ELLE native advertising example for Acme Apparel

ELLE native advertising example for Acme Apparel

A final ethical issue raised by companies use of social media in business, is the fact that businesses jump on the back of social media trends to promote¬†themselves. A fabulous example of this was¬†Coca-Cola joining the ALS ice bucket challenge trend. Whilst this seems very charitable and ethical of them, the video of their Senior Vice President taking part in the challenge is littered with company branding, which therefore makes it yet another publicity stunt for Coke, and sadly takes away from the worthy cause that is ALS.’Companies that join [the trend now]¬†risk the appearance of using the attention built by thousands of participants for profit’ (Abbruze, 2014) and this is in my mind how this advert appears, whilst it undeniably still¬†raises money for a great cause.

To summarize, the main ethical issues raised by companies using social media are:

  1. Invasion of Privacy
  2. Unreported endorsements
  3. Use of Social Media for self-promotion


Abbruzzese, J. Coke Jumps on the ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge,(2014) Mashable. Available at: Accessed: 23/11/14

Barry,J. 7 Ethical Dilemmas Faced in Social Media Marketing (2014) Available at: Accessed: 23/11/14

O’Brien,J.¬†4 Native Ads and the Media’s talking about,¬†(2014)¬†Mashable. Available at:¬† Accessed: 23/11/14

Vinjamuri,D. Ethics and the Five Deadly Sins of Social Media, (2011) Forbes. Available at: Accessed: 23/11/14

Video from:

Coca-Cola,¬†Coca-Cola’s Wendy Clark accepts the ALS #IceBucketChallenge.¬†Available at:¬† Accessed:23/11/14

Images from:

Moses, L. Hearst is the latest publisher to jump on native ads trend. Adweek. Available at: Accessed: 23/11/14

Screenshot of my own translation search from Accessed: 23/11/14

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