Ethical Issues in Social Media

Social media has become heavily used by the youth, adults, and businesses alike. Thus, it has become a prominent marketing tool for businesses all over the globe to expand their customer base. However, with this expansion a plethora of issues have arisen in terms of how businesses can maintain professionalism on social media and how owners can maintain an appropriate brand image for their company when using social media. Many companies, such as ZPalette which produces cosmetic eyeshadow holders, have made mistakes regarding their brand image on social media and how to maintain professional behavior. Social media has caused many ethical and unprofessional issues to arise; therefore, business owners need to understand the ramifications of their actions on their consumers and themselves.

The ramifications on businesses that present an unprofessional image on social media is extreme as there is no limit to the amount of people that can see it. Thus, the moral challenge of businesses on social media is what is appropriate for businesses to do and say on social media to potetial consumers. Obviously, if a business wants to keep their customer base they will try their best to maintain professionalism through their posts, comments, and even likes. Consumers can see everything that a business does on social media, meaning that they must do their best at all times to keep their actions professional and focused on the content they are producing for consumers. Identifying the appropriate course of action for businesses to take is morally important because social media is used so often for marketing in society today, and by the general population, that businesses need to understand what consumers expect from them. There have been a plethora of cases where a company did not maintain professionalism and was ridiculed immensely for their actions, resulting in lost profits.

A company that did exactly this was ZPalette. To appropriately understand the situation, it is imperative for the audience to understand the products they sell in the context of the beauty industry. The beauty industry is massive, and one of the largest sectors in the world. ZPalette contributes to this by being the first company to sell empty palettes, where men and women that practice cosmetic arts can put their single eyeshadows into to store them. Since the company opened, a plethora of other businesses started creating and selling their own versions of ZPalette’s. The owner of ZPalette, Zena, capitalized on an industry she recognized was lacking as a professional makeup artist to create a product that consumers went crazy over. However, consumers stopped going crazy and realized that Zena’s behavior on social media in early 2017 was not professional and was extremely rude to consumers.

In early 2017 Zena and her company released a product that allowed consumers to depot makeup easily and effectively. The person would put a pan of blush, eyeshadow, highlighter, etc. onto what was essentially a hot plate. ZPalette charged $80 for this product. Consumers were upset because they felt as if Zena was duping them on the price, since you can buy actual hotplates for much cheaper than she was selling her product for and it would do the exact same thing. Thus, they took to social media on the posts where she was showcasing the makeup hotplate, titled the Z Potter,  to tell her their opinions on her pricing of the product and the product in general. Zena did not take the criticism well, attacking customers, namecalling, and saying some very inappropriate things for a business owner. For example, Zena said through ZPalette’s instagram profile to one customer, “You look like a cheap date, but we’re not messing with you” (Tempesta). Zena can also be quoted saying, “You’re in a dorm room. It may be a stretch for your budget. Give customer service a call on Monday” (Tempesta).


The moral challenge with ZPalette and Zena in general was that her actions promoted unprofessionalism and were rude. Her actions caused other companies that supported her and carried her products, like BoxyCharm and MakeupGeek, to drop her. Hence, the main moral issue with this case is that Zena did not follow the appropriate actions she should have taken to put her business and customers first. Her actions were openly critiqued by other businesses, beauty gurus, and consumers. If your actions are being critiqued by that many people, then there is something wrong with them. However, Zena, on the ZPalette page, went on to post a long letter on the Instagram that condoned her actions to her customers. Only about two weeks later did she issue a formal apology, where customers pointed out it seemed as if she was only apologizing because she was losing business and money. The moral urgency in this situation is that Zena was rude to customers and thus lost a lot of business opportunities with other companies, as well as consumers.

Hence, because Zena was the person who caused all of this controversy, she is the key moral actor in this case. Zena should have thought about her actions as a business owner before she commented back at her customers for their negative feedback. Her actions are what caused the controversy, however, other businesses and consumers are what caused the moral resolution in this case. Businesses and consumers did not agree with Zena’s actions at all, forcing her to eventually apologize, even though it did seem forced and like ZPalette didn’t actually mean the apology. Despite this, ZPalette did eventually come to a moral resolution and apologize for their actions to their customers.




The intuitive moral judgement in this case utilizes the principles of care, fairness, loyalty, and authority. Zena felt as if she had the authority to talk to her consumers in the way she did. Technically, she did have the authority, but what she does not have authority over in this situation is how consumers and businesses alike responded to her demeaning and rude comments to customers. It seemed as if Zena did not care about her customers or even her business when she went and commented all of those rude things to her customers. Also, when customers demanded an apology for her actions, Zena didn’t care in this situation and never apologized until she realized her actions were hitting her in her finances. By doing this, she didn’t display any sort of loyalty to her customers, otherwise she wouldn’t have done this in the first place. If she had been loyal to her customers she would have addressed their concerns in a professional manner or simply ignored the comments she felt were rude. However, she wasn’t fair when it came to this. When customers complained about the product being too expensive, she simply responded that it was because they were broke. Thus, she didn’t care about making her products more affordable for her client base, but instead on attacking their finances and character.

