Category Archives: The Internet

Flunking Responsibility, Honesty, Common Sense and Ethics: Gov. Deval Patrick, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Daily Kos, and Anyone Else Who Repeats This Idiotic Analogy

Deval Patrick

I thought I might run an ethics quiz asking whether this current and mind-bogglingly stupid argument that keeps popping up from my sentiment-addled Facebook friends is more unethical than the pro-Hamas hashtags being appended to twitter comments by the “Think of the children!” saps led by celebrities like Jon Stewart, Selena Gomez, and John Cusack. Pondering on it, however, I realized that as ethically misguided as Stewart at al. are, the above quote and its ilk are worse….especially since state governors and U.S. Senators have more credibility than comedians and Disney pop tarts. Not that they should, mind you.

If I really have to make a detailed argument explaining why Deval’s quote and  Leahy’s ( “Think of all those Jews that went to the ovens because we forgot our principles. Let’s not turn our backs now.”) are unforgivably irresponsible, we are just as dim-witted as those demagogues (or, more likely, as dim-witted as they hope and think we are.) The statements are no more nor less than an invitation to every parent of every child in every poor, war-torn, politically foul, culturally poisoned, dangerous, corrupt nation in the world to somehow get them to the U.S. border, paying shady and often treacherous agents to do so, because the United States will not “turn its back,” and turn them back. The question isn’t whether this is a legitimate, responsible or sane position worthy of debate and serious consideration: of course it isn’t. The question is how anyone can think it is. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Childhood and children, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Quotes, The Internet

Ethics Quiz: Blaming the Messenger

"Hey, I just deliver the boxcar contents to someplace called "Aushwitz." It's not my business what's in them..."

“Hey, I just deliver the boxcar contents to someplace called “Aushwitz.” It’s not my business what’s in them…”

In 2013, the United Parcel Service Inc  agreed to forfeit $40 million in fees that it had received from illegal internet pharmacies shipping bootleg prescription drugs using UPS services, in exchange for a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. UPS also agreed to put policies and procedures in place to prevent illegal online pharmacies from distributing drugs through its shipping services in the future. Naturally, the faux pharmacies moved over to FedEx, and when that shipping service refused to cut a similar deal with DOJ under threat of prosecution, the government persuaded a Federal grand jury to indict the company for delivering drugs associated with internet pharmacies, and thus being a willing party to a criminal enterprise.

Now many are cheering FedEx as, in essence, an ethics hero for refusing to knuckle under to the government and accept responsibility where it has none. There are two arguments against the government’s prosecution of FedEx. One is that its natural result would be to require shipping companies to open every parcel and be certain that nothing illegal is inside. The other is that trying to eradicate crime and other misconduct by creating secondary service liability is inherently unjust. By pressuring credit card companies  to refuse payments to companies the government regards as breaking the law, for example, alleged illegal enterprises can be put out of business without the government having to meet its burden of proof to show they really are breaking the law. If the government can intimidate carrying companies into refusing the business of illegal pharmacies, then the illegal pharmacies never have to be prosecuted. There is a third argument, but it is irrelevant: that the government shouldn’t be prosecuting the crime of providing prescription drugs over the internet at all.  This is an entirely different and separate issue: The point is that the shipments are illegal now, and FedEx is facilitating them.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz to begin what I sense will be a busy ethics week is…

Is FedEx an Ethics Hero?

Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, The Internet

Bulletin: It’s Unethical For Government Officials To Use Twitter

no-twitter

Many law firms and other companies specifically prohibit their employees from using social media.  The reasons should be obvious: social media use is inherently reckless and unacceptably risky for professionals and those with high profile jobs. This is especially, and I would say fatally true of Twitter. It is an accident waiting to happen, and the more powerful the user, the more damage the accidents will be.

The latest example is the saga of Richard Stegel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. He used his personal Twitter account yesterday to comment on the crisis triggered by the downed airliner in the Ukraine, prefaced the tweet with the State Department’s Twitter handle, and ended it with the hashtag #UnitedForGaza, which would appear to indicate his support of the Palestinians in its violent clash with Israel.

This is disturbing and diplomatically harmful for several reasons: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Government & Politics, The Internet

A Proposed Guide To Spoiler Ethics

"It SINKS??? You spoiled the ending!!!"

“It SINKS??? You spoiled the ending!!!”

I was just admonished on Facebook by a friend (a real friend, not just the Facebook variety), for referencing the end of the last episode of Season One of “Orange is the New Black.”  He hadn’t finished viewing the season yet, and this was a breach of spoiler ethics. Or was it?

Ever since I encountered for real someone who was angry with me for “spoiling” the end of “Thirteen Days,” ( “Yes, World War III started and everybody died”), I have been dubious about spoiler etiquette. The advent of DVDs and Netflix has made this all the more annoying. If I’m in a group of five, and one individual hasn’t kept up with “House of Cards,” are the rest of us obligated to censor our discussion? As a devotee and fanatic devourer of popular culture, I admit that my first instinct is to say, “Keep up, get literate, or pay the price.” If I actually live by that rule, however, I will be a walking, talking, writing, spoiler machine.

Chuck Klosterman, “The Ethicist” in the world of the New York Times, recently pronounced himself an anti-spoiler absolutist:

“I’m an anti-spoiler fascist. I don’t believe that any conversation, review or sardonic tweet about a given TV show is more valuable than protecting an individual’s opportunity to experience the episode itself (and to watch it within the context for which it was designed). I’ve never heard a pro-spoiler argument that wasn’t fundamentally absurd.”

