Ethical issues of social media use in the working environment

Abstract

Working in a multicultural environment could become challenging. Different backgrounds, various working cultures, language barriers, age differences, ambition, and self-centered ways of working could aggravate the daily effort to communicate with other colleagues. On top of the above typical obstacles for communication, nowadays, the use of social media can make things more complicated.

The current study is an endeavor to investigating practices of ethical communication with the use of social network applications in the working environment.

Introduction

Research Objectives

The objective of this paper is to establish ten golden rules for the ethical use of the social network in the working environment.

Research Methods

Literature review and case studies will be analyzed in this research.

Problem Statement

In several organizations, the use of WhatsApp has been adopted to enhance daily communication in a more productive, timely, and efficient manner. However, its misuse could lead to miscommunication, leaving people with frustration, stress, and even loss of sleep. In such a case, the content of the messages could be hectic, cynical, using strong language, and spreading untruthful facts against colleagues. Besides, the messages might be sent during non-working hours, violating not only the private life but even the crew rest period, when the people affected are aviators.

Case Study

In September 2019, an instructor pilot in an aviation training academy faced this kind of behavior. He ended up losing his sleep, feeling stressed, and even being distracted from his primary task of flying safely. Trying to solve all these office politics made him become aggressive with his colleagues and lose his mindfulness. He did not want to raise the issue to his supervisors, as this could be a reason to lose his job or jeopardize Mr. XYZ’s contract.

After a thorough discussion with his wife and a good friend of his, he decided that he had enough. As this individual has powerful debating skills, while he had a selfish personality, the instructor pilot felt that he could not discuss with him face to face, as he might only receive negativity and stubbornness. Therefore, he decided to speak directly to his supervisor and ask him to relieve him from his position; this individual managed to make the instructor pilot feel that he was incapable and that he lacked on his leadership skills. The advice that he received was to speak directly to his Boss and explain what has happened.

The next day he had a private discussion with his Boss explaining the situation; when the Boss asked him to show the messages, he denied as he felt that this was unethical and was violating the privacy of myself and Mr. XYZ’s.

Thankfully, the Boss was already aware of what was happening, and he supported him and warned Mr. XYZ to behave appropriately when communicating with other colleagues.

Lastly, the instructor pilot, who was leading the Standards Section of the Academy, was asked to prepare an Internal Communication Policy, restricting communication only during working hours and in a face to face session.

Since then, things have improved, and the unethical communication on Social Media has vanished.

Literature review

The Social Media Landscape

General

Social media can be defined as sites or applications on the internet whose objective is to put users in contact with each other. They allow people to get in touch with the community and to expand their network over time.

Besides, to be a tool for building relationships, social networks facilitate communication between its members. They can exchange publicly or private conversations in writing, audio, or video through the messaging mechanism. With a smartphone or a computer, anyone can create an account on social networks; it just requires having access to the internet.

The first social networks were born in the United States in the 1990s. Since 2003, several social networks have been born with various functionalities. They have become essential in the daily life of more than three billion people.

There are mainly two categories of social networks: general and professional; WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Telegram, and LinkedIn are the most known. The first six can be classified in the general category, while the last fall in the professional category.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is an instant messaging application for smartphones that requires having a person’s telephone contact before interacting with them. It synchronizes with one’s directory and identifies their contacts having the app. However, WhatsApp can also be used on the computer through the “WhatsApp Web” option. The WhatsApp application was created in 2009 by Jan Koum and Brian Acton, two former employees at Yahoo, then bought by Facebook in 2014 (WhatsApp, 2020).

The application offers SMS, voice message, classic call, and video call services. It also allows information to be disseminated through three mechanisms. The first mechanism is of publishing content visible to all your contacts. The second is that of mailing lists that are created from your contact list. And the third concerns discussion groups that bring together several people around a common interest.

Intrinsic Risks from Social Network Usage

A company may face numerous risks from social network usage by its employees– whether for their personal or business purposes. First of all, accessing social media for personal use, such as Instagram, when at work, could lead to a misapplication of available work time. Employees risk the quality of their work with being distracted by posting messages or watching media at social networking applications.

Also, using the company’s internet connection to access social media, has the risk of excessive bandwidth use and the potential slowdown of the connection; additionally, there’s an inherent risk of introducing malicious software that could harm the company’s network.

Moreover, the disclosure of a company’s sensitive or classified information without authorization could occur via social media applications. In most of the apps, the encryption of messages and calls is not ensured, meaning that third parties could read or listen to them. In case of such an inadvertent disclosure of confidential information could become a high risk for the company.

