The Ethics Of Social Media

I don’t talk all that often about ethics on this blog. I’ve talked about being socially responsible here and there, especially when it involves your family. I’ve addressed the topic of being ethical when writing articles, or when borrowing from someone else and representing it as your own. I also covered the topic when asking how far someone would go to recommend a product they knew nothing about just to make money.

Little Dinos Don't Yell

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I’ve covered the topic often on my business blog, but mostly in the realm of leadership. Years ago I even asked people directly what their ethics were. I would say oddly enough that post didn’t get much traction; it seems people are scared to discuss ethics. Well, I’m certainly not, that’s for sure.

This tale actually begins last weekend with Serena Williams winning Wimbledon. Some “kid” in Germany wrote on his Twitter profile that the only reason she keeps winning is because she’s “manly” and the other ladies on the tour can’t handle her power.

He was profiled in many sports stories, and there was a lot of conversation. I thought I could let it go until I read this Sports Illustrated story on Saturday talking about the reaction to the New York Times story the previous weekend, which I also found insulting to Serena, and this guy’s Twitter link was there.

I decided to check it out and was first stunned that he still had it live (since a lot of these people who say stupid things usually delete their accounts; he must think he’s the Orange Man who must not be named) and that not only was he still backing up his words but he had some supporters.

Frankly, that didn’t sit well with me; nope, not at all. I thought about it for maybe half an hour, then decided to engage him. However, I didn’t want to be another person calling him an idiot; after all, when you start with name calling there’s nowhere else to go but down. Instead, I decided to call him out on his ethics; thus, I started with this Twitter post:

It seems xxxxxx doesn’t understand why his words are hateful against Serena. Privilege and youth does that to people; so sad…

In case you’re wondering why I’m not putting his Twitter handle here, I’ve decided he’s gotten enough publicity from other corners. However, if you want to find him just check the SI story above. And, if you care, you can follow the conversation we had there for almost an hour.

Jessica Lucia via Compfight

It took about 10 minutes but he responded to the message. He asked me whether I wanted to discuss it on the basis or race or sports… I responded “Ethics. Care to discuss it?”

To his credit he accepted the challenge and rarely backed down. To his detriment he wasn’t prepared to discuss the ethics of his tweet, couldn’t handle other statistics I threw at him (he’d either say he couldn’t discuss other sports, anything about men, or that tennis today is different than tennis in the past, even less than 10 years ago), and his logic wasn’t close to being sound. Often he said “my point was…”, to which I replied “You never made a point; you said what you said without offering anything else”, which is true. I know this because I went back through his stream and he never said it until he was talking to me.

The only time he almost got angry is when I asked him if, because he had his picture with a young lady who’s standing next to him, if she was fair game since he’d now become famous and she’s in the picture with him. He said he thought I was better than that. I responded that I wasn’t going to say anything about her, just asked the question. He then responded that if someone wanted to say something about her it was their opinion. I asked if someone had things to say about his mother, or one day if he had a daughter if it would be okay for people to say things about them and his response was that everyone had a right to their opinion. I asked if that meant that people can pretty much get away with saying anything they want to, no matter how hateful it was… he didn’t answer that one.

I’m leaving out a lot of specifics but I think you get the picture. A couple of things I did ask were:

* what kind of positive response did you expect to get by saying something hurtful like that;

* are you saying that women can only win because they’re more “manly” than other women, rather than because they have more talent, drive and intellect;

* if her apparent manliness is why she wins, then what causes her to lose;

* if you played her in tennis and she beat you, would it be because she was more manly than you or had more talent?


Ripon College via Compfight

The first question he didn’t answer. On the second question he said it was “implied” that she had talent, to which I said one can’t imply anything without saying it because we’re not mind readers. The third question he didn’t answer; same for the last.

After an hour I knew he wasn’t going to figure it out and I was getting hungry, as I realized I hadn’t eaten in over 10 hours at that point, so I left with two things:

* “I think you’re going to look back on this incident in 5-10 years and hate what you said last week”;

* “In any case we’ve been at this an hour and now it’s 6PM and I need to be going. I think you’re wrong but wish you the best.”

