Thought of the Week – Integrity Matters Everywhere
In recent weeks several social media companies’ reputations have taken a hit and rightly so as irresponsible and maybe illegal practices have surfaced. Trust and integrity are bedrock foundations for all companies. The virtual world providers do not get a pass to violate any longer. In my humble opinion this is almost a decade too late and a sorely needed wake up call.
I’d like to begin by stating that this is not a hit piece on social media and that when used honestly social media has the potential to be a powerful force for good. With social media going mainstream we have seen individuals being empowered to make a positive difference. Companies and even countries have been able to get important messages out in real time. These are great examples of the power of social media. To connect people is ways that were not previously possible.
However, from my perspective, since inception, the social media era doing good has been the exception rather than the rule. It has more often resembled the Wild West where there is an anything and everything goes mentality. Pick up a smart phone and in seconds you can see vitriol being spewed on any issue. Was this the original vision for social media?
More often than not, social media is used to attack. Just this week Kelly Rippa was attacked because she wore a two piece bikini and apparently this is something that should not be done by someone her age. How ridiculous! Unfortunately, this is tragically not an isolated incident for we have also seen lynch mobs popping up by the minute with the sole purpose of going after any citizen or corporation they choose to at will. It has allowed open shaming just because you have a different perspective or viewpoint. If you don’t like a person or their political or social beliefs you now have the weapon to attack at will. What has happened to our society? When and where does individual responsibility kick in?
Shockingly, an internal 2016 memo from a Facebook VP, no less, argues that the purpose of Facebook is to connect people, and that even if that connection means people literally die as a result, the company will not slow down in its attempts at growth. Could you imagine any company getting away with that kind of twisted statement? We have turned a blind eye because we like being connected more than anything else.
The bigger question is how do we the people take back control and help shape behavior? If someone was attacking you daily by newspaper, print or radio would you continue to buy their product? At its most fundamental the social media platform providers are simply a vehicle to get your message out, not their own and they should not be in the business of shaping your opinions. In this sense they should be viewed no differently than FedEx or UPS who deliver your communications. We would not allow either courier to shape your communications or use your data for their personal gain. We must ask the same question of social media. If we want to effectuate positive change then first and foremost these providers should be hit in their pocket. Funding is derived through marketing revenues. We cut off funding and suddenly a new reality I believe would be ushered in. We have allowed social media platforms to have too much authority on our lives. We have allowed them to push their agenda along with their social and political thoughts on us and this must also be stopped. They provide a service and should focus on just that.
However, the very worst of social media is that we have also given away our privacy and allowed those companies to manipulate, steal our identity and hold all our communications for potential future ransom and sold to the highest research company. Just this week it is being alleged that Facebook actually offered up to the 2012 Obama campaign access to their database of customers, meaning “you”. Apparently this as done because leadership supported the views of the campaign. That may be acceptable to you if you support the party but how would you feel if they opened up “you” to a political party you vehemently opposed? I hope you would be outraged. Why are we allowing this type of behavior to exist? It should be viewed for what it is; reprehensible.
Now as business leaders and individuals we need to take back control from the corrupt, the haters, the trolls and the platform providers themselves. Here is the checklist that I am using to evaluate the value of utilizing social media moving forward:
1- Most importantly, for on going security we are reaching out to each platform provider to insure that all data is secure and not being recklessly, irresponsibly or illegally shared. Today there appears to be a Facebook issue but don’t assume that this is in isolated problem and that everything is okay with the other providers. Be a little paranoid. After all, its your security and personal information at risk here.
2- For internal policies I am making sure that the litmus test for circulating correspondence via social media is; would you run that social media message in a newspaper or circulate in memo form? If not, do not send.
3- Going a little deeper our practice is that no anonymous posting is responded to, liked, circulated or recognized in any way no matter how tempting. We need to starve the haters and trolls of oxygen and only allow only bonafide and identified parties in to our conversation.
4- Political views and social preferences are private to you and should not be shared within the organization or any vehicle that is identified or associated with the company. Again, would you send this via memo or place in a newspaper where all parties are recognized?
5- And finally while we are investigating the privacy and moral policies in place by the social media platform providers we are pausing on all marketing initiatives. We will not do business with any other entity that is using dishonest practices. Just because it is virtual does not mean they get a free pass.
The bottom line is that integrity counts no matter where and how it is delivered. All should be held accountable. Failure to do so should have the severest of consequences. It is time for leaders to step up and demand integrity from all things virtual. Just because you cannot see it does not mean it cannot inflict serious pain.
I hope you look at how you can help shape social media behavior within your organization. We don’t need to wait for congress to act. We can and should take our own action.