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


10 thoughts on “Ethics for businesses using Social Media

  1. Hi Lucy

    I notice we both hold the same view towards Dr Barry’s blog post on social media dilemmas. I have one issue with endorsements and people who promote products. Do you think product reviewers (majority of which I have encountered are on youtube) who give positive reviews towards a product, who then later receive more products from the same company for further reviewing, are being unethical? I would think this is a big grey area within the youtube community as these people are often called ‘sell-outs’ especially so if the positive reviews they give may not be truthful.


    • Hi Din,

      The point you raise about Youtube and bloggers on Youtube is a really good one. In answer to you question, I personally do feel that anyone giving a falsely positive review is being unethical as they are deliberately misrepresenting a product, usually in order to receive freebies. However, as you say, this is a grey area and it might often be hard to distinguish whether positive reviews are truthful representations of the product – it would definitely make me mroe sceptical anyway!


  2. You raised some interesting ethical points. Playing the devil’s advocate for a moment prompted a few questions. I feel your misrepresentation of advertisement and fake endorsement is a very valid point, and serves no purpose than to further the brand under the guise of something else. However for points 1 and 2, is it totally unacceptable? For example, the invasion of privacy, whilst an undesirable idea, is it not something that we as users give up to use the service, and if it so happens a brand is using this for profiling then is it somewhat acceptable or not at all? Is there an argument, for example, that Coca Cola taking part in the ice bucket challenge is and attempt to connect with a certain audience, show that the company is up to speed or even to fuel the novelty of something going viral?


  3. Hi Charlie,

    Thanks for your comment on this weeks post. On reflection you raise a really good point about the fact that we are usually complicit in sharing our information with sites – and in fact most websites now ask us if we accept their policy on cookies tracing our activity which is completely legal. The fact that it is such an open procedure makes it seem much more ethical.So in that respect, I completely agree with your point. The idea you raise about Coca-Cola is an interesting one – whilst I agree that Coca-Cola joining in with trends on scosil media sows the they are a very current, future-proof brand, I still am slightly cynical about their motives simply owing to how much merchandise and branding is displayed during the clip.


  4. Hi Lucy,

    I really liked how you dealt with a number of issues regarding ethics for businesses on social media this week. I know what you mean about the adverts popping up based on what you’ve been looking at on the internet, but do you ever think there is a time when these are actually quite useful? Personally I know I’ve looked at a dress on ASOS before and then seen it pop up on the sidebar when I was on Facebook a few hours later and then decided to buy it, so from a business perspective it worked! I like the idea of having advertising targeted to things I would actually use, so I would be interested to know what you think about whether this new form of advertising is better than in the past when everyone would be shown the same banner for an online game or a completely irrelevant website that you would never click on!



  5. Hi Lucy,
    I like the points you have raised about ethical issues. As ethics can be thought of differently by each individual, my view towards the first point and the last point is a bit different. I can see how you may think its invading our privacy because they are using our information but those advertisements will only be see by our in our computer, laptop etc. They are just algorithms using our web experience to show us things we might like. Lucy, if you looked at some ticket prices and after a week you see an advertisement with discount and you purchase it, would you still be angry??
    About the last point, my view is similar to my first point, I think they are just clever marketing. Companies are using trends to launch a product or service so they can supply to our demand.
    I have talked about one issue which is “integrity” in my blog and how its raised in eduaction and business. Please check it out if you fancy!
    Overall, I liked your blog as it widened my perspective of the issues raised and I do agree with your points to an extent!!


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