Code of Ethics for Online Advocacy
The internet is increasingly becoming a powerful platform for advocacy with the evolution of social media both in its capabilities and quantity of users. The hashtag #refugeeswelcome even contributed to changing the way a national government dealt with refugees from the Middle East.
Advocating certain causes and ideologies on the internet is far easier than making an official publication, and can be done in near anonymity. There is also a common misconception that things done or said on the internet do not actually matter, which leads to people in effect writing a ballot for a cause they do not wholly believe. It is very easy to exploit the vague identity that the internet grants to its users, and often with no consequence. Thus it falls into the users’ hands — anybody seeking to advocate an idea on the internet, whether it be a journalist or citizen — to follow a strict code of ethics that control the internet’s potential harm.
Anonymity must not change the way ideologies are advocated. Reason and credibility must still take precedence over impact and passion. It is still humans advocating ideas, and it is still humans that take the effect of that.
The internet’s anonymity does also provide a space of carefree discussion where opinions can be spewed with much less worries than if two people were to be arguing face-to-face. Thus anonymity should not be considered a veil for irresponsible internet dwellers to hide behind, but rather an insurance — a means of extending one’s comfort zone, to set the ground for the coming discussions. Again, this is assuming that the anonymity is taken advantage of correctly and not abused.
Within this anonymity, advocacy can must not be brainless shaming or badmouthing. It must be rooted in reason, and open to discussion. This is especially important in the internet where opinions are so varied, and unlike in the physical world everybody can speak confidently due to anonymity.
Credibility and verification
Just like official journalism, verification is important. The facility of the internet should not be an excuse for omitting context and creating haphazard information.
Deliberately distorting information is out of the question. In a way the responsibility of internet advocacy is heavier than the bindings of contractors that real life journalists deal with, as there is a common misunderstanding that bullshit can be spread on the internet. Quite on the contrary, bullshit on the internet is far more harmful than real life bullshit, as it can reach a much larger mass of people and it is harder to track the sources of it. Especially when this information stays forever on the internet; it will never truly go away.
The internet is an ideal platform for spreading more radical ideas, as there is no real crowd being talked to. At the same time it is able to reach a much larger audience, a large portion of which, is likely to be sympathetic no matter how radical the idea. This quality of the internet can be taken advantage of, but like in any case, mindless ranting is not credible advocacy.
Less popular ideas may only find their place on the internet. The obligation to reason applies also to the receiver of this information; instantly denying ideas that do not adhere to one’s own ideals defeats the biggest quality of the internet as a place of anonymous, free discussion.
The Click is a Ballot
As tempting as it may be to click and support anything that has a sick child on its front cover, and as easy as it may also be, it is important that you understand the significance of that one click as a digital ballot.
The internet is not a haphazard platform of advocacy, it is very real in terms of its power. It must be taken seriously when it is being used as a medium of ideology advocacy. To cover yourself in ice water to raise money for diseased children is not a fashion item, it is advocacy of a specific cause. To add a tricolore filter to your profile picture is not a way to adhere to a trend, it is advocacy of support for the Parisian people.
When everybody is doing a certain thing on social media, it is tempting to follow suit for a sense of inclusion. However this bandwagon mentality is among the most powerful and harmful traits of the internet. It is the pinnacle of the internet’s anonymity, facility, and herd mentality. An individual may just end up being a part of social change without even intending to. The matter is not whether this change is for the better or for the worse, it is whether it correctly represents the desire of the people that have checked enough ballots to bring that cause to public attention.
Controlling the effects of the Bandwagon
Due to this power talking about specific people and organizations must be done with caution too. This can blow up to crazy masses of people fighting for something they never really believed, while doing immense harm to a group that is being attacked by something resembling a worldwide bullying, vague but powerful. If the previously mentioned bandwagon gives civil rights to a subjugated minority, that is one thing — it is another thing if that bandwagon results in the mass bashing of a certain person, group, or organization.