Twitter & Ethics

Ethics, the moral code we all abide by supposedly. Ultimately this isn’t always the case,  especially when you transfer into the online landscape. In my previous post I discussed the current privacy paradox; internet users growing acceptance of reduced privacy in return for a free and ‘full’ 2.0 experience. I argued that maybe we are sacrificing our privacy, in return for these service we have become so accustomed to, so adept at using.

Yet, what happens when you consider the brands position within the paradox? Placed within the digital communications landscape for a number of pro-brand & profit purposes, what moral & ethical considerations should they be taking that social network architects seem to have forgotten…

Bing’s recent twitter activity following the Japanese earthquake disaster was a text book example of how not to operate a brand’s social media account. Bing offered to donate one dollar to Japan for each re-tweet they receive but to little success. Accused of exploiting a current natural disaster to increase followers, hash tags and inevitably brand awareness twitter users began to critique the unethical stance. Although twitter users noted the instant $1 dollar donation to support a worthy cause or ‘consequential result’, an important component of ethical analysis, some would argue the emphasis in communication here was promotion of the Bing brand, not the charitable greater good. (Light and McGrath 2008)

This concept of the consequential result can be applied to the growing use of twitter as brand communication. Increasingly brands are utilizing the platforms, and the new paid features without considering the end implications. Twitter is a public forum, and by a brand positioning themselves within natural conversations, the end result can often be seen as rather artificial.

Promoted Tweets & PageSuggestions

Launched by Twitter in an effort to generate vital revenue promoted tweets and user suggestions position a selected sentence, or page at the top of the home page’s trending list. As a result brands have intercepted what was once an organic list of real time conversation. Paying for these positions raises the concern for meta-ethics, whether the paid right for essentially media space is morally acceptable when considering it’s proximity to natural conversation.

It’s not a case of whether users can different between right or wrong or in this case paid or unpaid, but a case of whether this position is abused. Admittedly brands have paid for these positions as clearly indicated by the yellow marking so arguably this isn’t a radical new ethical question, simply an extension of the aged morality concerns that have plagued the ad industry since the beginning. What is of importance with new technology opportunities is that brands consider the implications of ‘invading’ twitter users pages and the conversation brands desire to stimulate. As in the case of Bing, conversation was stimulated but for the wrong reasons demonstrating the essential importance of ethics within social platforms.

Tweet Influence

Perhaps more relevant is the consideration of recent talk of twitter regulated celebrity endorsement. A celebrity endorsement isn’t currently flagged as a paid tweet and therefore could be more effective in clouding the judgement of hundreds of followers influenced by the status of their idol, celebrity, role model etc. As a result brands should critically consider the use of celebrities as brand ambassadors for the same reasons.

Interestingly in Light and McGrath’s (2008) recent study the notion of morality was seen as a human concern and that the technology as an actor, such as twitter, is downplayed or ignored in comparison. When fusing Kapferer’s (2008) view that brands are capable of pseudo human like qualities, living systems in essence, management of branded pages is further validated.

Perhaps the most potent and iconic brands who have carefully orchestrated a brand of iconic status should now critically consider their own pages as a greater cause for concern just as a celebrities, co-branding, franchises and various other social channels should be.

Callum Raines

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