Additionally, there’s a risk of shaking the employee’s relationships, when posting or sharing inappropriate information for a colleague’s personal life or his or her frustration about work. Even, poorly worded or lengthy comments could lead to misunderstandings amongst colleagues.

The worst-case could be when people are compiling and then displaying an audio stream or video – intended to be humorous – but that makes fun of the employee’s working skills. Such postings could lead to claims of harassment and even to psychological disorders of the ones who are exposed. Their reputation could be harmed irreversibly, and could also affect their business reputation; this kind of information could mislead the public opinion, believing that the individual is acting unprofessionally or even inappropriately.

Lastly, postings could violate the personal privacy of an individual, when disseminating another employee’s postings without that employee’s permission. All of the above risks could affect the fragile relationships in an organization significantly. Employees should keep the use of social networking at a professional level and respect each other’s privacy and reputation.

Ethical Communication in the Workplace

According to the Cambridge Dictionary (Cambridge Dictionary, 2020), communication is “the different ways of sending information between people and places, such as post, phones, computers, and radio.” Communication can take place either orally or in writing. Ethical communication adds to the aspect of ethics or an understanding of what is right and wrong. So, ethical communication is exchanging information between people in a manner that is truthful and accurate.

Limitations of Social Media

Vocal expression plays an important role as well as facial expression in social communication. Previous studies have shown that the perceptions of facial and vocal effective expressions are interactive (Sachiko Takagi, 2016). However, this direct interaction is missing in modern communication with social media, leading at times to miscommunication.

Findings

The current paper will analyze ten case studies related to fields of the aerospace, medical and sustainability industries. Communication skills even though universal rules govern human interaction, yet several factors might differentiate the way that people collaborate in their working environment. One of the aspects that we will try to investigate is the use of technology in the communication process among colleagues. The following case studies will also enlighten our perspective to the level that technology can ease or complicate our communication.

Medicines and Environment

According to Anthropocentrism, humans are an end and the means to an end (Kantian expression). In an analogy, users of social media might think that they are the end of the message and not the means to the message. Instead, when communicating, either electronically or physically, a utilitarian approach should be adopted by all parties; especially in a working environment, one should communicate while keeping in mind to maximize happiness and minimizing any kind of suffering to all message receivers.

Maintenance and Whistleblowing

Whistleblowing remains a hot topic in aviation. Numerous examples of whistle-blowers have played a pivotal role to “rock the boat” in an organization. However, statistics show that whistle-blowers usually they either lose their jobs or homes, they get retaliated, or even getting defamed. Therefore, an employee could seek the advice of competent legal counsel before acting on the whistleblowing option.

Yet, if one knows they’re doing the right thing, they shouldn’t care for the consequences on them; at the end of the day, it’s all about one’s integrity and to able to sleep well in the night.

Considering the utilitarian principle that: “One should choose the course of action that produces the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people,” if an employee has an excuse to refuse to be a whistle-blower, then many people may get hurt when no individual is willing to take a stand.

Besides, one of the essential principles of Democracy is the freedom of speech and the right to express freely, while respecting each other. Therefore, as a citizen of a democratic society, one has the responsibility to protect the common welfare and inform the public of any misconduct that might harm the people.

Regulatory Capture

The problem of capture (being on the same side, as a regulator and the one who’s oversight) appears as inevitable and unavoidable, mainly because of human nature, when one interacts with people for an extended period can become more relaxed in assessing their performance. Thus, one should maintain their integrity (professionalism) and remain accountable, when regulating the ones, they’re supposed to. To avoid such concerns, any organization must incorporate the Kantian deontology, which concerns moral obligations that cannot be overridden, no matter the consequences.

The PATCO Strike

During the PATCO strike in 1981, more than 12,000 air traffic controllers were fired from the Reagan administration due to an illegal strike. Their work stoppage held the nation hostage, while it lacked a base of utilitarian balance; such an action didn’t follow the golden rule of ethics, while it was perceived as an egotistical and selfish approach to solving a dispute with the Government. Neither the Reagan administration’s decision to fire all of the controllers and instate a ban of the re-employment was ethically justified.

What was missing in this conflict was a constructive communication between the two parties. The controllers and the Reagan administration should have adopted a win-win solution. Instead of ceasing the aviation industry with a significant to the Nation’s economy, the controllers could have negotiated with the Government their demands and accept a solution that would benefit all stakeholders. Hence, direct confrontation in any aspect of communication is the ultimate tool that should be used only in case of “self-defense”; in all other cases, a coolheaded communication to negotiate better working conditions could benefit all groups.

