The Rise of Ethical Tech and Social Media, and the Reputational Risks of Ignoring This Cultural Zeitgeist

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Today, growing advances in tech and wide-spread social media reach has given us greater conveniences and powerful platforms to voice our opinions. However, these highly engaging devices and services, and the cutting-edge tech that support them, also have their flip side — they are addictive, bring in unknown risks, and in a hyperconnected world, have increasing influence on public opinion. Not surprisingly, a new cultural movement is taking shape to combat tech addiction and ensure that social media platforms and tech are used ethically. What are the implications of this cultural zeitgeist, and can organizations afford to sit on the fence on divisive issues for the sake of popularity and profit? We explore.

The Growing Emphasis on Ethics

Facebook’s fake-news and data-privacy scandals highlighted the real-world influence that social media platforms wield in state affairs. The scandals sparked a public outcry about the company’s ethics, eventually leading to a Congressional hearing, and more recently, to the single biggest loss in stock market history as the social media giant admitted that the scandals were beginning to hurt its business.

While the US was reeling under the revelation that its election results may have been influenced through Facebook, the European Union (EU) chose to enact the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The landmark data privacy law aimed to provide users in the EU, for the first time, the ability to manage their personal digital data. As global awareness about data privacy grew, most tech giants used this opportunity to become more transparent with users about the data they collect — Google, Microsoft, and LinkedIn chose to extend certain GDPR protections to users in non-European countries as well.

Concerned about tech addiction and its effects, especially on children and teens, Apple first showcased a host of features in its upcoming software update, iOS 12, to help parents and others monitor tech and social media use. Google soon followed suit: it debuted Android Pie, the latest version of its mobile operating system, with features for users to track how much time they spend on their phone.

To Ban or Not to Ban

The pivotal moment in this ethical movement arrived when Spotify, Apple, Facebook, and YouTube removed the content from the infamous conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, from their platforms. The move was reportedly due to the hate speech against minority groups that Jones frequently posted.

Twitter, however, chose not to go down that road. But the social media platform’s inaction proved unwise as it faced backlash from upset employees. The company is now revisiting its principles in lieu of the debate it has sparked by choosing to sit on the fence.

Can Organizations Afford to Sit on the Fence?

So can organizations afford to sit on the fence on divisive issues, prioritizing popularity and profit over ethics? Maybe, or maybe not. The outcomes of these recent events in the tech world should come as handy lessons for organizations undecided on which path to take. However, where about 80% of an organization’s brand value lies in its intangible assets, sitting on the fence, or ignoring the cultural zeitgeist, could prove costly.

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