Those who work in social media (Uh, oh. That includes me.) are not as ethical as those who work in other areas, according to a recent survey by the Ethics Resource Center.
The 2011 National Business Ethics Survey, a biannual study done since 1994, analyzed responses from 4,800 workers currently employed at least 20 hours per week by their primary employer. The Center found: “A surprising and worrisome divide exists within the workplace between employees who spend substantial time on social networks and those who do not. Active social networkers [workers who spent more than 30 percent of the workday on social media tasks] report far more negative experiences in their workplaces. As a group, they are much more likely to experience pressure to compromise ethics standards and to experience retaliation for reporting misconduct than co-workers who are less involved with social networking.”
The report noted that by 32 percentage points, active social networkers are much more likely to feel pressure [to act unethically] than less active networkers and non-networkers. They also report that 56 percent of active networkers who reported misconduct say they experienced retaliation as a result compared to 18 percent of less active social networkers and non-networkers.
Even more disturbing is this: “Active social networkers show a higher tolerance for certain activities that could be considered questionable. For example, among active social networkers, half feel it is acceptable to keep copies of confidential work documents in case they need them in their next job, compared to only 15 percent of their colleagues.”
So what’s the deal with social networkers? Why do they act less reputably than others?
The report doesn’t say why, but I know the reasons.
First, the pressure to produce material for the content abyss which is the internet is never ending. Producing quality content takes time and most social networkers are not given that time. It is similar to some traditional journalists who have begun cutting corners on professional standards to feed the insatiable 24-hour news cycle. Sadly, their employers would much rather have copy in on time than copy that is high quality and ethical.
Second, the world of social media is replete with what I call “personal nonsense media.” Case in point: Facebook. It’s overloaded with photos of people’s meals, their review of walking a block-and-a-half and ‘humble bragging.’ In other words, the universe of social media has become banal with very few standouts worth my time and yours. Amid this morass, the content standard bar drops lower and many social media reflects that level. Content writers don’t feel the necessity to offer well-done content in a media that tends to equally value useless material.
Third, when social media workers do call attention to ethical lapses their employers retaliate against them which sends the tacit message: “You’re taking this too seriously. Forget it and move on.” Worker internalize this as: “If you don’t take my material seriously, boss, than why should I? It doesn’t really matter what I produce.”
I don’t see this changing any time soon. Instead of becoming more discerning we are changing our business and personal lives to accommodate more media including that which offers little intellectual nourishment. And, content provider companies are feeling more pressure to churn out internet fodder even if it’s of lower quality. This belief filters down to workers and around it goes.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
I fear that we’re seeing Gresham’s Law applied to social media. Economist Sir Thomas Gresham – although he may not have been the first person to do so – postulated: “When a government compulsorily overvalues one type of money and undervalues another, the undervalued money will leave the country or disappear from circulation into hoards, while the overvalued money will flood into circulation.” It’s commonly put as: “bad money drives out good,” and it appears that bad social media is driving out good social media as long as we continue to value the poor quality.
Guest Author: Larry Kahaner, Blogger at The William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, provides grants in three program areas including Health care and Medical Research; Education, and Community Programs for Those Most Vulnerable.