Medical Ethics

Medical ethics is a system of moral principles that apply values to the practice of clinical medicine and scientific research. Medical ethics is based on a set of values that professionals can refer to in the case of any confusion or conflict. The Hippocratic Oath reflects the above values for those involved in medical. However, a similar set of unwritten values currently doesn’t exist in the aviation industry; a code of conduct or a set of core values in an organization could be useful for expanding the culture and the business strategies of an organization.

However, the most prominent lesson learned from the medical practices is that most of the ethical issues need to be resolved using a high degree of sensitivity and excellent communication by any team to address these problems adequately. It is unimaginable having a heart surgery with the doctors to communicate amongst each other with the use of text message; therefore, the use of clear, concise, and direct communication in critical situations that need immediate solutions, appears to be of vital importance.

COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID19 pandemic introduced to our lives the concept of social distancing, to physically maintain distance from other people either at work or in everyday activities. The use of social media has been a valuable tool to keep our societies connected and our educational institutions alive effectively; new applications, such as ZOOM and Microsoft TEAMS, have found a significant level of acceptance, however with some issues such as limited security protection of information shared. Also, fake news was significantly increased, and one should be aware of the validity of information shared.

Moreover, when analyzing the effect of the COVID19 pandemic to our societies, it was highlighted the importance for health care employees that they must make decisions under the principles of medical ethics and with the primary goal of saving as many lives as possible.

However, what will stay in our minds after this pandemic is over is the need for veracity. Countries should be communicating the truth and the known facts with the International Organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations, to help in swift and effective decision making.

Climate Change

Hans Rosling in his book Factfulness (Rosling, Rosling, & Rosling Rönnlund, 2018), identified climate change is one of the main five threats to humanity. Several ethical concerns are associated with the issue; one of the most important is the moral responsibility of developed countries to catastrophes that occur in developing countries.

From an international perspective, climate change is, in large part, an issue of sustainable development. The poor have a need and right to develop to overcome poverty and live in dignity. More affluent nations have a responsibility to encourage and help in this development. This priority for the poor in climate policy cannot be a marginal concern, but rather must be a central measure of future choices. According to Hoppe (Hoppe, 2019) if we do not address climate change and global poverty together, we will fail both morally and practically.

Several methods of communicating the problem with our societies have been used; however, the level of urgency is not yet delivered always with facts. Some countries, as well as organizations, share false data regarding their carbon dioxide emissions, to mislead public opinion and to appear that they adhere to international regulations related to the environment. Social media could play an essential role in communicating such fake news and propaganda; it seems that people could be easily convinced with what they read on their mobiles or laptops.

Airports

A properly operating aviation system is of considerable significance to the community. Yet, legal issues have arisen several times between landowners in the vicinity of airports and airport companies. One of the main concerns of private property owners is the level of noise that is produced by aircrafts’ engines, that overfly their land. As a result, it has been proven that people lost their sleep, became stressed and their overall quality of life was disturbed. One of the measures to control these adverse effects to the communities in the vicinity of an airport, specific rules have been established to limit the airport’s operating hours; also, noise abatement procedures are developed to minimize the negative effect of aircraft noise.

In an analogy, the “noise” created by messages received by social networking applications could disturb people. Nowadays, there is no clear rule to the timings that one is allowed to send a message on WhatsApp or Instagram. Consequently, people’s privacy could be disrupted when messages are received late in the night, at weekends, or during lunch and dinner time. Ethical use of social media for work purposes means that organizations should develop a clear code of conduct that includes restrictions on timings for communication; an appropriate use of professional communication via social networking should be limited only in the working hours.

STS Columbia Disaster

The two Space Shuttle tragedies, Challenger and Columbia, provide insight into engineering ethics. The STS Columbia disaster revealed that one of the pillars of an effective organization is honest communication amongst all stakeholders. An open office culture by the management could have contributed to a better resolution of all existing problems.

Additionally, at the time of the Columbia mission, NASA was under intense pressure, mostly self-imposed, to complete the construction of the International Space Station (ISS). This kind of self-imposed pressure is obvious to several organizations or even individuals and can lead to poor decision making as well as low quality work.

An interesting issue related to our study is that the previous night before the launch of Challenger, engineers and other stakeholders had a teleconference to decide if they should postpone the mission again or not. In hindsight, we can see that the decision leads to the catastrophe of the Space Shuttle; but what is interesting to highlight here is the limitations of a teleconference against an actual face-to-face meeting. As human beings, the remote interaction with other humans might conceal the real feelings; the eye-contact is missing, which could end up in poor decision making. This was not the first time that NASA’s employees used such a method to communicate; however, it is essential to understand that in critical decisions, direct interaction is necessary.

