Ethics: should they be only expected of organisations and professionals?

While the need for ethics is widely expected among professionals and organisations, has technology changed on how the ‘Average Joe’ interacts with others?


Earlier this month, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) shared with its members, the results of a global survey it had recently conducted. In summary, the accounting professionals and managers, who participated in the survey, were of the view that “strong ethical principles and behaviour will become more important in the evolving digital age”, and “ethical behaviour helps to build trust in the digital age” (Source:  ACCA).

Thanks to the pace of technology, and the near continuous and instantaneous news we can readily access, it is easy for accountants, and equally, other professionals, to get swept up in that environment. Essentially, it is easy to be reckless, for example, by not confirming facts, or disregarding tried and tested procedures in the name of expediency. Frequently, what the clients need – even if they do not always realise it – are professionals who, among other things:

  • conduct themselves and their business in a lawful manner
  • are honest about their skills and capabilities, as well as the ease or complexity of the clients’ issues they need to address; and
  • are prepared to exercise and offer prudent judgment and advice on the matters they are dealing with for and behalf of their clients.

Although we might expect this standard of care and behaviour from business professionals and from organisations, the truth of the matter is that in this digital age, they are no longer our sole sources for information and advice. With the advent of Web 2.0, over 15 years ago, the average Internet user can also be a content creator – such as by blogging, podcasting, and participating in social media, social networks and wikis.

What does this have to do with ethics and trust In the digital age? A lot.

Currently, people who have large online followings and regularly produce new content can earn a lot of money, for example, from advertisements placed on the site, sponsorship, product placements, giving favourable reviews of products, to name a few. However, for those who are creating content for their platform, such as YouTube, full-time, the hustle to earn enough money to sustain their life and lifestyle can be intense.

Further, marketers and advertisers are seeking to capitalise on the content creator’s relationship with his follower to generate conversions and sales. Unfortunately, it is not always clear whether followers of a particular content creator, for example, are getting an honest review/opinion of a product or service, or whether a seen or mentioned product (or service) is one the content creator actually uses in everyday life.

Essentially, and in the immortal words associated with Spiderman, “with great power” (the ability to influence others), “comes great responsibility” (the need to honest and transparent in those dealings). With the recent upsurge in fake news, for example, we are already becoming sceptical about what might be authoritative and honest sources for important news. Hence if content creators, generally, do not engage in ethical practices, all of their efforts could be undermined considerably.

Luckily, there is a growing recognition among content creators, especially those who are successful, of the importance of ethical practices when engaging with their followers. Similar to the relationships accountants and other professionals aim to foster with their clients, trust is crucial, as it directly affects credibility, and the long-term sustainability of client relationships, and equally important, of the business.


Image credit:  Benjamin Reay (flickr)