Author(s), Title and Publication
Ravazzani, S., & Mazzei, A. (2018). Employee anonymous online dissent: Dynamics and ethical challenges for employees, targeted organisations, online outlets, and audiences. Business Ethics Quarterly, 28(2), 175-201. doi:10.1017/beq.2017.29
As a general trend, news media and less institutionalized online spaces increasingly enable individuals, including employees, to actively voice public dissent. This trend, identified as employee anonymous online dissent (EAOD), is a growing and controversial phenomenon in contemporary digital environments. Comprised of multiple actors’ dialectical processes, EAOD encompasses actor-related tensions that may generate unethical consequences if single voices are not addressed. Among those whose communication and interaction contribute to EAOD, four key actors: dissenting employees, online outlet administrators, audiences, and targeted organizations remain central to the overall process. Three most specific consequences of EAOD include: lack of accountability and potential opportunism; equal participation and resolution of actor-related tensions; and organizational participation and internalization of dissent. Despite its relevance, EAOD’s plurality of actors, actor-related tensions, communicative behaviors, and outcomes, have been largely overlooked in literature.
To close this research gap, the authors connect three conceptual notions: dissent, anonymity, and communication in the contemporary online environment. Insights from these three broader areas of literature establish interconnection, importance and complexity, and highlight the value inherent in dissensual, anonymous, online voice which can be seen through public deliberation and balancing actors in practical discourse through an ethical and discursive lens. Using a Habermasian framework, this study suggests the inherent lack of accountability linked to online anonymity is accounted for given that speech acts involve claims in need of justification, thus, the central problem of actors’ accountability in the EAOD communicative process is overcomed by the intersubjective validity claims of plural actors. In terms of equal participation, the authors suggest neither pro nor con arguments can have any weight unless there are communicative situations that can bring out the better argument. Further the apparent actor-related tensions would be no less easily solved through individual monologue, and the online, anonymous context facilitates the mediating role of administrators and contributes to building trust, balance, inclusion and equality. Lastly, the authors suggest corporate legitimacy should be the driving force for organizations’ participation in honest, accountable online dialogue, the internalization of EAOD, and corrective actions to address dissenter(s)’ concerns.
Implications for Practice
Organizations should (1) work toward improving online media literacy to help empower employees to understand the functions of media and other information providers to critically evaluate their content and to make informed decisions; (2) create successful, effective online anonymous outlets through promoting trust, transparency and the implementation of some degree of checks and balances, for example: accepting comments based on confidentiality, explicit communication rules, and a disciplined approach to dialogue, and (3) create online corporate arenas of citizenship which provide opportunities to actively recognize, encourage, and overcome the challenges of public dissent through communicative engagement, legitimacy building and meaningful exchange.
Location of Article
This article is available online at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/business-ethics-quarterly/article/employee-anonymous-online-dissent-dynamics-and-ethical-challenges-for-employees-targeted-organisations-online-outlets-and-audiences/AB583CA6C05FF90278614976BC5182D1
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