Every human being struggles with what’s right and what’s wrong; What’s considered bad versus evil and what’s positive versus negative behavior. Making unethical decisions whether it’s in our personal or professional life will always be a struggle for mankind. The advancement in technology and the use of social media, doesn’t make these decisions any easier to deal with due to the care free nature it gives us to express ourselves openly without judgment. However, the use of social media in criminal justice organizations has caused a significant amount of conflict issues with working relationships and personal relationships with coworkers and loved ones. Ethical dilemmas in criminal justice organizations stems from employees’ actions on and off duty while using social media which can have a major impact on their professional careers. The most popular social sites that employees find themselves making unethical decisions are on Facebook and Twitter.
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were created for people to connect with their friends and family and to express themselves freely. One topic of discussion that is addressed during meetings with the Probation Department during unit meetings, is the high number of unethical behavior that is seen on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, initially created Facebook for college students to communicate with each other from different schools however, the site has expanded and grown for anyone to create an account and explore Facebook to connect with their family and friends . One unique feature of Facebook is that you can “like” just about anything from pictures to statuses, or comments. This popular feature seems harmless and innocent but it has caused a lot of criminal justice employees to be caught in ethical dilemmas that catches the attention of employers especially when someone “likes” negative comments or pictures about the organization or its members , express political views or agendas. Another unique feature of Facebook is that you can either set your profile page to “public”, which means anyone user can view your page or secured it with the “friends only” setting with blocks anyone who is not your friend from viewing your profile(Crtalic, et.al, 2015). Being that most users do not use the “friends only” security setting, this too has cause negative backlash amongst criminal justice employees because anyone is allowed to see what you post whether its something positive or negative . In the articled by G. A., & Ussery, B. C. (2012), an professor at Bowling Green State University expresses “there is no longer really a boundary between off-campus and on-campus, or personal and professional — all because of Facebook”. This statement justifies that Facebook has blurred boundary lines of professional and personal ethics since users operate it publicly for everyone to see and because of this, any posting, picture or comment that is shared or “liked” is subject for employers to see and critic. Such actions can lead to disciplinary actions such as write ups or coachings or worse, termination of employment.
In the court case, Bland v. Roberts, six employees of a sheriff’s office in Virginia were allegedly fired because of their support of the Sheriff’s opponent in the election. Two of the discharged employees simply “liked” the Facebook page of the political opponent prior to the election” (Marcum, T. M., J.D., & Perry, S. J., J.D. (2014). This type of ethical dilemma is happening more often to government employees who use social media to express freedom of speech, and some actions performed by government employees are deemed unacceptable behavior by most government agencies policy on the use of social media especially if it makes the organization gain negative attention that could hurt productivity.
As American citizens, we all value privacy and the right to have freedom of speech to express how we feel. However, in the workforce, this constitutional right is asked to be used discreetly to protect the reputation of the organization from public backlash and in some ways, to protect the employee from being judged or discipline for unethical behavior by their employer. Marcum, T. M., J.D., & Perry, S. J., J.D., (2014) points out, “When a citizen accepts employment in the government sector, that citizen may experience, due to governmental necessity, certain limitations on his or her free speech rights” (pg.5). In particular, The North Carolina Department of Public Safety Social Media Policy states “NCDPS recognizes that its employees may use social media on a personal basis outside of their professional activities and that such use may include the right to exercise freedom of speech. However, NCDPS encourages its employees to use good judgment when posting to a social media site as a private citizen, especially if the employee refers to anything related to NCDPS business” (North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Social Media (2013).
From an individual perspective, most government employees disagree with their organization trying to limit their First Amendment right to express their personal opinions especially on the worldwide internet that organizations have no legal rights to or control over. On the contrary, management may look at government employee’s actions on social media from a utilitarian theory approach. Sharp, B. S., Aguirre, G., Kickham, A. K. (2013) states “the utilitarian theory (teleological ethics) holds that acts are judged to be morally right or wrong not in and of themselves, but rather by the results that follow from the acts. Therefore, no act is in and of itself right or wrong” (pg. 6). Most government agencies are reactive organizations, meaning they only react to certain situations when something bad happens. For example, A probation officer informed an offender via Facebook that the FBI is looking for them. As a public safety officer, it is against policy to inform offenders of confidential information that has not been served by a law enforcement officer. The offender gets pulled over for a routine traffic stop thinking it’s the FBI that’s after hi and leads the police officer on a high-speed chase. The high-speed chase makes national news and the offender kills an innocent bystander during the chase. The offender is apprehended and during interrogation, the offender tells the police officer he was warned by his probation officer that he had a warrant and that he refused to go back to jail. The probation officer is fired for the improper use of social media and breaking policy and procedure of the department. If the offender hadn’t caused national media attention and killed someone, the department would have never acted on firing the probation officer for warning the offender about an unserved warrant or misuse use of the social media policy. Bratton, D., & Candy, V. (2013) even argues that “the potential for conflict between organization and individual goals seems inevitable when making social media accessible in the workplace”. This is a clear example on how social media impacts employees’ professional careers and the conflict it causes between employee and management.
