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The Hidden Ethical Value of Social Networking

Like it or not, we are in the middle of a social networking revolution. And of course, thats hardly news. Endless ink, digital and otherwise, has been spent on worrying over whether Facebook, Twitter, and their rapidlymultiplying ilk are the best or the worst thing that has ever happened to humankind. A recent story about car-pooling appshighlights the fact modern technology, including social media, has a role to play in making markets more efficient. And since efficient markets are generally a good thing, this counts as a big checkmark in the plus column of our calculations concerning the net benefit of social media. Carpooling is a great example, because the relative lack of carpooling today is a clear instance of what economists call market failure a situation in which markets fail efficiently to provide a mutually-beneficial outcome. Think of it this way. There are lots of people in need of a ride. And there are lots of people with rides to offer. The problem is a lack of information (who is going my way, at what time?) and lack of trust (is that guy a potential serial killer?) Social networking promises to resolve both of those problems, first by helping people coordinate and second by using various mechanisms to make sure that everyone participating is more or less trustworthy. With regard to car-pooling, the obvious benefits are environmental. But the positive effect here is quite general: just about any time we find a way to foster mutually-advantageous market exchanges, weve done something unambiguously good. This is one example of the ethical power of social media. Another big enemy of efficient markets is monopoly power, or more generally any situation in which a buyer or seller is able to exert market power, essentially a situation in which some market actor enjoys a relative lack of competition and hence has the ability to throw its weight around. Social media promises improvements here, too. Sites like allow individuals to aggregate in ways that give them substantial bargaining power. The general lesson here is that markets thrive on information. Indeed, economists formal models for efficient markets assume that all participants have full knowledge that is, they assume that lack of information will never be an issue. Social networks are providing increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for aggregating, sharing, and filtering information, including important information about what consumers want, about what companies have to offer, and so on. So while a lot of attention has been paid to the sense in which social media are bringing us together, the real payoff may lie in the way social media render markets more effici ent.

Ethics and the Five Deadly Sins of Social Media Theres a new blood sport in consumer marketing. Brand leaders watch withschadenfreude as their peers stumble when dealing with social media. In the past twenty months, Nestle,The Red Cross, andKenneth Cole have all made costly errors managing social media. The problem goes well beyond bad PR: the question for marketing leaders is how to develop a process to steer large organizations around the perils of interacting with consumers on social platforms. Its not particularly helpful that the rules are clearly different online. Consumers have less tolerance for unexpected e-mail from favored brands than unwanted catalogs from unknown brands in their physical mailbox. Privacy concerns are heightened. As trust is the prized currency of social media, ethical lapses or oversights can be deadly for brands. Crisis management is a topic for another day. Ethically speaking, however, here are five things to avoid: 1. Unreported Endorsements: Two years ago,the FTC updated its guidelines on endorsements and testimonials to cover social media . In a nutshell, if youre giving any form of compensation to a blogger or tweeter, it is considered a compensated endorsement and must be disclosed. This includes free product or in-kind compensations and it covers all social media, not just bloggers. In 2006, Wal-Mart suffered a slew of negative publicity when its PR agency Edelman supported two bloggers road tripping across the U.S. writing positive stories about Wal-Mart through the organization Working Families for Wal-Mart. The blogging was gaining traction until BusinessWeek broke the story that the trip expenses for the blogger were being paid indirectly by Wal-Mart. 2. Improper Anonymity: It may be tempting to have your agencies comment anonymously on online forums to promote products, raise questions about competitors or even just correct bad information. Doing so without revealing the companys involvement is very risky. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey found this out the hard way in 2007 when he was revealed to have pseudonymously trashed competitor Wild Oats online before trying to buy them. Even if your anonymous online contributions arent illegal, they risk ruining the trust of your consumers. Phony online reviews are one of the biggest plagues for honest retailers now and you dont want to get lumped in with practices like that. 3. Compromising Consumer Privacy: The data available on individual consumers is a resource that companies are understandably trying to mine. Done properly, its a win-win. Consumers get better, more relevant offers and brands waste less on poorly targeted advertising. But theres a line past which using information means