Diversity and Ageism

Management of diversity in the aviation industry is a skill that needs to be instilled. Nowadays, the aviation industry is a multicultural environment, and people need to adapt and respect their colleague’s beliefs, color, religion and gender. Organizations need to provide mentorship and to educate their people by promoting respect, tolerance and professionalism. In that sense, colleagues would use a culturally sensitive and politically neutral communication that will not embarrass anyone.

Another issue that could impact an effective interaction amongst colleagues is the age difference. Older people might try to impose their opinion in younger in age colleagues; also, the perspective, as well as the skills on using social network applications, might differ depending on the age of the user. Also, sometimes even the sense of humor might vary amongst people of different ages; something that might be a right message for a 60-year old male Captain might be a hate message for a 25-year old female First Officer. Therefore, once again, a clear code of conduct that sets the rules-of-engagement for the use of social media at the workplace is essential.

ATC and UAS

What the privatization of the Air Traffic Service can teach us, is that any potential ethical conflicts between safety and finance should be avoided. Safety on the ground and inflight should always be paramount and take priority before economic benefits.

Moreover, an interesting case study that was related with the Air Traffic Control (ATC) operations is the Ueberlingen accident. The tragic end of this air disaster was concluded when Vitaly Kaloyev, who lost his wife and children in the accident, murdered Peter Nielsen, the air traffic controller who was in charge that horrid night. He was sentenced to prison for murder and released in 2007; in his Country he was accepted as a hero and later on was appointed the position of the Deputy Construction Minister. Moreover, in 2016 he was even awarded the highest state medal by the Russian Government for keeping law and order. This controversial approach from these two juridical systems, raises the question if common ethical values could be accepted and followed universally. Back in the current paper’s topic, it appears than common values across cultures, such as fairness, loyalty, respect for authority, and spiritual purity, could be pursued to promote tolerance and improved communication.

Regarding the use of Unmanned Air Systems in our daily life or even at war acts, a huge potential for misuse exists. Firstly, in everyday life use drones could be considered as a threat to one’s privacy; a set of rules and safety tips shall be followed to help UAS fly safely in the national airspace. FAA (FAA, 2020) has published strict guidelines to ensure protecting the public from unsafe and unauthorized drone operations.

Moreover, since 2001 drones are utilized in real war operations, while in 2011 cultural resistance made the development of fully automatic drones a somewhat cynical topic. The main moral issue with the use of drones in combat is that these systems are increasing the physical and temporal distance of killing.

An analogy to the above, could be human behavior during the immoral communication in social media at the working environment, as the face to face interaction is missing (Sachiko Takagi, 2016). People could be more susceptible in insulting others, along with sending hate messages due to the physical distance that social media offer.

Racism and Gender Discrimination

“The Scout mindset” is a winning mentality for ethical behavior and communication in the workplace. When one faces a personal conflict at work, by using the above mindset will assist him or her to understand better the reality, as well as the office’s power dynamics. All in all, aggressive reactions in office politics are not helpful and should be avoided, as it might lead to losing the conflict.

At an organizational level, a clear code of ethics (Deontological Ethics) should ensure that all employees are equally treated, regardless of gender or race.

Automation in the Flight Deck

Automation could be a double-edged sword for pilots. It could assist them in navigating from A to B, but could also increase the workload during the preparation of the flight as well as during critical inflight tasks, leading to stress or fatigue. In case someone faces this type of health issue he or she should address it immediately to receive appropriate support. At a minimum, airline management can be more mindful of all of its employees by providing improved safety features and better communication.

Moreover, technology and automation could move out of the cockpit to the daily communication of an organization; it seems that social media, virtual meetings, and emails have replaced the regular face to face interaction amongst colleagues. An organization nowadays can enhance its performance with the use of the above technologies; however, it should always be remembered that part of human nature is the physical interaction with each other.

Recommendations

The purpose of the following guidelines is to provide a framework for the responsible and ethical use of social media by members of an organization. They set out guiding principles and best practices for social media in a working environment. More specifically, these guidelines aim to promote the ethical and responsible use of social media at work, raising awareness among users about the issues associated with the use of social media and to ensure that certain information is kept confidential and private.