The use of social media to communicate with offenders/clients raises another concern when discussing ethical decision making. Some public safety officers may feel it is ok to accept ‘friend request from clients they work with to keep tabs on them. Voshel, E. H., & Wesala, A. (2015) points out however, that workers “might not take time to consider the ethical complications that might follow and being friends with a client on Facebook, in addition to being a dual relationship, presents additional ethical concerns such as conflict of interest and potential confidentiality/privacy violations” (pg71). This is prevalent in the example given about the Probation Officer disclosing confidential information to an offender via social media.
The following literature reviews will focus on professions in the criminal justice sector ranging from lawyers and social workers to other workforce professions to analyze the impact social media has on employees making unethical decisions on and off duty while also analyzing the differences and similarities of each party involved and what steps were taken to resolve ethical dilemmas.
Privacy and Boundaries
In a research article by Kasten (2011), he examines lawyers and professional ethics on Social Media. He points out that attorney professional ethics applies not only to social media but all aspects of their daily duties when using the internet. Lawyers are asked to proceed with caution when using social media for professional and personal use because it can interfere with court cases and may even discredit evidence in court which can tarnish a lawyer’s reputation. The article points out that the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct has implemented social media laws to help address appropriate and inappropriate behavior on social media however attorneys still find themselves caught in ethical dilemmas when using social media that question confidentiality, risk of unintended conflict and evasion of privacy for lawyers and their clients. The author goes on to state that while using social media, it is unlikely to have any form of privacy due because the web is not owned by anyone so all things posted is unprotected by law.
Similarity, Crtalic, A. K., Gibbs, R. L., Sprong, M. E., & Dell, T. F. (2015) article, emphasize that “The increase in social networking media, on line and distance counseling, and the ubiquitous use of laptops, hand-held devices, and internet connected devices at home and in work settings have resulted in the need for ethical standards to help guide rehabilitation professionals in service delivery. The purpose of this manuscript is to address potential issues that can arise in interacting with clients through social media” (pg.44). The article addresses 7 different topics of discussions however the ones related to this review addresses disadvantages of social media, the use of social media professionally, privately or not at all and implementing a social media policy to address boundaries with clients (Crtalic, et al.,2015). One disadvantage discussed was the use of social media by users and how counselors need to educated themselves on social media privacy settings to reduce the risk of breeches in privacy. Another disadvantage of social media usage was being deceived by other users may portray themselves as someone else besides your client. As Crtalic, et al (2015) states, “non-verbal communication is often lost in an on-line platform and may lead to conflict in the counseling relationship and that the issue of maintaining professional boundaries is perhaps one of the most difficult to navigate, and can lead to potential ethical dilemmas” (pg.44). Given these points, the literature points out that there isn’t a policy in place that specifically address ethical standards and the use of social media for counselors especially the use of social media social sites like Facebook, Link In, and Twitter professionally and personally. To help address ethical dilemmas, the article concludes that ethical dilemmas can be avoided if specific social media policies are in place.
Additionally, Acquisti, A., Brandimarte, L. & Loewenstein, G. 2015, article “identified three processes which, they expressed influence human behavior in relation to privacy concerns: 1. Uncertainty or ignorance about the consequences of crossing the boundaries between the private and public spheres of life; 2. Context-dependency, which may vary by situation, be learned over time, be moderated by cultural norms and values, and swayed by an illusion of anonymity; 3. The degree of malleability and influence, eg. the capture and use (manipulation) of personal data for commercial and political purposes”. Through research, the article argues that people are unaware of the things they share on line, the consequences of personal information being shared online and how personal information is shared through various sites like Facebook making privacy concerns an ongoing dilemma in society. Acquisti et al. (2015) “the boundaries between public and private become less defined’ and the capacity of people to meet expectations concerning privacy ‘more difficult and consequential” (as cited in Johnstone, M, 2016). Acquisti et al., (2015). Points out “the empirical research on privacy reviewed suggested that social media policies that rely exclusively on informing or “empowering” the individual are unlikely to provide adequate protection against the risks posed by recent information technologies”.
Legal Issues and Social Media
In like manner, in Hearing, G. A., & Ussery, B. C. (2012) article on social media and the workplace, it addressed different court cases on how social media has caused problems for both employees and employers on and off duty. Also, as stated in the article, the use of social media and technology not only impacts every aspect of our lives but has caused numerous legal issues for employers. Employees are now taking to social media to address work related issues but are finding themselves in a world of trouble for certain things that are expressed on social media. Hearing, G. A., & Ussery, B. C. (2012), talk about a case were a company “fired an employee for posting critical comments about her supervisor on her personal Facebook page” something that most organization highly discouraged their employees to do in their social media policy.
