The digital ethics debates charities should be aware of

With advances in technology, new GDPR laws, and a growing concern for fake news, here’ some of the latest discussions around digital ethics.

Chrissy Chiu | 1st Nov 19
a graphical depiction of the digital ethics trends charities need to be aware of

Embarking in a brave new world, digital technology, transformation, and science has largely escaped notice from government law-makers until now. With the explosion of scandals in mishandling data, charities looking at what’s coming up in technology should be aware of some of the trends and conversations around digital ethics.

  1. Regulation is here to stay

With scandals of data misuse, fake news, and security breaches, governments are increasing scrutinising the activities of large tech firm monopolies. For charities, developments in the regulatory world can be influential in determining communications and IT policies – ensuring that personal data can be retrieved and deleted is essential.

Most recently, the European Court of Justice waded in, telling Facebook that orders could be given to take down content globally if judged illegal in an EU court. Existing regulation affirming the ‘right to be forgotten’ has been in place since 2014 – the debate remerged in a landmark case where the EU court ruled that Google does not have to delete individual’s data globally, but just in the EU. The right to be forgotten has already been enshrined in by the ICO, under GDPR rules.

  1. The charity code of ethics – self-regulation

Launched last year, the Charity Code of Digital Practice is the UK’s voluntary code for charities large and small. Born out of the need to address digital risks and governance, the Charity Code of Digital Practice includes views from over 170 charities and led by digital guru Zoe Amar.

“Digital is changing the way the public behaves. For charities to stay relevant, increase the difference they can make, and protect their charity from risks, understanding and engaging with the digital world is vital,” said Sarah Atkinson, the Charity Commission’s Director of Policy, Planning and Communications.

  1. The influence of social media

A powerful force in the charity and NGO sector, social media offers free platforms for charities to engage, but can also come with ethical dilemmas around its influence on young people.

Charity Digital News featured how charities are dealing with online bullying. Child protection charities have been quick to point out that bullying, body image, and peer pressure are linked to social media. Charities like Cybersmile, NSPCC, Bullying UK and Ditch the Label are amongst some of the most prominent advocates of digital awareness of bullying. Charities have also produced online safety guides for children, including Internet Matters age-based guide on bullying, sexting, and healthy screen time.

  1. GDPR applies to the digital world

Contacting followers on social media is also a grey area. A hot-button issue, GDPR applies to charities even on social media – while many charities have free social media accounts, rules still apply when gathering intel on followers. “Before using that personal data or contacting any of those individuals directly, best practice requires the organisation to obtain their consent to do so unless such use can be justified,” advises law firm Hewitson.

  1. What’s in the truth

Charities need to be aware of campaigns of ‘misinformation’ – some are already working to correct facts. UK charity Full Fact helps steer people in the right direction by correcting false publications. Highlighted earlier by Charity Digital News, organisations also need to be especially careful not to publish false information – trust is key in maintaining brand strength and reputation.

Closely linked to defending against misinformation campaigns, digital transparency for charities is central to maintaining trust. Digital tools measuring impact can help, as “there is a huge focus on transparency of impact – people want the context and they also want statistical feedback on where and how their engagement has made a difference,” said James Gadsby Peet, Director of Digital at William Joseph, a digital branding agency William Joseph.