Kathy Sierra, author of the popular blog Creating Passionate Users returned to her blog on April 6 after taking a self-imposed hiatus because threats of violence were made against her over her blog. Although she is back, she says it will never be the same. I hope she changes her mind because I would hate to think that one bad incident, even as bad as that, would continue to have power over her.
However, that is not what this post is about. This post is about the new call for a code of ethics in social media that seems to have gained some traction out of this incident. Several bloggers have written, published, and posted about a new code of ethics for social media. While there is nothing wrong with this, I'm not convinced it is needed. (Make no mistake: death threats go well beyond moral decency and good taste and are NOT protected under the auspices of free speech.)
Yet, I'm still not convinced a new code is needed because several codes already exist within the fields of public relations and communication. If bloggers take the time to consider them, an entirely new code might not be needed. One can be found at the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the other at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Both are long established and thoughtfully written codes with some similarities.
As an accredited business communicator through IABC, I am partial to its code of ethics because the organization's principles "assume that just societies are governed by a profound respect for human rights and the rule of law; that ethics, the criteria for determining what is right and wrong, can be agreed upon by members of an organization; and, that understanding matters of taste requires sensitivity to cultural norms."
The code itself is based on three different yet interrelated principles of professional communication that apply throughout the world:
• Professional communication is legal.
• Professional communication is ethical.
• Professional communication is in good taste.
Recognizing this, members of IABC agree to engage in communication that is not only legal but also ethical and sensitive to cultural values and beliefs; engage in truthful, accurate and fair communication that facilitates respect and mutual understanding; and, adhere to the following articles of the IABC Code of Ethics for Professional Communicators. IABC offers 12 articles in all.
PRSA offers a different take on the subject, but the spirit, if not the verbiage, is virtually the same within the context of five member values: advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness. From these values, PRSA proposes several code provisions that are also worth consideration.
As I said, I am partial to IABC's code of ethics, but both have merit. So before bloggers and social media practitioners attempt to forge new ground, I suggest they consider one or both tried-and-true codes to serve as their own guides.
As for me, I do consider ethics with every post, even those that sometimes appear critical of others. In doing so, it is always my hope that people learn something, think more about their own communication, and attempt to be a beneficial presence wherever they might interact.