The Ethics of Social Networking and Virtual Relationships


I had an interesting enlightenment last week about digitally mediated friendships, or in a proper term: virtual friendships. We do it, we feel weird about it at times, but we don’t really acknowledge the awkwardness in converting virtual friends to physically “pokable” people.

A long-time friend of mine, let’s call him, Jim, caught me unguarded, recently, on Facebook when he sent me a “hey there” out of the blue. Jim and I met during our first year in college. We became Facebook friends after taking a class together and had never really talked face-to-face after we both became busier with school.

Yet, Facebook made it possible for us to receive updates (via feeds) about each other’s lives, in general. So, I knew when Jim went to a Lady Gaga concert, attended his sister’s wedding, and had gotten a highlight in his hair. Likewise, Jim probably noticed some of the events and activities I made public on the social networks. I was slightly out of my wits when I saw that chat message from Jim last week. Nonetheless, I remained cool and we chatted online for the next two days. The friendlier side of me then decided to invite Jim out for coffee. That was how things began to feel a little odd.

The regular “Hello, how are you? So great to see you,” introduction went okay. But when I asked Jim how the Gaga concert went, he gave me a cold stare. There and then I realized that I had broken some sort of a digital friendship code of ethics. Maybe, just maybe, thou shall not talk about your friends’ activities on social media if you haven’t contributed to the conversations, online or offline, prior to face-to-face meetings. Meaning, I shouldn’t have asked about the Gaga concert since I was not a part of that conversation before I met with Jim; I was merely a “stalker” by Internet terms.

The rest of our coffee date was spent with an elephant in the room. From this incident, I have also gained some other insights about maintaining virtual friendships:

Online friendships are disembodied reality.

Virtual relationships don’t mean they are unreal; people have different expectations for communicating and sharing online. As various devices allow us to connect with others on multiple levels, the depth and meaningfulness of virtual friendships vary from one relationship to another. As such, we must be sensitive to the digital distance between our friends and us when deciding the point of entry for our conversations.

Online sociality prefers honesty.

Truthfulness is desired when it comes to the ethical dimension of social networks. Even though online users get great autonomy in playing with the notions of identity without much risk, newer technologies are demanding users to be more responsible of their identities and acts. Never fake another person’s identity. Humble brags are acceptable, but don’t overdo it.

Treat thy online friends like thyself.

It is possible that we sometimes overlook modesty when engaging with others online. A rule of thumb is to not say anything to an online person that you won’t otherwise say to him or her face-to-face. It may be fun to tease someone over the Internet, but one should be reminded that unintended online bullying is just as bad as intended bullying. The golden rule also applies here online, too: treat others how you’d like to be treated.

Virtual friendships are a common social phenomenon these days. It’s a social skill the newer generation needs to master. To avoid being that socially awkward person online – and later, face-to-face – remember the mentioned etiquette for your own good.

This editorial is published at University Chronicle on September 8, 2013.
Image courtesy of 

#Hashtags in the Writing Classroom


Hashtags are used to group messages and label topics. Today, hashtags are widely used in the social networks as a markup for groups of interests that belong together and a language for expression that is used outside the traditional sentence structure. Steve Boyd in a blogpost describes hashtags as “twitter groupings” that can be “wonderful for serendipity.” Hashtags are to Twitter as Likes are to Facebook, until Facebook stole the light recently by launching its own hashtagging function.

Read about the origin of Twitter hashtags here.

How do #Hashtags work?

By simply writing the pound symbol (#) in front of a keyword or a phrase (written as one word), e.g. #love, #writing, #instructionaltechnology, etc. you turn the words/phrases into searchable terms and clickable links on your posts or tweets. Depending on your social platform, you will be redirected to a feed of posts/tweets that contains the hashtagged term when you click on them.

For example: Failure is inevitable. Misery is optional. #365empowerment (A hashtag project that I started on Facebook before hashtags were possible on the platform!)

Due to its searchable nature, hashtags allow trending topics/terms to be featured in your social networks. Twitter shows an updated feed about the most popular hashtags in its streams.

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Using #Hashtags in writing instruction

Writing instructors may take advantage of the functions hashtags offer to help students engage with public conversations as they learn to write. The following exercises are some of my ideas on how to utilize hashtags in making composition pedagogy more interesting for students:

  1. Use hashtags to group research/writing topics on Facebook groups for schools
  2. Post announcements to class (social media) pages using hashtags to markup categories
  3. Use social media management dashboards like TweetDeck to monitor and manage trending hashtags
  4. Conduct real-time virtual discussions using Twitter streams during lectures or peer review sessions
  5. Really, it is up to your own creativity on how you’d like to use hashtags in your classroom!

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Using dashboards like TweetDeck, students can handpick topics they would like to follow, e.g. #rhetoric, #insomnia, #fitness, etc. as part of the research process. Students may curate useful information, blog links or websites that are helpful toward their respective research projects.

A new language?

Languages evolve. As the impact of hashtags is becoming more profound in the composition process, we as writing instructors should teach our students to be more flexible and rhetorically aware of the language(s) in digital media. Keeping up with the ever-evolving new media is just as important as learning any new skills, since the corporate world relies heavily on the latest computer and mobile technology in their operations. Teaching students the language of digital media is preparing them for the competitive job market.

Do you use hashtags in your classroom/workplace? How do you use them? Share your ideas and comments below.

Considering Audience, Message, and Action in Social Advertising


Audience theory has been in existence since the emergence of mass communication/media studies. In fact, the best way to measure the success of any message is to gather audience feedback. However, in traditional advertising, the audience is simply the group of individuals that advertisers are interested in speaking to. They can be grouped or segmented by demographic and psychographic properties. However, in the social media world, audiences share connectedness and a sense of community among online users (Gangadharbatia, 2012). Audiences on social media usually organize themselves into clicks and groups, which can be an advantage for advertisers in segmenting and identifying potential target market.

Another distinction in social media audience, from their traditional counterparts, is the erasure of boundaries – both time and space. When considering communication strategies for the social media platforms, advertisers and marketers should pay attention to the limitation and opportunities for conversations in the open webspace.


Similar to audience theory, several message theories exist that explain how information propagates in a traditional media context. The two-step flow model of communication and opinion leadership are examples of these. However, these concepts could be adapted to study online advertising. For social media “there are fewer or no gatekeepers, and the barriers to entry are relatively low” (Gangadharbatia, 2012). Hence, brands and organizations are forced to become more open and transparent. Even so, communication strategists should continue to explore ways to engage audience in their marketing plans. As technology makes it easier to create and share content, many creative strategies involve user-generated content and audience participation.


Erik Qualman (2009), author of Socialnomics, said that individuals no longer look for information; rather, information finds individual on social media (Gangadharbatia, 2012). This changes our traditional perception of how the message propagates through the channel – social media users have more control than traditional media users, and information presents itself in individuals based on different social contexts. [Note to self:] While collecting user perception of online/social advertising, it is important to remember its differences from traditional media message propagation and the actions it may incur.

Image (top-bottom): Appitive, theconversationprism, buzzshift