violating privacy. DoubleClick, the online advertiser since acquired by Googlefound this out in 2000 when they attempted to combine offline purchase data from consumers with their online persona. [DISCLOSURE: I worked for DoubleClick as Director of Promotions at the time.] Facebook has stepped on the privacy landmine numerous times by repeatedly changing the types of personal information automatically shared. Even when these breaches are unintentional and not malicious, they scare consumers away. 4. Overly Enthusiastic Employees Your employees have been engaged in social media as individuals for longer than you have as an organization and some of them may have established reputations and strong bases of fans or followers. They may be inclined to spread word about the great things your brand is doing. If they do so without acknowledging their connection to the company they are violating consumer trust. Beyond that, theres a real risk of employees inadvertently disclosing material information about your public company, risking myriad legal implications. Last month, a Google employeeaccidentally published a scathing critique of Google + on Google +. Best to train employees carefully about disclosure and have a clear policy in place. 5. Using the Online Community to Get Free Work: Brands call it UGC User Generated Content but in creative circles its becoming known as WFF Working For Free. The story is familiar a brand holds an online contest allowing ordinary consumers to submit copy, designs or even produced commercials. The company picks a winner, gives prizes and uses the creative in traditional media. The dirty little secret of User Generated Content is that its mostly not your neighborhood plumber who wins but real creatives: often freelance or unemployed. These are professionals who should be paid for their work. Another troubling spin on this trend happens when companies put out a request for proposal for a social media campaign, gather all the most creative ideas that come out of the process and use them without hiring the particular agencies who created them. Overall it is fine to engage consumers and to reach widely for the best creative talent. But theres a fine line between that and trying to get your creative done for free. Step on the wrong side of the line and youll ultimately find it difficult to source good creative, because the creative community is relatively small and very well networked. Avoiding these 5 Deadly Sins wont keep you completely safe in social media because you can still do something foolish completely intentionally. But it will reduce your risk, and thats the best any marketing leader can hope for.

Unavoidable Ethical Questions About Social Networking
From a Utilitarian Perspective The recent hacking of Petaluma High School student MySpace accounts and the posting of threatening messages highlight some possible harms of social networking. MySpace, FaceBook, and other sites have been the scene of cyberbullying and online predation. But the same technology allows people to connect with others they might never have met and form meaningful relationships. How do we balance these harms and benefits, reducing the one and increasing the possibility of the other? From a Rights Perspective Do social networkers have a right to privacy? More and more users of Facebook and MySpace are finding that prospective employers are perusing their sites, despite the fact that they may conceive of their online presence as personal space. Also, what is a private persons right to control the images and information about them available on line? David Weisbrot, president of the Australia Law Reform Commission, which has been investigating online privacy, comments, Laws designed to protect privacy in the outside world struggle to cope with the issues raised by online communities. For example, online publication of photo-graphs, which may be sensitive and revealing, raises new challenges in relation to consent. From a Fairness Perspective Some people believe social networking sites offer the ultimate in egalitarianism. When we interact with others online, we have no real way of knowing whether they are white or black, male or female, fat or thin, young or old. Will this disembodied quality of the online world lead to greater fairness, or will we lose the ability to engage concretely with others, and therefore truly overcome differences? From a Common Good Perspective Pope Paul IV described the common good as the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment. Certainly, many people turn to social networking sites to connect with social groups that share their interests and values. What would the common good look like in this context? Does fulfillment have the same meaning online as it does in the real world? Are there ways to structure online communities so that they better promote the common good of their members? From a Virtue Perspective Many of the interpersonal virtues we value evolved in the context of face-to-face communication. Honesty, openness, and patience, for example, are honed in the negotiations we must manage when we meet people in person. What impact will digital media have on these virtues? What, for example, would honesty mean in the context of a world where people are represented by avatars? Will other virtues emerge as more important in social networking, where we can be constantly connected to a large reservoir of others and can shut off communications easily when we are bored or encounter difficulties?

Corporate espionage via social media rampant in India Inc: Assocham

Over 35 per cent of companies operating in various sectors across India are engaged in corporate espionage to gain advantage over their competitors and are even spying on their employees via social networking Web sites, according to a just-concluded survey undertaken by apex industry body Assocham. Assocham carried out a covert survey during the January-May period and interacted with about 1,500 CEOs and EDs from diverse sectors in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi-NCR and Mumbai to ascertain the measures taken by India Inc to safeguard their data, plans, clients' details, products and other confidential and trade-related secrets.Besides, Assocham representatives also interacted with about 200 private eye agencies, corporate spooks, detective firms, surveillance agencies and trained sleuths in the five cities, Mr D.S. Rawat, Secretary-General, Assocham, said in a statement here. About 350 respondents from detective firms said demand from companies in the IT-BPO, infrastructure, FMCG, banking, insurance, manufacturing and telecom sectors is overwhelming as they have large database, sensitive networks and information like research and development processes, innovations, product specifications, new marketing and sales strategies, he said. Almost all the company representatives in these domains acknowledged the prevalence of industrial espionage to gain access to information and steal trade secrets of their competitors through private deals with sleuths and spy agencies. Almost 1,200 respondents from various companies said they take services of detectives and surveillance agencies to spy on their employees lifestyle, keep a tab on their whereabouts and even the ex-employees (especially those laid off or ousted for committing a fraud) apart from the usual pre and post-employment verification. Companies having strong unions and vulnerable to pilferage hire spy agencies and plant an under-cover agent, a mole in minor job profiles in rival companies to ascertain if union leaders are getting paid for creating trouble, disclosed many detectives, according to the survey. Besides, many senior officials even said they go for background check of an individuals commercial, criminal and financial records as part of an employment screening policy of their companies. Nearly 1,110 respondents out of the 1,500 top officials said they use social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Linkedin, Friendster and others to dig out relevant information and keep a track of their rival companies and employees. Many said they monitor the developments in their rival companies through social media updates but they do take corrective measures to minimise the risks involved with social media usage and are educating their staff about misuse of social media tools and its backlash. About 900 said they also indulged in corporate espionage and bugged offices of their rivals by planting a mole in other companies. Most of these said they generally plant people in minor job profiles such as receptionists, peon, photo-copier and others.
MONITORING SOFTWARE - About a quarter of respondents said they hired computer experts for installing

