Now that using social media has hit the mainstream, everyone from teens to grandmas are finding themselves faced with ethical dilemmas.
Take, for example, an estranged family member who decides it’s time to reconnect via a Facebook friend request. Should you accept or decline? Or, an old colleague reconnects through LinkedIn but then persistently tries to sell you something? Should you disconnect?
How do you handle these situations? It’s not as if we have a Miss Manners guide to online interaction to consult.
The Rev. Robert Barron, who founded the Chicago-based Word on Fire Catholic Ministries Web site www.wordonfire.org, says people have long asked for advice in making ethical decisions. It’s now expanding to cyberspace dilemmas.
“It’s such a new phenomena that etiquette isn’t as developed,” he said. “These questions are just now coming into people’s minds.”
In general, most experts say learning to use privacy controls can help. Often, it’s leaving information wide open that creates the dilemmas.
But, what else can you do? In addition to Barron, suggestions came from other experts — Tamyra Pierce, an associate professor of mass communication and journalism at California State University, Fresno; Andrew Fiala, a Fresno State philosophy professor and director of the university’s Ethics Center; and Ray O’Canto, president of NTD Media in Fresno — for tips.
Don’t communicate with someone you don’t know
Pierce, who has done social networking research, says some users are cautious about who they link up with, but not everyone. Many young teens add “friends” they don’t know and treat social media as a popularity contests.
“That could put them at-risk because they don’t know who they are inviting in,” she said.
Some people are offended if you don’t add them as friends, Pierce says. But that’s OK, she says; be selective.
As to someone popping up from the past, Pierce advises asking yourself a couple questions: “Were we really friends 20 years ago? Do I really want to connect with them now?
Use caution for everyone.
Don’t mesh business with your personal life
O’Canto, who recently gave a talk, “Using Social Media to Build Relationships and Market Your Business,” at a Christian Business Men’s Connection event, says blending business and personal lives sometimes can’t be avoided, but people should do their best to separate them.
“You need to build separate pages for business — away from your personal stuff,” he said.
At stake, O’Canto says, is your credibility.
“The most important marketing tool is word of mouth — that’s credibility,” he said. “Unfortunately, word of mouth is limited. It has shifted from word of mouth to (virtual) world of mouth. So credibility, honesty and integrity are important.”