10 Golden Rules for ethical usage of social media at the working environment

Rule 1: Do not Post Unto Others, What You Do Not Want Others to Post Unto You

This cliched saying may sound cheesy and overrated, but it is highly applicable in the use of social media in the workplace. If you want respect from others, you have to be respectful to yourself. Doing something that harms someone, even only through words on social media, means that you are opening yourself to the possibility of retaliation that could be worse than what you committed.

It is one thing being competitive and another being unreasonably rude. Avoid attacking colleagues on social media, mainly if the attacks are based on intrigues, false accusations, and lies. Doing this is counterproductive and can backfire terribly.

I believe that we should never post anything on the Web that we wouldn’t want to see on the front page of a major newspaper or a large magazine. So that’s what I call the Golden Rule of social media. Whether it is something private or professional, one should think about the impact it could have if it were spread across the Country.

Rule 2: THINK Before you Post

In the aviation world, acronyms and Rule Of Thumbs (ROT) are widely used to assist pilots in memorizing procedures; therefore, a useful Rule Of Thumb to consider before one posts online is the THINK acronym:

T – Is it True?
H – Is it Helpful?
I – Is it Inspiring?
N – Is it Necessary?
K – Is it Kind?

Rule 3: Considering the Consequences

Everyone working in a company should realize that everything they do on social media can have implications for their respective companies. Their good deeds can have positive effects on their company to some extent. Conversely, their embarrassing actions or misdemeanors can damage the reputation of the organization they are working in.

Rule 4: There is a Need for Policies

Proper use of WhatsApp, Instagram, and other similar applications is not limited to avoiding common social media mistakes. While the ethics of social media use is mostly about not doing certain things, it is not just about passive acts. There are things the management and employees have to do proactively. Policies are necessary to ensure order and avoid problems.

It only makes sense for the management to impose policies before anything inappropriate happens. Businesses need to see the relevance and influence of social media at present. It is imprudent to fail to take social media into account when making company policies, as the risks are significant, and the consequences are often difficult to remedy. At the same time, employees have to faithfully follow the social media policies laid out by their employers. Workplace social media ethics calls for the involvement of both management and workers in maintaining proper social media use through the establishment of policies and abiding by them.

Rule 5: Be Truthful and Ignore the Falsehoods

In the age of fake news and aggressive propaganda online, it’s essential to be committed to the truth. It should be a policy for everyone to respect the facts by refraining from distorting them or manipulating them as desired. All social media users should make sure that what they post online is correct and accurate by citing the sources.

Rule 6: Respect Confidentiality and Privacy

Social media is by no means a safe way to transmit and discuss sensitive details about an organization or an individual. It is said that everything that happens in the office stays in the office. Companies appreciate the ability of their employees to keep information confidential and to respect the privacy of its employees.

Rule 7: Be Cautious in Posting Outbursts

Exposing complaints against something involving a company on social media is unacceptable unless you are doing it to address wrongdoing that can no longer be resolved by internal mechanisms. If there are problems, the first step should always be to settle the matter with the management.

Rule 8: Say No to Negative or Hate Messages

This reminder is something the management and employees should take into account. No desirable results are achieved in embarrassing employees online because of their performance, let alone because of their actions.

When publishing information, the internet user must ensure that they do not humiliate the image or do not harm the physical or moral integrity, dignity, or honor of a person.

So, before one posts a hateful message to a colleague, he or she should ask themself if they would have been comfortable saying that in a meeting, or directly in front of the person. If the answer is no, they should take a deep breath and move on.

Rule 9: Be Culturally Sensitive and Politically Neutral

Internally, it is necessary for everyone in the workplace to be mindful of the cultural and political implications of social media posts.

Rule 10: Back to Basics

While the content of the communication is essential, sometimes the form of delivery can be even more critical. Emails are great and WhatsApp is even greater. They do not require the recipient to be available. There is no need to respond right away and they can be sent anytime. However, when the situation is sensitive, a phone call or a face-to-face is needed. It allows someone to pick up on the physical cues, observing the eye contact and expressions. Face-to-face meetings can be inconvenient, time-consuming, and uncomfortable, but they are more effective in steering an unstable situation to one’s favor than an email, WhatsApp message, or a phone call.

Conclusion

The epitome to ethical communication with the use of social network applications in the working environment, could be to adopt a culture of openness, tolerance and respect. Organizations’ leaders should use a synthesis of ethos, pathos and logos to acclimate in current methods of communication.

Keeping in mind that eudaemonia is central in one’s life, the 10 Golden Rules proposed in the current analysis is not a panacea, but it could be an idea for organizations to modernize their code of ethics, while synchronizing them with the current ways of their employees’ communication.

References