Relative to the duration of human history, social media is very much in its infancy. Facebook launched in 2004, Twitter in 2006, and Instagram in 2010. The world is still in large part working out how to use social media and just what its place is in the world. The complexities and dangers of social media in modern society have been borne out by data breaches, online harassment, and widespread misinformation campaigns. For professionals, balancing their professionalism with maintaining an online presence has added another layer of nuance to the discussion.
With that in mind, here are four things professionals should know while being active on social media platforms:
Obligations to the profession
Remember that, as a member, your professional obligations do not end when office hours do. You are expected to uphold the standards of the profession at all times. A fundamental principle of the CIMA Code of Ethics is "professional behaviour", and this requires that members avoid "any conduct that the professional accountant knows or should know might discredit the profession". The behaviour of a member in their personal life can bring themselves, and the profession, into disrepute.
A starting point when thinking about what to post could be as follows: How would this reflect on me and the wider profession? If in doubt, it might be a good sign to rethink the post. Remember, even if you post outside of work hours, on a personal account, in relation to a topic unconnected with the profession, you must maintain the standards of the profession. Failing to do so can lead to allegations of misconduct and, if the allegations are upheld, sanction from a Disciplinary Committee.
'My opinions are my own'
Freedom of speech is a fundamental freedom that we all value, and disciplinary action does not result from reasonable comment or opinions. You, of course, do have freedom of speech, and your status as a member does not remove that freedom, but there is an added responsibility that comes with it. As a member, you have agreed to abide by standards, and you are expected to uphold these standards at all times.
Putting the phrase "my opinions are my own" in the bio of your social media profile will not necessarily be sufficient to insulate you from an accusation of misconduct. This is especially true where connections between your social media account and your professional association can be found.
Another important factor to consider is the impact of your words on others. As social media connects us to people across the globe, it's also important to note that different cultures see behaviours through different lenses. What might constitute humour for one person may well be offensive to another. When it comes to determining what constitutes online harassment, the impact on the recipient can be a deciding factor, and not the intention of the individual making the comment. It's important to be mindful of the impact of your conduct on others.
Private does not always mean private
A private social media account used in a personal capacity can still prompt an allegation of misconduct. Anything posted on a social media platform can be captured in a screenshot and provided as evidence of misconduct by anyone who may have grounds to have concerns about its contents. So even though you may have posted on a private account, this does not mean the post itself will stay private.
It may be prudent to periodically review your previous posts to determine whether, with the passage of time, any posts or comments should be retracted or removed entirely.
The online world is an increasingly complicated and ever-changing space, and so it is important to treat even casual use responsibly. To be responsible, you should do your best to:
- Be informed when posting.
- Refrain from posting when angry or frustrated.
- Maintain professional standards by avoiding any insulting or derogatory language.
- Use your platform to promote positivity and professionalism.
It is commonplace for people to find themselves in a heated debate on a polarised topic of conversation. Often, to drive engagement, social media platform algorithms amplify the more extreme voices or opinions on any given topic. Don't lose sight of yourself and your standards when engaging with others. If you find your temper rising during online discourse, take a break before returning to the conversation. If someone takes offence at something you say, step up, apologise if necessary, and take your post down or edit it — be your own editor. You can still express your opinions, but being responsive to the inferences of others may help you to avoid a complaint of misconduct. It only takes a few seconds to post a comment, but you and others can feel the effects of this for much longer.
Further information can be found in existing social media guidance on the CIMAglobal website. You can also contact the CIMA Ethics Helpline, where we can provide links to appropriate sections of the Code of Ethics and further guidance.
— Xose Lumor is the manager, Advocacy & Professional Ethics–Management Accounting at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing AICPA & CIMA, and is based in the UK. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.