Comparatively, the article also touches bases on civil rights and first amendment cases involved in misuse of social media in the workforce. A female worker sued the City of Savannah under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that the city subjected her to gender discrimination and retaliation through the enforcement of its workplace policies in the context of her social networking activity. She argued that her former employer was liable for the Facebook comment because it allowed employees to post comments and photos on social networking sites during company time and for company purposes (Hearing, G. A., & Ussery, B. C., 2012).
When first amendment rights are questioned, the article points out that employer’s actions must be balanced with constitutional rights however the Supreme Court has made laws questioning when first amendment rights apply to government employees. The Supreme Court states “when a citizen enters government service, that citizen by necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom. Specifically, when employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purpose” (Garcetti v. Cebellos, 547 U.S. 410, 418, 2006). Furthermore, the Supreme Court also states that if a government employee makes statements outside of their professional duties, they are entailed to their first amendment rights because they are acting as citizens not government officials at that time.
In conclusion, the literature argues that the examples of the legal issues illustrated causes a major concern for employers. Employer’s must not only monitor conduct and performance but also the use of social media in the workforce. If certain policies and procedures are not put in place, there can be significant consequences for both parties involved including intensive legal action.
In contrast to the previous article addressing legal issues, McNelis (2014) literature review argues that there should be a statue or policy in place to address the use of social media for off duty employees while also using a review of litigations involving social media to validate her claim. Since no such law is in place by the National Labor Relations Act, employees who are off duty should be allowed to post pictures, comments or status on social media if its non-work related behavior. Even though there are some states who address off duty use of social media, the literature suggests every state should implement off duty policies to protect the employer and employee.
Work Force Productivity
As an employer, it is extremely important for employees to be productive in the workplace producing positive results for the organization. The negative use of social media has raised concerns on job performance and interactions with coworkers. In Walden (2016) research, it concluded that social media provided a lack of work-life balance and that the employers being interviewed felt like their coworkers were trying to keep tabs on them when social media use is allowed in the workplace. Some employees felt like the use of social media in the workplace allowed them to take “mental breaks from the stressor of the job and will eventually incorporated by their employer for daily use while other veteran employees felt the need for social media at work causes tension and stressor in the workplace and didn’t really care for the use of social media at work. Walden (2016) argues the study further demonstrates that “social media have markedly divided functions in the context of work and the complex division between personal and professional boundaries that employees conscientiously erect in the face of ongoing pressure to merge these realms” (pg. 361).
Being able to effectively communicate with someone is single handedly the most important skill you can possess in the workforce. In Pattnaik, B. K., & Mishra, S. (2014) research on communication styles of managers, the review focuses on the differences in communication styles in managers in public and private sectors. The study used 3 styles of communication to conduct the study: 1. Assertive, 2- non-assertive and 3- aggressive. Pattnaik, B. K., & Mishra, S. (2014), points out, “Non-assertive, assertive and aggressive styles of communication may bring out different kinds of reactions among the employees, and, in turn, might influence job attitudes, work motivation and organizational effectiveness” (pg.185). The research further concludes that managers in private sector managers use more aggressive and assertive styles of communication than public sector managers when communicating with their employees. Pattnaik, B. K., & Mishra, S. (2014) argues “communication is also for developing the correct attitude of the individual towards his organization, work, his colleagues and environment. In the communication process, what is told will be important but what will be perhaps more important is how it is told because the manner of communication will primarily determine the effectiveness of communication than mere context only” (pg.178).
During construction of this research paper, I found that there’s not enough research conducted on social media and how it effects public service employees on and off duty. Research conducted either focuses on the legal issues employees face when misuse of social media occurs or how social media laws should be in place to avoid ethical dilemma in the workforce. These findings are further backed up by El Ouirdi, A., El Ouirdi, M., Segers, J., & Henderickx, E. (2015) research on employees use of social media technologies.
El Ouirdi, et al.,2015, identified 5 main themes of social media usage researched the most by scholars. The 5 themes were: legal aspects and policy, human resources management, knowledge management, learning and communication. Most scholars were interested on the Legal aspects and policy of social media in the workplace so more literature reviews had been produced on this theme the most. Literature reviews on communication in the workforce had the lowest amount of research conducted by scholars. Research on communication and the use of social media by employees, lacked both qualitative and quantitative studies. As El Ouirdi, et al.,2015 points out, “It is surprising to see that an important field such as internal communication has received scant attention in social media scholarship” (pg.459). Furthermore, Pattnaik, B. K., & Mishra, S. (2014) shows the importance of internal communication by stating “Organization cannot exist without communication. If there is no communication, employees cannot know what their co-workers are doing, management cannot receive information input, and supervisor cannot give instructions” (pg. 184).