I gave all that backstory, not to make myself look good but to give me a platform to talk about this concept of ethics as it applies to social media, as well as life.

Ethics isn’t important because it changes everything about how you speak. Ethics is around because it changes your behavior towards more positive action. Ethics is what keeps us from robbing and beating people. It’s what keeps up from thinking the world revolves around us, our thoughts and our wishes. It’s what keeps us from intentionally hurting people’s feelings and, many times, from saying something absurdly stupid in public.

Ethics is what makes you decide to verify negative information before repeating it to others. It’s what helps to keep you from being intentionally mean and hateful on social media just because you have an agenda to push. It’s what helps you not ruin your reputation, especially if you have people you hope to work with who might see what you’ve said to someone. It’s what helps you realize that freedom of speech comes with consequences and isn’t a right to say whatever stupid thing pops in your head “just because”.

You know what? I think a lot of stuff, and not all of it is good or nice. I either keep it to myself or find a way to say what I have to say without being hateful… that is unless someone else said something hateful first. True, not every bit of discourse with others has to have a positive reason behind it. However, if one’s only purpose for spouting off at the mouth is to hurt someone else, or make themselves feel better by trying to put someone else down, especially someone who doesn’t deserve it, not only does that person’s ethics come into play but their self esteem is probably lacking as well (or they’re a total narcissist or psychopath; just sayin’…).

You know where my ethics are showing in the above situation? I thought about posting the conversation here or on another blog, word for word… but figured that wasn’t necessary. His supporters stayed away from the conversation and mine (which turned out to be no one I already knew; that was interesting…) stayed out of the conversation until it was over and then had their say.

At that point I was done with it. On my business blog I wrote a post titled Sometimes people don’t want to be motivated. Turns out that something not only don’t people want to be ethical, they don’t even know what it means.

So sad…

17 thoughts on “The Ethics Of Social Media”

  1. Too many people are still caught up in gender, racial, and body image nonsense, and nowhere is it more obvious than in modeling or athletics (maybe to some degree in acting). HuffPo had this to say: And I think you saw my post on J.K. Rowling’s reaction on Twitter.

    I love when you pointed out: “if you played her in tennis and she beat you, would it be because she was more manly than you or had more talent?” It would be whatever served HIS manhood best at the time.

    People should recognize their feelings of inadequacy or intimidation and either get over it or do something to better themselves. There’s a long history here:

    And ask any girl – first, she’s told she runs or throws “like a girl,” and that’s clearly meant to be an insult. Then, if she ignores that taunt and goes on to excel at sports, she’s insulted for being “manly.”

    I can only think that the people doing it are jealous or feel threatened, somehow, and that SHOULDN’T be my problem. But I’ll admit that it goes back to the grade school playground and notions of what’s “ladylike” and what’s not.

    Did you watch this? It illustrates the problem beautifully.

    1. First, thanks for the great comment! I didn’t see your post about Rowling’s tweet; I’ll have to go look for it.

      I had seen the HuffPo article and the video before. The video is really what got me thinking more because it was one of the best insults we had available to us back when I was a kid. Thing is, except for one girl I knew it fit really well, so I never had cause to think about it all that much back then. However, with the proliferation of women’s sports over the past decade or so one would have to be an idiot to continue thinking like that.

      Plus, anyone who’s ever seen Hermione Granger’s aim in the Harry Potter movies would have to be amazed at her accuracy. 🙂

  2. Mitch, I am one hundred percent with you on this issue and just wish to add my two bits to your very lucid post. There is also something called good taste. That statement was clearly lacking that. There is also the psychological need to draw attention, some attention, even negative. That low life must be desperately lonely which would not surprise me if true, for it lacks grace.

