When Melissa Met Brian: A Lesson in Social Media Ethics
There are standards in advertising in just about every country that has an advertising industry for a reason. The use of the medium comes with the suggestion that it has a significant impact on culture and, as such, needs to be guided by certain principles.
Social media is still new and its impact and reach still being defined and although we have already seen some excellent cases of social media disasters they were to be expected in the brand new world of social media transparency.
Social media, like everything on the web, matures fast. We are entering the second phase of widespread adoption before we have even properly addressed all the issue regarding its use and this means that we have to work out the rules of usage on the fly.
Cue for this week’s lesson in social media responsibility and ethics courtesy of Melissa Stetten and Brian Presley. Two relatively ordinary people even if the first is a model and the second an actor whose chance encounter on a redeye flight from New York to LA led to one of the most extraordinary social media cases in recent days.
The story is short: Brian, married with a son, happened to sit in the seat next to Melissa. They struck up a conversation and he lightly flirted with her, talked about his work and hers, had three Heinekens, ordered a light chicken salad, talked about divine inception (sic) and discussed his views on gay marriage and growing up in ‘Homa (Oklahoma).
The reason we happen to know all this, along with the fact that Brian is a recovering alcoholic with a cross-addiction problem is that Melissa Stetten Tweeted the entire encounter to us and her 30,000 followers, live.
Now here comes up an entire truckload of issues including the sense of implied expectation of a measure of confidentiality of what is a private conversation, the responsibility to perhaps stop a self-acknowledged recovering alcoholic from having a drink by at least asking if he thought that would be a good idea, and a display of a lack of empathy for one person, however boorish, simply wanting to connect with another for the duration of a flight.
Brian Presley’s life went into the expected public meltdown. He experienced problems with his wife, became the butt of many an online conversation and had to go on a number of talk shows to explain his behaviour, addictions, drinking and implied attempt at infidelity (that last one, quite a stretch given that he never even asked for Stetten’s number).
As far as Melissa Stetten’s motivation and attitude go, her Tweets can be found here, and you will need to draw your own conclusions.
Social media however is a tool which has the ability to create radical transparency in every situation it is applied in. As a tool, it should not be exempt from the same degree of responsibility which governs our use of almost any other tool in our world and this means accepting some ethical standards.
The debate about how ethics should apply in the ever changing social media landscape however does present some challenges. Jay Shepherd, author of the book Firing at Will: A Manager’s Guide, sums up unethical behavior with a sentence.
“It’s like pornography: You know it when you see it. It’s as simple as knowing the right thing to do, then doing the wrong thing.”
Did Melissa Stetten know she was doing the wrong thing in this case? Her final Tweet where she wonders if she ruined Brian Presley’s life may imply that she did. Either way the case of what should have been a non-event, two strangers meeting on a flight and having a chat, has now become a test case for our ability to use social media in a way that does more good than harm.
David Amerland's latest book is "Google Semantic Search: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Techniques That Gets Your Company More Traffic, Increases Brand Impact and Amplifies Your Online Presence" which is available to pre-order on Amazon. He is the author of: 'The Social Media Mind: How social media is changing business, politics and science and helps create a new world order' details how to ...
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