The key to successfully influencing ethical change in an organisation, or indeed in the way a nation is led, is to get to the impact or pain to the organisation, nation or government. The approach should include a clearly thought out argument coupled with one or more constructive solutions. Working with, rather than against is usually the best first option.

One of the lessons I learned from working for a large global corporate many years ago, was that to drive change, particularly if that was costly, we’d have to build a case that action was required to prevent financial loss to the organisation. This particular story is about accessibility and the Internet. An organisation, which then had over 120,000 employees worldwide, an internal portal for those employees and multiple web sites, was not accessible to those with disabilities (for example those needing larger text). Like the others in the team (the geeks and the marketers), I raised the issue of ethics and reputation. I was told “We know, we’ve tried to make change, but the business will not do it, unless there is a legal reason”. I persevered and found the legislation online which applied significantly to larger organisations, but was rebuffed “Yes but no organisation has been sued” was the reply.  I didn’t give up and found a case won against the Olympic Games for a non-accessible web site. I cited the case to the Director of Risk, which initiated a worldwide accessibility project costing over £1-million to implement. The sad but practical lesson – Money, not ethics talks.

So what can we learn? The humanity case, the ethics case – these are all positive, but we need to get to the financial impact, which is often due to loss of reputation, and in particular loss of audience. When asked by Krishnan Guru-Murphy during an interview on Channel 4 News, about the social networks decision to remove accounts and content, the need for regulation of content and the tech and social media giants, I said, “If they are seen to be allowing such content that hurts others, then that’s not good for their reputation”.  I was referring to online harms such as disinformation, inciting violence and hate speech such as racism.

Loss of audience is also about changing humanity, educating and nurturing a culture of compassion and strong morals. Strategically and morally, if we focus on these areas, raise awareness about harms and risk to human life of bullying and fake news, we can then collectively and collaboratively enable both media and social networks to support positive journalistic and user-generated content.

As always, policies within organisations for ethical information and handling of user-generated content in their forums and on their platforms, should form part of content and information strategy, and consider legal, financial and reputation risks, as well as branding, audience and objectives.

Social networks are struggling and striving with the volume of harmful user-generated content on their platforms, with billions of items of content removed or flagged with a fact check. Algorithms and artificial intelligence combined with human intervention are constantly improving to take on this bold task, and while it appears that the social networks needed either a push or the support of it’s advertisers and governments, they are tackling the mammoth task head-on. The burden will ease alongside a cultural shift in what the general public views as acceptable and with society cultivating a positive atmosphere and dialogues both on and off-line.

Includes extract from Deborah’s February 2020 Linked article ‘How to Drive Change when Companies Won’t Respond to the Ethics Argument’.

About the Author

Futurist and Digital Philosopher, Deborah Collier is an influential figure who has worked in digital, business and marketing with a heavy footprint in the knowledge economy – education, media and publishing for 20-years. She has been heavily active on social media studying the impacts and interplay between digital, data, social networks and humanity, defining a concept she called the ‘Content Social Symbiosis’. A business and educational leader, she has written and talked about Conscious business as well as social media’s benefits and risks to humanity since 2009. She has woven ‘Digital Ethics‘ into both her role at the Digital Skills Authority and it’s management and leadership programs with a global ‘Digital Governance Framework’. She has also supported vital initiatives to combat online harms such as child grooming, as seen in NSPCC’s Wild West Web Campaign.

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