Archive for October, 2010

Trademark Stolen

Brandjacking is exactly what it sounds like. It is using the trademark of a company without their permission for selfish reasons or to spread lies about the brand you are stealing from. Lisa P. Ramsey, who teaches law at the University of San Diego, provided us with the information on brandjacking. She has actually written many papers on the subject and the one cited was actually printed in the Buffalo Law Review.

It is no secret that social networks like MySpace and Facebook are now being used to communicate with their customers. They use them to gain feedback directly from the customers who use their products so they can make improvements in a timely manner. The problem with this is that anyone can create a username that says they are a company like Coca-Cola when in fact; the well-established company most likely did not give them permission to do so. This form of brandjacking, according to Ramsey, is called “username squatting” or “facesquatting” when Facebook started to allow the use of usernames in the summer of 2009.

There are certain companies who are perfectly okay with people using their trademark for good. For example, Coca-Cola is well aware of the fan page that has been set up in their name and continues to let it be in existence today. However, there are many companies who have shut down many of these sites like in the case of “Janet” of Exxon Mobil.

Janet was supposed to be an employee from Exxon Mobil who created a Twitter account to answer questions about the company. She was a face for the organization and engaged people in conversation about Exxon. The problem was she wasn’t an actual employee and it only took three days for the company to shut down the Twitter account. This is an example of what happens most of the time to those who brandjack.

Sometimes brandjacking can be dangerous. An example of this would be when someone used Nine West’s trademark to set up fake model auditions. The models were asked to send personal information and photographs that might deem inappropriate. Of the members that joined the group and actually participated became at least 400. For all Nine-West knew, this information that models were sending was going to an imposter and immediate action was taken. However, the same thing happened again so the company had no choice, but to sue for trademark infringement and now Nine West currently controls their own Facebook so no one else can create a fake one for them.

The problem with prohibiting brandjacking is that it can be argued on both sides. On one hand, you are clearly engaging in the infringement use of trademarked brands online, but on the other people are arguing that condemning brandjackers goes against the First Amendment. That is at least what brandjackers are testifying against in their cases. According to Ramsey, most companies win their cases against brandjackers.

For more information regarding the information in this article, here is the article that Ramsey wrote in the Buffalo Law Review.

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Astroturfing…that fake grass stuff right?

You are probably thinking, “What does astroturf have to do with ethics?” Well we’re talking about a different kind. This type of astroturfing according to PR Week is about lobbying or campaigning that appears to be authentic, but was really paid for by an organization. That is actually how it got its name because astroturf is that fake, plastic material made to look like grass. You can see this happen in many areas today, but especially politics. However, the industry we are going to follow is the oil industry.

In this case, the Waxman-Markey bill is the subject of debate. The plan of the bill was to aim at cutting greenhouse gas emissions exponentially by the year 2050. There was also a huge possibility that many employees of large oil companies would lose their jobs due to this piece of legislation. Before the House of Representatives was going to vote on the bill, a man by the name of Drayton McLane was hosting a rally to attack President Obama’s agenda on clean energy.

The rally was hosted by Energy Citizens. They are a lobbyist group who are made up of employees of major oil companies to fight this bill. Due to their lobbying against the legislation and many others that have to do with taxes on energy and jobs in the oil industry, the Waxman-Markey bill has still yet to pass.

On their website, which you can click on above, they state their issues, talk about the latest news on energy, and even blog about topics in the industry. From an outside perspective, it looks like site this was made by people who genuinely care about the issues they state. You would never know that most of the people who make up Energy Citizens are actually employees of some of the major oil companies.

The fact of the matter is that there is no one saying that you can’t astroturf and it is a perfectly legal thing to do. The issue in itself is the fact that the people who are apart or create these groups have to live with themselves. They have to come with terms that they tricked people into believing something that is false and there lies the ethical problem. In this case it was either lose your job over a piece of legislation or save it and make someone else pay. What would you do in this situation?

The video below is an illustration of what astroturfing can affect. In the video you will see Rachel Maddow, host of her self-titled MSNBC talk show, uncovering the truth about a “grass-roots” organization named American’s For Prosperity. In this particular case, the organization was lobbying against the Olympics being in Chicago. The reason behind this would be the sole fact that it would both raise taxes and would hurt big businesses.

Take a look for yourself.

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Ethics: More Than Just Good vs Evil.

This blog was created for the sole purpose of talking about ethical issues and organizational social media policies. In future posts, we will talk about heavy topics like privacy, astroturfing, brandjacking and so much more. In some posts, we will cover a few case studies to really emphasize each situation. At the end of each post, there will discussion questions so we, as philosophers, can gain a better understanding of each topic. However, before we can even step into the arena of these ethical issues, there are some basics we need to cover.

In my research of ethics, or sometimes referred to as moral philosophy, has multiple definitions. It isn’t just about the study of right from wrong, there are subcategories including: metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics.

Metaethics is all about questioning our motives of moral philosophy. They try and get to the root of each ethical principle we, as humans, have and decipher whether or not they are just social norms or extend from a higher power. An example of this could be a girl saving herself for marriage. Does she do this because she wants to or is there an underlying reason? Perhaps she does it for God or possibly her family. Metaethics really digs deep into the meaning behind every decision we make in life.

Normative ethics are a more practical type of approach to ethics. It just accounts for the daily decisions we make in our lives and whether they were good/bad or right/wrong. An example of this could be someone who dropped a $20 bill on the ground. Do you pick it up and keep it for yourself or do you give it back to its rightful owner? In a way, normative ethics are the obvious decisions we should/shouldn’t make.

Our last subcategory of ethics is applied ethics. This is the study of controversial topics and examining them. Applied ethics is probably the subcategory of ethics we will be discussing the most because it involves business ethics as well. Another example of this type of ethics could be the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military. This is a very current controversial topic in today’s news and can be debated on both sides.

Now that you have a better understanding of the subcategories of ethics, we can now go more in depth on ethical issues in future posts.

Here is a video segment done by 60 Minutes on an applied ethics topic. They discuss the “Don’t, Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. They sit down with many gay men in the military and ask what they have to say on the subject. The two videos are linked together as the same segment.

Take a look. The reason this is an applied ethics topic is due to its controversial nature. Watch as each man has a different experience with the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

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