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Social Media, Civilty and Ethical Responsibilities of Millennials

Your Actions and Words on Social Media Define Your Character

I recently read a blog post about “10 Social Media Blunders That Cost a Millennial a Job – or Worse.” This got me thinking about the way I address the issue in my ethics class. To me, the nature of a person’s blog posts or comments on other blog posts say a lot about their ethics and respect for civility. What’s needed now is for someone, or some group, to develop a code of ethics for those using social media especially targeted to Millennials. Some of the postings I see are downright offensive, some engage in cyberbullying on line, and still others seem threatening to the targeted person.

One reason the nature of social media postings is important from an ethical perspective is the anonymity of online postings seems to bring out the haters and others who could care less about what they say, how they say it, or whose feelings are hurt. Moreover, some postings and videos are just tasteless, to say the least. Don’t get me wrong. I am an advocate of the use of social media as a way to communicate on a broad spectrum. However, the users of social media have to self-monitor their words and actions to be sure that what they post doesn’t embarrass others – or themselves -- and forever live on the Internet for all to see.

One area of the ethics of using social media for me is when I give advice to my students about the way in which they use social media and what they say from the perspective of how a future employer perceives those postings. In a recent study it was discovered that 93% of recruiters check out social media profiles on prospective hires. According to Alison Green, who runs, “Social media is now so woven into the fabric of young people’s lives that they forget that not everything is suitable to put out there” because “people are looking.”

I always caution my students that their boss, work colleagues, and hiring managers can see their most polarizing tweets, even if they aren’t following them. A social media mistake can ruin their shot at a job without them ever knowing.

Jacob Davidson addresses 10 real-life mistakes, ranked from least to most egregious, that could cost a person his or her job -- or worse, and make them the next viral cautionary tale. Here is the list.

10. Drinking in a photo—even if you’re over 21

9. Complaining about your job

8. Posting while you’re supposed to be working

7. Making fun of your boss / team

6. Making fun of clients or donors

5. Talking smack about a job before you’ve even accepted it

4. Blowing your own cover

3. Revealing company secrets

2. Sexual oversharing

1. Posting something embarrassing on the corporate Twitter feed.

I’m always amazed that many of my students never even think about the potential evils of using social media to express one’s opinion, albeit in a relatively anonymous way; to vent one’s anger as a release; and to get revenge against someone, or some organization, that has wronged them. I truly believe it is a generational issue in that Millennials tend to think of their own interests first and how their actions affect others later on – much later on. Perhaps the reason is that we live in an entitlement society. We are entitled to say and do anything we want, especially on the Internet, because it is viewed as a forum for public discussion without limits on free speech.

The problem is that all too many people are unable to self-regulate their behavior. I believe the reason is a lack of ethical values that should have been nurtured growing up and in the classroom. Specifically, respect is essential when communicating with others whether it be in person of through the use of social media. It also helps to be a caring person with empathy who can relate to others with problems and challenges in life. It is essential for a user of social media to ask him/herself one basic question: “Would I want others using social media to say the things I am about to say about others when they post about their feelings about me?”

Ethics is all about what we do when no one is looking. The problem with contentious and offensive postings on social media is Millennials aren’t hard-wired to think along these lines. They are not totally to blame. Parents share the blame for failing to discuss these matters at home. Teachers share the blame because they are afraid to discuss ethics in class for fear of offending someone who, perhaps, views it as a religious discussion – and teachers do not feel comfortable talking to students what is right and what is wrong. Society has to share the blame because we have morphed into a culture here in the U.S. that glorifies immature behavior on TV, in movies, and with You Tube postings. All too many think these kinds of communications are funny so they can engage in outrageous behavior and get their 15 minutes of fame. The problem is their postings and visuals are there for everyone to see including present and future employers.

A good rule to self-regulate behavior is to ask yourself “How would I feel if what I say or videos I act in make it to the front pages of my local newspaper. Would I be proud for all to see? Would I be able to justify my behavior if challenged? Would I want my future children to see it? Would I want those postings to define who I am as a human being?”

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 11, 2014. Professor Mintz teaches in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at:

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