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The Ethics of Social Sharing


Social media operates on a currency of shares. The more we share, the popularity and value of the content increases. This is what we call going viral.

We both share and (in many cases unwittingly) create content that we find interesting or newsworthy that we want others in our social media circles to consume. The lines of social media have in fact blurred, giving us a sense of duality as users, making us consumers and creators of content alike. In fact, every time someone posts a photo or shares another’s content with some additional writing in their posts, they automatically become creators of social media content which is available to others for consumption.

While sharing and creating content is not problematic overall, this concept requires a revisit, especially in times of crisis like the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks across Sri Lanka. It is a great thing that news travels faster in a digital age, but some essential checks are required to ensure an ethical process is followed by all across social media. Facebook and other platforms already have several measures in place to ban content that includes abusive language, hate speech and nudity. These aspects are not the only problematic areas of social content, however.

Further, language nuances are not taken into consideration by international social media giants. In Sri Lanka for instance, the Tamil word for brother and a derogatory term to refer to Muslim men (thambi) are one in the same. Not being able to grasp these linguistic nuances or not investing in the right people to work as watchdogs within these leading social media organizations has been a massive failing. In the midst of all the good that social media channels do, there is much to dialogue in terms of its failings.

Further, in a time of crisis, with no proper measures in place by these organizations, it falls on the public and content creators within the country to operate with some ethical guidelines in place. Here are some best practices we can adhere to when we use social media, especially in relation to sharing content in a time of crisis:


Sensationalist headlines can be misleading in many cases and are done to provoke shares. Ensure that you read the article in full prior to sharing as in many cases the body of the content might not convey the same message as its headline.


There are many fake news outlets out there who thrive on sensationalism. Ensure that you are sharing content created by a valid news source. Also ensure that their own sources are accurate.


Sometimes old news, relating to a current news topic can get shared around and mislead people with old information that is not specifically relevant to the moment. Ensure that you are sharing a new news story or infer the date when posting.


Even reliable news sources publish opinion pieces by writers whose perspective may fuel a crisis. Ensure that you share content created by a reliable author with credentials or past work.


In addition to the validity of the content you share, it is essential to check your own biases surrounding the topic in concern. Are you only sharing content that feeds back into your opinions or are you ensuring that you share content that has multiple perspectives on the issue?

Natalie Soysa

August 2019




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