Part II: Ethical Guidelines for Digital Communication

Having the skills in digital communication to share your ideas worldwide requires an understanding of the ethics involved. And as you will see, these same rules of ethics and bias can be applied to leadership in general. They are basic concepts of fairness in communication. You may, in the course of writing your Story Awards submission for Module 3, or in the course of your work in your community, have the responsibility to share other people’s stories.  Your goal should be to tell stories fairly by listening to people you agree and disagree with. You might be writing or talking about ideas that are difficult to discuss, like HIV/AIDS, or sexual and reproductive rights. By sharing these difficult stories gracefully and simply, you explain to the world what life is like in your community. 

*The information on ethics below was adapted from training created by the Global Press Institute for World Pulse.

What are Ethics?  

Ethics are fundamental principles that define values and determine moral duty and obligation. For the purpose of our story writing, ethics will refer to fairness and balance – giving all sides a voice and acting honestly.

What is Bias?

A bias is a preference towards a particular perspective, ideology, or result.  When you are sharing your story online or for publication, it is important to acknowledge your biases and remember that not everyone shares your opinions. Imagine you are writing about the issue of greatest importance to you. Then, imagine that you are talking with someone who is on the opposite side of that issue. No matter how you feel about the issue, you should strive to listen and accurately record what that person has to say.  Then when you write online, publish, or talk to groups, you should try to present and understand all sides of the debate as fairly as possible. Why?  Because if you do this, it adds to your credibility, and people trust you as a leader. They trust your ideas, because they believe you are fair and considerate of other perspectives.

The following ethical guidelines should be considered whenever we share our stories – online or in person. 

Ethics Guideline #1:
Seek truth and share it with fairness and grace.  As a leader and communicator, you should seek to share the truth as fully as possible. Truth can be relative:  What you believe to be true may be different than what another believes to be true. When you blog, publish, and talk about your ideas, your job is not to decide what is absolutely true, but rather to assess your own experience, then gather facts, opinions, anecdotes, statistics, and quotes to represent the reality of your own truth.

Ethics Guideline #2:
Always Act Independently. As you gather competing perspectives, be careful not to be influenced by those perspectives — especially by those who would use their power or position counter to the public interest. For example, let’s say you are trying to change a law that bans divorce in all cases, even if a woman is abused or harmed by her husband. A government official tells you that it would cause women more harm than good to try to change this law, because there would be too much backlash towards women in your community if they pursued this change. This may be true, and it would be important to listen to this idea, and weigh it carefully. However, it certainly might be that the government official has a stake in keeping this law, maybe because it would add work for him, or maybe because he personally benefits from this law. It is important to not be influenced by someone in power just because of his or her position. Remain free of associations or activities that may compromise your integrity or damage your credibility. As a leader, credibility is essential. 

Ethics Guideline #3:
Do No Harm.  Give thorough consideration to how other people could be affected by your actions. Let’s take a look at two different examples of how your actions can affect other people:

Imagine that you are drawing attention to a new HIV clinic in your town. It might be essential to keep information about patients anonymous. In this case, sharing information may cause harm or discomfort.

Let’s say that you are going to share stories through digital media about the importance of education for women in your community, and in your country, women who seek education are often harassed, and even subject to violence. While the story is no doubt an important one, it is equally important to do no harm to those women. One solution could be to tell their stories, while leaving out names, geographical details, and anything else that might put women in jeopardy. 

Ethics Guideline #4: 
Fairness, Fairness, Fairness.  Everyone runs into conflicts of interest, but the important thing is to recognize it when it happens.  When you are communicating to the public or sharing information online, it is important to never misrepresent someone’s words or ideas, whether or not you disagree with them.