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The Message of Ashley Madison: The Importance of Regulating One’s Own Behavior on Social Media

Don't be a Jerk Using Social Media

Social media. We can’t live without but can we thrive ethically with it? What’s needed now is for someone, or some group, to develop a code of ethics for those using social media especially targeted to creepy people. 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. Not to mention those who use it to engage in pathetic behavior, hoping not to get caught by those who might actually love and care for them.

Are you listening Ashley Madison users?

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.

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; 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.

Never forget that there is a difference between what we have a right to do and what the right thing to do may be.

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?”

I guess the Ashley Madison users learned the hard way about the dangers of using social media. In the wake of the hack on the Web site for cheaters, which produced a massive leak of names, e-mail addresses and other data purportedly about people who signed up and signed on to, lots of folks are scurrying for cover and doing what they can to prevent their “loved ones” from finding out.

The Associated Press reported last Thursday that hundreds of U.S. government employees — including some with sensitive jobs in the White House, Congress and law enforcement agencies — used Internet connections in federal offices to access and pay membership fees to the site. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday confirmed to the AP the Pentagon was looking into the list of people who used military e-mail addresses.

Then there are creeps like conservative reality TV star Josh Duggar—of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting fame—who was named the executive director of the Family Research Council, a conservative lobbying group in D.C. which seeks “to champion marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society.” During that time, he also maintained a paid account on Ashley Madison, a web site created for the express purpose of cheating on your spouse.

In May 2015, Duggar was forced to resign after In Touch Weekly reported that he had molested five young girls (four of whom were his own sisters) beginning in 2002. When the accusations became public, the family went into crisis mode, insisting that Josh had reformed and that the media covering the claims was intent on "exploiting women."

I think not!

This is a good time to repeat a mantra of mine, which is: Ethics is all about what we do when no one is looking. 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?”

Just ask Josh Duggar.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 25, 2015. Professor Mintz teaches in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: www.workplace ethics

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