Ghost writing, social media and ethics


One of the perennial debates about social media ethics is around ghost writing – the practice of getting someone else to write content in your name.

Of course this is nothing new. It’s been happening offline for a very long time – particularly speechwriting and op ed pieces in newspapers and magazines. Everyone knows it, and I’ve not heard anyone with a particular problem with it.

However with social media – and in particular blogs and micro-blogging – there’s a much bigger ethical discussion around ghost writing and its acceptability.

The main debate hinges around whether social media tools are inherently different to the long-established PR tools where ghost writing is the norm. Essentially, the argument goes that the audience’s expectation is different with social media – there’s an expectation of authenticity that precludes the practice of ghost writing from being ethically acceptable.

That’s a principle I sign up to. No question.

But in practice how does this work – as many organisational and political leaders, despite best intentions, don’t have the time or skills to use social media effectively? For them to use social media as part of their communications mix, ghost writing is a must.

The way around this is disclosure – being open, honest and transparent about how social media content in an individual’s name is created.

There’s plenty of online debate about social media ethics – and some strong opinions in the various camps. A particularly good post I spotted recently that I agree with most of the arguments in is from Dave Fleet – worth checking out for a summary of some of the main ethical issues around ghosting.

The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations consultation recommends erring on the side of caution in disclosing relevant information about content authorship in social media – but also suggests that not disclosing the practice of ghost writing may break the law in the UK (in the form of the Unfair Commercial Practices directive), although there’s no case law (yet) to back this up.