    1. Thanks Rummuser. I think he’s just a young guy who hasn’t taken any time to think of what he said and pretty much doesn’t care. In my opinion, it’s more of an indictment against his generation than just him specifically, because I see that type of thing all the time. We wouldn’t have done that in our time… although I say that wondering if it would have happened if our time had social media and such.

  3. What a good way of putting it, Rummuser.

    I am no fan of “political correctness” since it has always seemed to be an unnecessary thing to pile onto good manners and grace, as you put it. If someone can’t learn basic good manners, they’re only going to be passive aggressive about political correctness.

    Say there’s a pretty velvet bag sitting atop a jewelry counter. I’d rather know the bag’s full of rattlesnakes before reaching into it. That’s how I feel about rude people, free speech, and hypocrisy. Sure, there are some natural consequences to speaking your mind. I don’t think they should be as harsh as they often are; I kind of appreciate the rattling and the warning. Rattlesnakes don’t change their nature just by being dressed up in a velvet bag.

  4. Hey Mitch, good on you for playing the ethics card and standing your ground. That guy seemed to be stubborn as hell. He made his statement and was going to stick by it no matter what.

    I never considered Serena to be manly at all. Talented is what she is. Heck, Samantha Stosur is more muscular than Serena.

    Come to think of it wasn’t there a French tennis player that was accused of being a bloke because she was so muscular?

    1. Thanks Pete. I have to admit that I don’t know all the players in women’s tennis, so I’m not familiar with Stosur or the other story you told. The way I see it, in general we’re attracted to whatever we’re attracted to, and if someone doesn’t fit your qualifications for the type of woman you like then that’s fine. To go further with it in public is not only stupid but unethical, especially when it’s used to diminish someone else’s apparent level of skill and fortitude.

  5. Yep. Great insult. Kind of like using the n-word, eh? 🙂 I think your little Twitter twerp’s just jealous he’ll never look like any of these folks: And yes, I found that via a SPORTS article on Amanda Bingson. Did you send me that? You must’ve… or you’ve finally won and I’m finding them on my own, now. I’m so confused.

  6. Well, then, you deserve to crow a little! 🙂

    And would you believe your Bouncer told me – ME!! – that I wasn’t sufficiently chatty? Oh, we’re having a week. Do I need to buy the new guy a drink, or is he just naturally surly?

  7. Just a quick question Mitch. I’m wondering if this kid in Germany was disappointed that Serena had just beaten a German player and that was his way of retaliating? People do stupid things when it comes to supporting their team or sporting hero.

    1. That’s possible Pete, but that would just make him a bad sport and that’s even worse than being whatever we’re thinking he is at this point. lol

  8. I have to disagree on that one Mitch. In my opinion a bad sport would rate second on the list. But all in all it still adds to his all the bad karma that’s coming to him lol

    1. The reason I ranked them that way is because bad sports tend to do some pretty vile things without thinking whereas those without ethics at least put some brief thought into it… hooliganism and such things…

  9. Mitch Mitchell, now there’s a cool name. 🙂

    Social ethics are something that must be handed down from parent to child if we are to live in a sustainable society.

    I worked as a stockbroker and our annual reviews included ethics both social and in the workplace. Sadly I reviewed ethic chapters there more than I did at school.

    More philosphy should be taught at school especially Socrates and Plato to really reinforce the concept of ethics and morality. I always say that I like religion without religion and by that I mean that a moral framework should be taught to everyone.

    Of course everyone has a slip of the tongue (or is it finger these days?) that they regret later as I am sure your friend will.

    I can see his point of view in that generally men are stronger than women. However his statement might not have been the most lucid.

    Wishing you the best.

    1. Thanks for your comment Marcel. Actually, I never studied ethics in school but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for many people to do so. Of course, a little common sense should be taught as well.

      I’ll admit that I’ve lost my temper here and there, yet I’ve always maintained a sense of control over what I said… to a degree. I’ll call out some people for bad behavior, but basing it on how they look and using it as an excuse to bash someone… nope, that’s just unethical across the board. I’m with you in hoping this guy’s beliefs change as he matures.

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