If you have heard the term Digital Ethics lately and have been unsure about what exactly it means, you are not alone. There is a lot of debate, and many conflicting definitions out there on the web.

Read ahead to learn more about Digital Ethics when it comes to data breaches, your online persona and social media moderation.

 What are Digital Ethics?

Simply put, the term Digital Ethics refers to the way that one manages oneself online. This is especially important for people who handle sensitive information about clients online – in particular: doctors, therapists, lawyers and surgeons.

In order to be an ethical internet user, you must ensure that you are safely securing all information that you keep about others on your hard drives or software programs. Not only do you have to think about the ways that you store others’ information, you also must pay careful attention to the public persona that your online data trail is creating.

Finally, you must also ensure that any social media platforms that you manage or moderate are maintained in an ethical and sensitive way that is appropriate to your audience.

Digital Ethics – How do you manage your online persona?

In addition to the need to keep sensitive information secure, many people believe that the term digital ethics also refers to the public persona that one keeps online. That is, how do you appear to others when they search for you on the web?

For many people, that ill advised snapshot with a giant margarita taken on holiday is not the end of the world, but for certain professions (social workers, doctors, court judges and politicians) this type of photo would seem a tad unethical. The same could be said for certain bits of past biographies and personal details – it is worth paying attention to how you appear online.

Similarly, if you are scrolling through Facebook and you happen upon photos of your doctor or surgeon partying like mad the night before an important appointment, you might be frustrated and angry. The same could be said if you encountered a vitriolic diatribe written by a professional about your race, gender or ethnicity.

Professionals have an ethical duty to not only protect your data, but also to ensure that their own public information is presented in a positive and sensitive manner. No matter who you are and what your line of work, pay special attention to the things that you post online – even if you think that they are private, one of your many followers could be hacked and your photos, statuses and other links could become public business very easily.

Is your stored information safe online?

Increasingly, we live our lives online. From our banking details to booking a hotel, from planning a surprise party for our spouse to investing in the stock market – we regularly enter our sensitive, personal information into online forms and websites. Not only do you need to think about how you appear online, you also must take careful measures to protect both your own and others’ sensitive information.
On an increasingly regular basis, we see stories in the media about the devastation that occurs when supposedly secure websites are hacked and individuals’ sensitive information is leaked online. This can encompass personal banking details, home addresses and other data, but it can also include photographs and private medical information.

Just imagine if your doctor’s surgery did not have a policy in place to protect your medical history? Nefarious individuals could gain access to knowledge about personal mental health information, potentially embarrassing diagnoses and family backgrounds, and this would be unethical.

Who is to blame when information is hacked?

What if your talk therapist had his or her digital notes hacked, or if your financial advisor had their website breached – who would be to blame? While the criminal doing the hacking is certainly in the wrong, the individual or organisation that has been storing your information certainly has some responsibility for the matter.

Lawsuits and court cases have emerged in recent years debating this exact issue –when valuable details are released into the public sphere, who should be the one held accountable? This question has led to an entirely new field of inquiry – academics and practitioners alike are investigating the need for Digital Ethics when it comes to data hacks.

Digital Ethics and Social Media – Netiquette

Social media is another very important consideration in the conversation about Digital Ethics. As more and more corporations are expanding their online media presence, it is important for them to have a firm policy on how to handle certain social media problems that can arise.

For instance, if an abusive or bullying ‘flamewar’ breaks out between two (or more) of your customers on your Facebook page, how do you handle this? What does your organisation define as an appropriate image or message to tweet, and do these standards apply to retweets? What kind of personal information do you want your employees to share if your organisation’s name is a displayed on their Facebook page?

All of these things are important to consider when planning your online media profiles. You can create guidelines that apply across all of your platforms, and ensure that the staff members in charge of updating them follow these carefully.

Similarly, when clients message you on social media via a private message, they are owed a reasonable expectation of privacy and care. Ensure that these inboxes are regularly checked, dealt with and then deleted in a timely fashion.

No matter who you are or what business you are in, your online digital ethics are important, and something that you should be mindful of when using the internet.


Written by Anna Lemos