monitoring software to hack and crack the networks, track e-mails of their rivals and perform other covert activities. Many employers said they have invested significant amounts in installing spying gadgets in their office establishments to monitor Web site connections, phone calls and records, e-mails and review computer files of their employees and maintain a record. Demand for spying gadgets in the country is rising at about 30 per cent and the market for spying equipments is currently poised at about Rs 4,500 crore with over 20 per cent of the market being controlled by CCTVs. Other spy gadgets included audio/video surveillance devices, GPS tracking systems and other such tools.

Social Networking: Double Edged Sword

Social networking/media has crept into our lives like no other technology revolution in the recent past. The social media revolution has completely transformed how we used to live our lives. In this context, I felt it would be interesting to understand the impact of social media on three major facets of human existence; the psychological impact, revolutionary impact and the social impact Psychological Impact: The psychological impact of social media on individuals is immense. The positive aspect of the entire experience has been the ability to connect with people. The core USP of social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter is its ability to connect with people across the world and this brings a certain sense of joy to people. You would have met lots of your old friends through Facebook and that ability to stay in touch with them irrespective of locations makes it a very positive psychological impact on individuals. However, there is another side to this coin. I know a lot of young adults who wake up to Facebook without even brushing their teeth. On a personal level, I have known people who have been online on Facebook for ages without even signing out. There comes a point, after the initial connect with old friends, where you would be idling your time on Facebook doing literally nothing for a long time. This idling time makes you lost and completely distracted from what you had initially intended to do. From 10 mins of Facebook, it would have become 2 hours of Facebook at a stretch. So this addiction to social networking sites makes one even unaware of the real time zones, creating a negative impact on peoples mindsets. This addiction to stay connected and noticed makes one prioritize these small things over many more important activities. Revolutionary Impact: The biggest power of the social medium is the ability to mobilize support for social causes in a very short span of time. The Arab Spring is a point in case for the biggest achievement of the social medium and it also reflected some of its own shortcomings. The advent of the Arab Spring would not have been possible if not for the social media. Both Twitter and Facebook were extensively used to galvanize support to shake the dictator regime and remove it from office. The Tahirir Square uprising symbolized the potential of social media to trigger and create change in a nations prospects. However, it also has showed some of the shortcomings of the medium itself. Even though the social media was able to assist the revolution, it needed people on the ground to sustain it and implement the changes. Almost after a year, they have had their President elected and ironically it is a leader from the radical Muslim Brotherhood. Social media could not help in implementing change on the ground because its not accountable and its virtual in nature. This entire episode shows the impact power of social media and also shows that social media can trigger and support movements but the success of such movements depends much upon the core issues raised on the ground. Social Impact: One of the biggest successes of the social media revolution is the amount of fairness that intrinsically the social networking sites have especially Twitter. There is such an open platform for the common citizen to interact and evolve; it shapes many peoples identities and ideologies. Being an open and unbiased medium, it is actually the worlds most efficient democracy in its truest sense. In addition, it helps to provide so much information that it enriches people with loads of information. Information is indeed wealth and this medium provides so much for it. Ironically, this extensive outpouring of information leads to one of the common issues that social media in general faces. Having an opinion on any issue is a right for any individual, there is no doubt it. However, the power of social media is such that it influences peoples opinions very fast. It also leads to opinion makers who make short sighted comments that might be just fitting for a 140 letter character. There is a certain level of irresponsibility within certain sets of people that leads to this discussion being only a one way street. One way abuse or giving opinions without responsibility makes the social media, at times, an ocean which has varied levels of depth. While it is a legitimate right for anyone to have their view, it needs to be with decorum that befits educated individuals. Amidst all these various impacts of the medium, one gets the impression that social media has blatantly obvious positives and some surreal negatives that get underplayed very often. Since everyone brags about the positives, the negative impacts at every stage of the assessment need to be also taken into account. It liberates the common man to have his voice heard in an open platform and helps to connect people across generations. In this process, it also provides him an additional freedom for individuals to air their views on issues. However, this excessive overflow of information and connections can also have a detrimental effect on the personal lives and attitude of individuals if it is not handled in a mature manner. The balance needs to be the key, with regards to the virtual life and the real life, only this balance and a matured democratic mindset can make the social media experience a worthwhile one.