Due to the lack of research on internal communication themes between employees and employers on the use of social media at work, my research on communication styles in the workforce were extremely limited as well as the effects social media usage have on employees on and off duty.
To further review the use of social media and the ethical dilemmas employees face on and off duty, I would use more of a qualitative methodological approach. Walden (2016), states “Analysis of qualitative interviews shows that personal social media contribute to environmental surveillance in the workplace on multiple levels” (pg.353).
This approach would allow my research to collect data by observing employees in the workforce and interviewing them on how they feel about ethical dilemmas and the use of social media at work. Also, qualitative research would be more effective to address this research topic because the data is reported by the people who are most affected by this problem.
As mentioned in my recommendation, I would use a qualitative approach, including interviews with employees. The sample would consist of about 100 public safety workers who engage in the use of social media daily. These employees would be interviewed and ask a series of questions that would include: Do you use social media at work? Have you ever said anything about a coworker or supervisor on social media? Can you tell me some ethical dilemma that can occur when an employee misusages social media at work and privately? Have you faced any reprimand for misusing social media by your employer? How do you feel about the internal communication you have with your employer? I would also interview management to compare and contrast my findings on the effects of social media in the workplace and look for peer review articles to support my findings.
I would also interview each participant individual in a private setting to minimize stress and tension of the participant being scrutinized by their responses. A private setting may also help the participants to feel more comfortable and honest with their answers. After the sample, I would combine the data I collected to justify that public safety employees experience ethical dilemmas on and off duty when using social media.
Ethnical decisions are hard to obey by in your personal and professional life. An unethical decision can happen at anything within an organization causing conflict on and off duty. Social media plays an important role when dealing with ethical dilemmas and the affect it has on our professional careers. Due to the lack of research on the topic, public safety officers should use good moral judgment to eliminate conflicts within their organization and reduce risk of disciplinary actions and lawsuits relating to unethical behavior on social media. Even though more research is needed, I am confident that scholars will help fill the gap in the future as this discussion of social media in the workplace will continue to cause problems amongst public service organizations.
Acquisti, A., Brandimarte, L. & Loewenstein, G. 2015. Privacy and human behavior in the age of information. Science, 347(6221): 509-514. Cited in Johnstone, M. (2016). Privacy, professionalism and social media. Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal, 23(7), 23. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/1761653263?accountid=27965
Bratton, D., & Candy, V. (2013). Federal government ethics: Social media. International Journal of Management & Information Systems (Online), 17(3), 175. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/1418458128?accountid=27965
Crtalic, A. K., Gibbs, R. L., Sprong, M. E., & Dell, T. F. (2015). Boundaries with social media: Ethical considerations for rehabilitation professionals. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 46(3), 44-50. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/1728268404?accountid=27965
Department of Public Safety (2013). Communications Office. Social Media Policy.
El Ouirdi, A., El Ouirdi, M., Segers, J., & Henderickx, E. (2015). Employees’ use of social media technologies: a methodological and thematic review. Behaviour & Information Technology, 34(5), 454-464. doi:10.1080/0144929X.2015.1004647
Hearing, G.A. (2012). “The Times They Are a Changin’: The Impact of Technology and Social Media on the Public Workplace, Part I”. The Florida bar journal (0015-3915), 86 (3), 35-39.
Kasten, S.W. “Professional ethics and social media”. Boston bar journal (0524-1111), 55 (3), 40-45.
Marcum, T. M., J.D., & Perry, S. J., J.D. (2014). WHEN A PUBLIC EMPLOYER DOESN’T LIKE WHAT ITS EMPLOYEES “LIKE”: SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT. Labor Law Journal, 65(1), 5-19. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/1513536706?accountid=27965
McNelis, K. (2014). Off-duty statutes and social media: The need for protection regardless of whether speech is concerted. The Review of Litigation, 33(1), 219-248. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/1544870517?accountid=27965
Sharp, B. S., Aguirre, G., Kickham, A. K. (2013). Managing in the Public Sector: A Casebook in Ethics and Leadership, Vitalsource for Capella University, 1st Edition. [Bookshelf Online]. Retrieved from https://bookshelf.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781269204408/
Pattnaik, B. K., & Mishra, S. (2014). COMMUNICATION STYLE OF MANAGERS: A COMPARATIVE STUDY ON PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTOR. Social Science International, 30(1), 177-187. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/1542686463?accountid=27965
Voshel, E. H., & Wesala, A. (2015). Social Media & Social Work Ethics: Determining Best Practices in an Ambiguous Reality. Journal of Social Work Values & Ethics, 12(1), 67-76
Walden, J. A. (2016). Integrating Social Media into the Workplace: A Study of Shifting Technology Use Repertoires. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 60(2), 347-363. doi:10.1080/08838151.2016.1164163
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