Sunday, August 11, 2019
Should you unfollow those with whom you disagree?
A reader we're calling Ken who is a teacher in the Midwest writes that while he is not overly active on social media, he does like to follow some news organizations, professional associations, academic resources and individuals whose work touches on his own interests on Twitter. He figures it's a quick way to keep up with what others are thinking about issues even if 280 characters rarely provides any in-depth insight.
Ken tries to keep the number of those he follows below 500, believing that that gives him a good sampling. As he finds himself creeping above that number of people, he regularly cuts some who either don't post much or don't post much of interest to him.
But Ken writes that he has a strong belief that he should not follow anyone whose views he finds abhorrent, irresponsible or lazy. He believes that adding to followers on these accounts only encourages the poster to believe that what he or she is posting is of value.
He also writes that he believes he has an ethical responsibility to stop following people who regularly repost tweets from such objectionable sources. While the person retweeting might be retweeting without comment, Ken views this as a tacit endorsement of their views or, at the very least, an encouragement that they should keep posting such stuff.
"Am I wrong to believe this is an ethical issue?" Ken asks.
I do not tell people who they should and shouldn't follow on social media. If Ken's approach works for him to keep him as informed as he wants to be from consulting his Twitter feed, then it's perfectly acceptable for him to follow or unfollow anyone he wants to follow. It's curious that Ken chooses not to block the accounts of those he finds truly objectionable with their posts, but that is his call as well.
In general, however, I do not agree that it is inherently unethical to follow those tweeters with whom you disagree or whose views run counter to your own. Sure, if someone is truly offensive on a regular basis, that's good reason to unfollow. It's also Twitter's responsibility to enforce its stated policy of not permitting tweets that incite violence, endanger children or others, abuse or harass, promote hate, encourage self-harm, or incite illegal activity. Twitter lays this all out in its "Twitter Rules" on its site. Tweeters would do well to report tweets that fall into any of these categories.
Personally, I follow many whose political, personal, religious or other views are different from my own. I find it a useful way to broaden my perspective and stay informed - well, as informed as short bursts can provide.
The right thing when choosing who or who not to follow on Twitter or other social media platforms is for each individual to decide what they want to use the site for. No social media site of which I'm aware is a substitute for keeping up with current events. Deciding whom to follow is more a personal than an ethical choice.
Ken should follow or unfollow whomever he wants, but he shouldn't delude himself into believing that those who manage their social media differently from him are any less ethical in doing so.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.