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Twitter was conceptualized In December 2005, when Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams and Biz Stone met in San Francisco to lay the foundation for a company that has now taken the world by storm by providing users with a simple yet intuitive way of communicating through Short Message Service (SMS). The budding entrepreneurs launched Twitter in March 2006 using the concept of having people communicate with each other by posting short text messages online (up to 140 characters) and allowing others to subscribe to those messages (Weedmark par. 1-9).
The company continued to depend on venture investments to fund its operations until 2010, when it diversified to advertising by allowing advertisers and marketers to have their tweets appear on the Twitter Website every time they registered to use promoted accounts and tweets. The company was able to realize $139 million in advertising revenues in 2011, and analysts are anticipating that it will exceed $1 billion this financial year (Weedmark par. 5-7).
Twitter’s Ethics Code
Although it is difficult to know when Twitter’s Code of Business and Ethics (hereafter known as ethics code) was enacted, available documentation demonstrates that the ethics code was last updated on October 19, 2013. The ethics code is intended to deter wrongdoing and promote integrity, honest and ethical conduct, compliance with applicable laws and regulations, financial prudence and responsibility, accountability, and prompt internal reporting of violations (Board of Directors of Twitter 1).
Twitter’s ethics code is strictly followed by the company’s employees, board members and officers, as well independent contractors and consultants. The code covers several subject areas, including avoiding conflicts of interest, corporate opportunities, fair dealing, compliance with laws and policies, confidentiality, ensuring financial integrity and responsibility, protection and use of Twitter assets and intellectual property, public communications and financial reporting, reporting a violation of code of conduct or law, accountability, and retaliation issues (Board of Directors of Twitter 1-6).
It is important to note that Twitter’s ethics code meets the requirements of a code of conduct, particularly in terms of stating the principles and expectations governing the behavior of the company’s stakeholders and describing the minimum requirements for conduct in the mentioned subject areas.
Additionally, Twitter’s ethics code underpins the aspects of integrity, professionalism, responsibility, accountability, competence, respect and fairness, with available literature demonstrating that these are the most basic requirements of a code of conduct (Schwartz 324-325). However, Twitter’s ethics code does not document different ethical obligations for employees and other stakeholders depending on status.
Employees and other stakeholders wishing to report ethical violations can discuss the scenario with their respective managers or contact other officers (e.g., HR business partner, General Counsel, Chief Financial Officer) if they feel uncomfortable discussing the issue with their line managers. Employees can also use the company’s confidential Reporting Hotline and available online protocols if they fear that they may become the subject of retaliation due to their whistleblowing actions (Board of Directors of Twitter 5).
Twitter’s ethics code certainly incorporates aspects of utilitarianism, as it seems to guide and direct employees and stakeholders to engage in choices or actions that will yield the greatest benefit to the company. Indeed, the code underscores that the decisions and actions of stakeholders “should be based on the best interests of Twitter and not based on improper personal benefit” (Board of Directors of Twitter 2). The policy also incorporates aspects of rights ethics by coming up with clauses that safeguard the rights set forth by the company and ensuring that these rights are given the highest priority (Ronzoni 454-455).
Twitter’s ethics code neither makes any mention of specific repercussions that individuals may face for not complying with the code nor indicates the department or individual charged with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the code. As such, it may be difficult for employees and other stakeholders to understand the repercussions for violating the code.
Additionally, employees and other stakeholders are in the dark on the roles of individuals or offices charged with the responsibility of implementing the code, which in turn may adversely influence compliance with the code and reporting of violations.
Overall, it can be argued that the ethics code meets all the requirements needed in actively deterring wrongdoing and promoting acceptable behavior through the reinforcement of various virtues, including integrity, accountability, responsibility, competency, and compliance with applicable laws. However, the code should not be implemented as a blanket policy for all employees owing to the fact that individuals are faced with diverse experiences and responsibilities based on their status in employment.
Recommended Improvements to the Code
Drawing from this discussion, it is recommended that Twitter should (1) develop and implement different ethical obligations that are dependent on the level or status of employees or stakeholders in the company, (2) consider updating its ethics code to include repercussions for violating various provisions in an attempt to encourage compliance, and (3) consider coming up with a fully functional office charged with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the ethics code, as such an office would encourage more people to report violations.
Board of Directors of Twitter 2013, Code of Business Conduct & Ethics. PDF file.
Ronzoni, Miriam. “Teleology, Deontology, and the Priority of the Right: On some Unappreciated Distinctions.” Ethical Theory & Moral Practice. 13.4 (2010): 453-472. Academic Search Premier.
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Schwartz, Mark S. “Effective Corporate Codes of Ethics: Perceptions of Code Users.” Journal of Business Ethics. 55.4 (2004): 323-343. Business Source Premier.
Weedmark, David. Twitter: Company Profile 2014.