With the advent of the latest Web 2.0 technology, anybody including engineers can post information online. Particularly, engineers can share their personal and professional information through the social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. However, the usage of the social media by engineers has raised some concerns relating to the engineering ethics. One of the concerns is whether the social media posts should define civil engineers or not. Another concern is whether or not the employers can discipline or terminate civil engineers on the basis of the latter's posts on the social media. Similarly, there is also another concern regarding whether it is part of engineering good practice for engineers to use the social media to further engineering-related causes. In this paper, the professional and personal use of the social media among engineers will be considered in the backdrop of engineering ethics.
The Social Media
The social media, also called social networking sites (SNS), refer to online platforms that facilitate users to collaborate, share content, and build communities and networks, with the potential of involving and reaching large audiences (El Ouirdi et al. 2014). These online social platforms are designed on the so-called Web 2.0 technologies, which are participative, collaborative, and interactive. They are multidimensional both in terms of their usage and their users (El Ouirdi et al. 2014). The multidimensionality of the social media stems from the fact that they have diverse users including organizations, governments, and individuals. These social media also have multidimensional usage in the sense that they can be used to further professional, personal, or both objectives. Engineers can use the social media both for professional and personal purposes.
ASCE Code of Ethics
Engineers are required to adhere to the seven canons outlined in the ASCE Code of Ethics in order to act professionally and ethically. As such, it is important to get an overview of some of these canons before examining the engineering usage of the social media for personal and professional reasons. The six canons which are consistent with engineers' use of the social media are Canon 1, Canon 2, Canon 3, Canon 4, Canon 5, and Canon 6. Canon 1 requires engineers to hold supreme the welfare, health, and safety of the public (Don and Sepulveda 2008). This canon obliges engineers to ensure the public safety with their own actions as well as other people's actions. Canon 2 obliges them to offer services only within their areas of competence. Canon 3 requires engineers to issue statements to the public in a truthful and objective manner.
Moreover, Canon 4 calls for engineers to act as trustees or faithful agents to their clients or employers. The same canon also obliges engineers to avoid any conflict of interest that may arise while acting as faithful trustees or agents. On the other hand, Canon 5 obliges engineers to enhance their professional reputation while avoiding unfair competition with others (Don and Sepulveda 2008). Lastly, Canon 6 calls for the engineers to act professionally in order to while upholding and enhancing the dignity, integrity, and honor of their profession. Clearly, these canons are largely consistent with engineers' usage of the social media, as we will discuss later.
Personal Use of the Social Media
Before looking at engineering usage of the social media for personal and social reasons, we need to know whether it is ethical for engineers to use the social media. Other than their professional lives engineers have their own personal lives just like other humans. In other words, engineers are expected to use the social media for personal reasons. In support of this argument, Smith, Gardoni and Murphy (2014) asserted that engineers have their own social responsibilities. While engineers are allowed to use the social media to further their personal and social causes, Canon 3 obliges them to do so in a truthful and objective manner. This canon requires them to issue public statements truthfully and professionally. Given that the social networking sites such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are public platforms, engineers need ensure that they remain professional and objective when using these media to make posts, comments or sharing information. The same is true when they are using such media for networking or marketing.
Similarly, Canon 5 obliges them to enhance their professional reputations and shun unfair competition with others. Therefore, engineers should ensure that their use of the social media for reflect their professionalism regardless of whether they are using it to advance their personal or professional objectives. This argument is in line with Canon 6 which obliges engineers to uphold as well as enhance the engineering profession's honor, integrity, and dignity. For instance, engineers can damage the integrity of their profession by spreading malicious information through the media or when posting or sharing derogatory messages and information on the social media. As Kaul and Chaudhri (2014) argued, the social media has increasingly become a mantra for managing both personal and organizational reputation. In light of this, engineers can enhance their reputation of their respective organizations by upholding their reputation on the social media. Specifically, they should ensure that their personal information on the social networking sites in truthful and clearly reflects the image of the organizations in which they are working.
Professional Use of the Social Media
Civil engineers can also use the social media for professional purposes. However, when they do so, they should ensure that their usage is consistent with the established engineering ethics. While performing their professional duties, Canon 1 calls for all engineers to enhance the public's welfare, health and safety (Don and Sepulveda 2008). It also obliges them to be compliant with the principles relating to sustainable development while performing such duties. Consistent with Canon 1, engineers can share information relating to failing infrastructure on the social media. By sharing such information, the engineers could have contributed to sensitizing the public on the potential dangers posed by failing infrastructure. In other words, sharing news stories relating to the failing infrastructure is one way through which engineers contribute to enhancing public safety. In contrast, turning a blind eye on potentially dangerous infrastructure is not only endangering the public but also breaching Canon 1 of the ASCE's Code of Ethics.
It is noteworthy that engineers should only share stories of which they have thorough knowledge about. As per the tenets of Canon 2, Engineers are required to “perform services only in their areas of competence” (Don and Sepulveda 2008). Though this Canon refers to professional engineering services, it can be extrapolated to incorporate other services including those offered through the social media. Thus, engineers should share news stories relating to their respective areas of competence. Similar services include commenting about their fellow
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