The Longitudinal Ethics of Social Media

Anyone engaged in communication campaigns that the public might interpret as dishonest should be terribly concerned about the future.

The relentless march of technology means constant improvement in the tools that can identify patterns to sort and sift through the sea of data we all swim in.  Facial recognition and audio recognition tools already exist.  Hollywood has been using video recognition tools for some time to identify intellectual property violations.  US intelligence agencies have been using social network analysis software for some time to map out networks of individuals they’re observing.

By itself, this technology isn’t necessarily earth-shattering.  However, there are a couple of other developments that will make these tools terribly important:

  1. As with virtually all technologies, these will be democratized (that is to say, less expensive and therefore more freely accessible to the public).
  2. We’re collecting an ever-expanding body of information that is accessible to these technologies, and this colossal pile of data is being saved ‘forever’ by individual users and search giants like Google.

That means that if an organization is, say, running a front group – you may not get caught today, but you’ll be forever at increasing risk of being caught in the future.  Anyone who attempts to surreptitiously  shape conversations in social media without disclosing where their interests lie will forever remain at risk of being outed somewhere down the road.  Moreover, the legwork to uncover these patterns won’t require a well-staffed, professional news organization – anyone with a passion and a few hours to kill will be able to use these tools.

Yet another reason for organizations to conduct themselves with the utmost transparency and integrity. This goes double for PR pros: tarnishing one’s reputation on a single campaign could conceivably follow one around the rest of one’s career and expose future colleagues and employers to scrutiny.

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