gilles lambert, unsplash, social media

Social media and tourism: how do you do the right thing?

LOL. Social media be like, everyone’s a publisher these days.

It’s true: the simple fact that your tweet or Facebook share might reach all sorts of people that you’ll never even meet makes it so. But this makes it an ethical minefield, too – especially for those of us (travellers and tourism practitioners alike) who want to do the right thing in tourism.

Can you build a better world by posting and sharing pictures, stories and online petitions about starving people (cue that awful image of the vulture with the emaciated child), or about rhinos hunted for their horns (complete with raw wounds and blood-soaked earth)?

Does posting and sharing them achieve anything other than create additional traumata? (And yes, trauma-by-internet is definitely a thing. Very few people have to watch as much graphic material as some newsroom workers do, but see, for example, ‘Vicarious trauma is an issue for management as well as journalists’: “When anyone can film a massacre, a violent death or a bombing and upload it to the internet within minutes, newsrooms become inundated with graphic imagery to filter and verify before considering whether it should be published. This constant barrage of grief and gore is taking an increasing toll on those charged with reviewing it, in the form of vicarious trauma.”)

Has tourism even begun to ask these questions?

Like the ‘Vicarious trauma’ article, the piece that got me going on this train of thought – ‘Why ethics in social newsgathering is about more than just being nice’ – was written for journalism rather than tourism, but the principles remain the same.

And we might need to turn to journalism for guidance here, because Google searches turn up very few ideas from any of tourism’s thought leaders.

Sure you’ll find thousands of articles about responsible tourism (‘creating better places to live in and better places to visit’: see the presentation below)  – but, except for an ‘Ethics notebook’ on (the world’s oldest responsible tourism site), the deeper discussion around the ethics of messaging about irresponsible tourism appears not to have begun.

No matter: let’s start it now.


First: does clicktivism – or slacktivism – have any effect at all? (Urban Dictionary: “Signing an email petition to stop rampant crime is slacktivism. Want to really make your community safer? Get off your ass and start a neighborhood watch!”)

It seems it might: “A recent study published in the research journal PLOS ONE found that online engagement is key to turning a protest into a social movement and in prolonging its lifespan.” (Kate Groetzinger: ‘Slacktivism is having a powerful real-world impact, new research shows’)

Still, said Planeta’s Ron Mader, “Clicktivism is just one tool in the social web toolbox.

“In the 90-9-1 model (90% of social web users watch without making active contributions; 9% modify or add to existing pages but rarely create new content; 1% create new content), each category of engaged participation plays a critical role.

“To click or not to click poses a similar question, but in the end what matters is attention. Meaningful engagement crosses a spectrum of levels that run from the superficial to the profound.

“That said, services like Thunderclap allow users to multiply their messages – which give officials the illusion that they’ve done something of value, or even that they’ve done enough to engage the public.”

Code of Ethics

Rules of engagement in the social media do indeed exist: Morten Rand-Hendriksen’s Code of Ethics for Bloggers, Social Media and Content Creators*, for example:

  1. “It is your right to voice your opinion.
  2. Be critical of everything, even your self.
  3. Use your power to protect.
  4. Tell the truth at all times.
  5. Present your opinion as your opinion.
  6. State your allegiances to stay independent.
  7. Reveal your sources unless doing so can harm your sources.
  8. Be critical of your sources and seek independent verification.
  9. Always give credit where credit is due.
  10. Always preserve the intended meaning of a given statement.
  11. Give your opponent a chance to respond.
  12. Admit and correct your mistakes immediately.”

… But are they sufficient for us in tourism?

Share your ideas about this with the world: please comment in the space below.

*Morten Rand-Hendriksen is a senior staff author at and the director of Pink & Yellow Media Inc. Read his Code of Ethics in full here

Featured image: Gilles Lambert via

Presentation: Responsible Travel – Humanise Me