These values that Zena holds for her company obviously conflict with her moral judgements. Zena claimed in her posts regarding the matter to care about what her customers thought and providing great customer service, however, she didn’t display that in her moral judgements or actions pertaining to her customers. When her customers complained about the cost of the Zpotter and that it wasn’t anything new, she took matters into her own hands to belittle customers characters and finances instead of working to find a solution that worked for her business and her customers. Her values for ZPalette and in conjunction with her moral judgements obviously conflict here. The right thing to do in this situation would have been to not respond back to customers in this manner in the first place.

The moral issue here with ZPalette is the intent of an action. Zena’s actions through the ZPalette Instagram profile were to demean or hurt the people she felt were attacking her products. Zena’s comments attacked customer’s character, appearance, and finances. None of these actions are good for business as she lost a lot of customer and business support because of her actions. When looking at the normative moral claims and standpoints, there are a few key ones that stand out in this situation. The first is character. Zena’s character and the character of ZPalette’s as a whole was severely downgraded because of her action’s. Not only did she comment with the rude comments, she also blocked everyone who had anything negative to say about her actions, which was very unprofessional as well. Zena’s duty was to not do anything morally on social media that her customer’s could depict as being rude or demeaning to them in any way. The consequences of her actions were very harmful to her business and everyone that works for her as people boycotted her products.

To understand explain further how Zena’s actions affected her business through social media, the values and codes of a wisdom tradition must be applied to explain the moral issues. The moral issue in this case is that Zena did not display appropriate actions on social media to her consumers and other businesses that sell her products. As a business owner brand image is everything and Zena did not display a good brand image for her company or herself as a whole. Her comments and refusing to apologize for her comments led to customers boycotting her products and not supporting her brand anymore. Considering she has to support her family and her employees through her business, it is important that Zena recognize the flaws in her character and actions morally so this doesn’t happen again.



The moral challenge aligns with stakeholders, because stakeholders obviously do not want Zena to behave in the manner she did as it is bad for business. Any stakeholders in ZPalette would have been very upset at her actions because they would have lost money in the end since customers boycotted the company. Stakeholders would have been interested in identifying how Zena was going to fix the situation she made. They would not have been pleased with how she handled the situation as a professional because she waited two weeks to apologize, deleted negative comments pertaining to her actions on her Instagram, deleted posts that she made that defended her actions, and even made a fake Instagram profile to continue trolling on others comments. The stakeholders in Zena’s company are her consumers who allow her to profit and keep her business alive. It is unknown if ZPalette has investors, but if they do, they would feel the same way as the stakeholders do.

Their concerns regarding the way Zena treated her customers on the social media posts were valid. It is a business owners responsibility to ensure they maintain professionalism and a good brand image for their business on social media. However, Zena did not do this and obviously needs a bit of training on the appropriate things to say and not to say for her business. Stakeholders and any investors that ZPalette has or had, had a right to be angry and upset with Zena’s actions because she cost them a lot of money overall with her actions. ZPalette’s activity on their posts and engagement levels is still not what it was before Zena did this. This shows that customers have not been coming back to the company because of her actions which means they suffered a permanent loss in sales and profits.




There are not many competing values or claims that contest this case. Zena claimed that those who commented about her ZPotter had never even tried the product. However, there is no way she can tell this through Instagram profiles. She was looking for a way to attribute that her actions were okay when in reality as a business owner they weren’t. There are a few similar cases that can be compared to Zena’s within the beauty community. Jeffree Star is one of them. Jeffree Star is a famed YouTuber and business owner who is infamous for making racist comments on his Twitter and Instagram profiles. He has been critiqued for it multiple times but refuses to apologize for his actions. Zena did not apologize for her actions until two weeks after the incident, however, she did still apologize. To resolve the moral problem, Zena needs to set up a system of checks and balances where others check her content before she posts it so these mistakes aren’t made anymore by ZPalette. This is morally justified because it will help her rebuild her brand image and ensure she is providing her customers with the best customer service possible. By doing this, these actions reflect my own moral values by ensuring that Zena maintains professionalism, a good brand image, and treats her consumers with respect.

Overall, it is important for business owners like Zena and Jeffree Star to understand that by not maintaining professionalism and a positive brand image on social media, they are damaging their own businesses in the process. Many customers won’t purchase from either business owner because of their horrible ethics on social media. Social media is accessible by almost everyone in society today, which is why it is imperative they maintain professionalism because if they don’t, then essentially anyone can see it and they will be critiqued for it. Ultimately, social media poses a large number of ethical issues that must be addressed.




Tempesta, E. (2017, February 24). ‘You are in a dorm room – it may be a stretch for your budget’: Beauty brand is accused of ‘bullying’ its customers after firing back at people who said its latest product was ‘overpriced’ Read more: Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook. Retrieved December 9, 2017, from



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