Guest Blogger

Should I Be Me? The LGBT Ethics of Social Media

Filed By Guest Blogger | July 12, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Media
Tags: LGBT ethics, social media

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Leone Kraus is the voice behind the LGBT social media blog From volunteering, to lobbying, and now blogging, Leone-Kraus.jpgLeone has continuously played an active role in the fight for LGBT equality for the past 16 years. Leone is currently obtaining her Master's degree in Public Relations and Corporate Communications from New York University.

Picture, if you will, a fictional gay couple: Chad and Jason.

Chad works for a liberal book publishing company and volunteers for a variety of GLBT organizations in San Francisco, which he proudly lists on his public profile.

Jason works as a lawyer, which is not as accepting of homosexuality in the workplace as Chad's work, even though it exists. Jason doesn't have time to engage in volunteer activities that would expose his sexuality, keeping his identity "in the closet" so to speak.

Below is a fictionalized reenactment of a conversation between Jason and Chad about their social profiles:

Jason: I can't be out because this affects my chances of getting a job. People don't hire openly gay lawyers.

Chad: I would be lying to people if I weren't out, and you are my boyfriend. How can I educate the community on the importance of equality and not be out myself?

Chad and Jason are facing an ethical dilemma that many GLBT individuals encounter when working with their social media profiles - "Should I be me?"

GLBT Social Media Ethics

Social media platforms like Facebook and MySpace allow you to cherry-pick the information you want the world to know about you. However, your friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances have the freedom to upload, download, tag, and post information about you without your consent. You control what you put on your profile but you can't always manage what other people are posting and sharing about you. Sure, there are privacy settings you can select to help manage what other people are posting, but there still is no guarantee.

The ethical dilemma that GLBT individuals face is considering what information they should share on their social media profiles when it comes to their sexuality. For instance, Jason is not yet 'out' on his Facebook profile. Now in a relationship with Chad, many of the pictures from events in his personal life would be exposing. Furthermore, he is becoming more involved in the GLBT community along with Chad, who volunteers for a variety of GLBT organizations. It's inevitable that one of his volunteer peers will post a picture and tag Chad and Jason since this has become the norm. The caption of the photo may read something like, "Volunteering for the San Francisco Gay Group ______".

Voila! Jason has been exposed by his peer.

Public Relations firm Ruder Finn suggests the social media users should utilize the following ethical guidelines:

1. Honesty: State only what you know to be true – and be clear about opinion or conjecture vs. fact.

2. Transparency: Be straightforward about who you are – and who you're representing online.

3. Respect: Respect for yourself, your peers, and even your adversaries.

4. Privacy: Treat the intimate details of others as you would your own personal information.

5. Relevance: Ensure that the content you're posting is relevant to the audience and the venue where it's being posted.

6. Responsibility: Take ownership of your online activities, the content you've created, and any missteps you've made along the way.

Now that we have some social media guidelines to follow, let's take a look at the volunteer who posted and tagged the photo of Chad. Ruder Finn suggests that 'respect' and 'privacy' should be taken when you're working with social media. The reality is, as fun as it was, the volunteer should not have tagged Jason and Chad in the photo, but rather emailed them requesting permission before attaching their names to the photo.

On the other hand, Jason does not want to be 'out' on his profile, but this demonstrates a lack of 'transparency' on his part. While protecting his privacy is not wrong and also very important, it is logistically difficult. Jason needs to consider how serious he is about protecting his privacy before engaging in social media. The safest, but also lethal to his social life and career, is to not have a Facebook page. Having one, however, will require constant monitoring of his page and his friends' pages in order to protect his social media identity.

When reflecting on "Should I be me?" my answer to the GLBT community is that you should be who you want your social media self to be. However, consider carefully the risks and benefits associated with the use of sites like Facebook and MySpace. Review your privacy settings carefully and consider checking them frequently.

Social media users should also consider the privacy of their peers and not post anything that exposes others, respecting their friends' values. Maybe you're openly gay on your profile like Chad but that doesn't mean you need to go opening the closet door on your peers.

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"The safest, but also lethal to his social life and career, is to not have a Facebook page."

This seems entirely wrong. If Jason doesn't have a Facebook page, how can he monitor what other people are posting about him? How would he even know that a photo of him was posted?

The safer option is to have a profile. This gives him more control about what's out there. Participating and controlling your online image is more important than not participating and not knowing what's out there about you.

spigliatezza | July 13, 2010 12:29 AM

Well, if he doesn't have a Facebook account, then he can't be tagged in a way that would allow his friends to see it. People would have to be friends with the album owner or with someone else tagged in the photo. Unless, of course, the photo is completely public, which is a possibility.
A better solution might be to have two Facebook profiles. A friend of mine who works at a high school does this - she has one "clean" profile for students and teachers, and another one for her other friends.

JonathonEdwards | July 13, 2010 12:00 PM

Not having a facebook page to hide your sexual identity - or creating two versions for that purpose - are just different ways of saying "stay in the closet". Staying in the closet is inherently unethical*. This hypothetical lawyer is using homophobia to get a job and advance in a career that out lawyers might not be able to. Meaning using homophobia to earn a buck. Inherently unethical. What he needs to do is grow a spine and, if necessary, take a pay cut so he can live honestly. Not hide behind a phony facebook page.

*The only exception to this dictum, in my book, is in the case of an actual threat of violence or physical harm. A gay lawyer living in San Francisco who has a partner will do just fine if he comes out.

Interesting piece re:social media ethics. I, as opposed to Jason, have used FB/Twitter to inch out. It's been a perfect avenue for me to slowly break the news to family/friends without being in-your-face about it, which is totally not my style.