Even Klosterman, however, excepted sporting events (the question posed involved mentioning World Cup scores to a friend who was annoyed that the game had been “spoiled” for him) from his fascism, writing, reasonably:

“I must concede that live, unrehearsed events are not subject to “spoiler” embargoes A live event is a form of breaking news. It’s not just entertainment; it’s the first imprint of living history. …Because this guy is your buddy, you might want to avoid discussing the games’ outcomes out of common courtesy — but not out of any moral obligation. It’s his own responsibility to keep himself in the dark about current events.”

For once I agree with Chuck. But what are reasonable ethics rules for dealing with the other kind of spoiler, involving literature and entertainment?

Luckily, this is not new territory, though it is evolving territory. The underlying ethical principles include fairness, trust, consideration, compassion, and empathy, which means that the Golden Rule is also involved.

Back in 2010, an erudite blogger calling himself The Reading Ape proposed a draft “Guide to Responsible Spoiling.” That blog is defunct; the promised successor is not around, and so far, I haven’t been able to discover who the Ape is. Whoever he is (Oh Aaaaape! Come back, Ape!) , he did a very good job, though some tweeks might  improve his work, especially in light of the emergence of Netflix.  (I have edited it slightly, not substantively…I hope he doesn’t mind, or if he does, that he’s not a big ape.) His approach is to frame the problem as an ethical conflict, in which two competing ethics principles must be balanced. I think that’s right.

Here is his “draft”—what do you think?

“A Brief Guide to Responsible Spoiling”

by The Reading Ape (2010)

The objective is to balance two ethical principles:

I. The Right to Surprise: The inherent right of any viewer or reader to experience the pleasure of not knowing what’s
going to happen next.

II. The Right to Debate: The inherent right of any viewer or reader to engage in public discourse about the content of
a given work of narrative art.

Part 1: When Spoiling is Fair Game

In the following circumstances, one can discuss crucial plot details and reveal endings with a clear conscience. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Daily Life, History, Literature, Popular Culture, Rights, Science & Technology, Sports, The Internet

Ethics Dunce: Federal Judge Richard G. Kopf

"Oh dear...and he looks like such a NICE federal judge!"

“Oh dear…and he looks like such a NICE federal judge!”

Richard G. Kopf is a senior district court judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, and a blogger. He is also,I would say obviously, an Ethics Dunce. Why?

He told the U.S. Supreme Court to shut the fuck up.

He really did.

That he did this on his blog, Hercules and the Umpire, doesn’t matter. It was in print, in public, and he’s a Federal judge. The obscenity came in the context of Judge Kopf’s criticism of the recent Hobby Lobby decision, but the context doesn’t matter either. There is no context in which it would be appropriate, judicial and ethical for a member of the judiciary to tell the Supreme Court of the United States to shut the fuck up. Nor does it matter that he used the texting code stfu rather than spelling out the words.

For a Federal judge to be openly disrespectful, uncivil and abusive to the top of the nation’s judicial branch is an assault on the rule of law, and undermines public respect for our institutions. As lawyer and blogger Rich Hasen wrote, Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, The Internet, Unethical Blog Post

On Mockery, The Streisand Effect, Incompetent Lawyers And The Sleeping Yankee Fan

ESPN cameras caught Andrew Rector sleeping in his seat in the fourth inning of  the April 13 Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game. In the time-honored tradition of TV play-by-play when something funny, weird or, most especially, sexy is spied in the stands, ESPN commentators Dan Shulman and John Kruk  began making fun of him. The clip ended up on YouTube, naturally, and thus on various sports websites, followed by the various idiotic, cruel, gratuitously mean-spirited insults, usually composed by brave anonymous commenters.

This is a familiar pattern of unethical public mockery, and we have become inured to it. Though the ESPN team’s jibes were rather mild in nature, and Rector’s legitimate embarrassment quota would be far, far less than, say, that of George Costanza when this happened at the U.S. Open, let me say for the record that picking fans out of the crowd at sporting events and making fun of them, whatever they are doing, is generally a rotten thing to do. I know: it’s public, you know you might be on camera, and the fine print on the ticket stub puts you on notice. Unless, however, the conduct involved is actually newsworthy or despicable (as in instances where an adult has snatched a baseball from a child), the Golden Rule applies. Who knows why Rector was sleeping? Maybe he was up all night with a dying relative or a grievously ill child—Shulman and Kruk don’t know. And if he chooses to pay for a ticket and nap during the game—and it wasn’t exactly a scintillating game, I should add—so what? Continue reading

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Filed under Etiquette and manners, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Sports, The Internet

Ethics Strike Three And Four Against Facebook In Its Creepy Mood Manipulation Study

Facebook is so out.

"Meh. Look at this neat picture of my dog!"

“Meh. Look at this neat picture of my dog!”

Ethics Strike One was the research itself, using its own, trusting users as guinea pigs in a mad scientist experiment to determine whether their moods could be manipulated by secretly managing the kind of posts they read from Facebook friends.

Ethics Strike Two was the lack of its subjects informed consent for the study, violating the basic standards of human subject research. A boilerplate user agreement that makes a vague reference to using data for “research” in no way meets the requirements of informed consent for this kind of study.

This brings us to Ethics Strike Three.  In justifying the legality and ethics of the research, Facebook’s researchers explained that leave to perform such experiments was consistent with the user agreement (See Strike Two):  “[the experiment] was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research.” As I pointed out above and in my previous post on this topic, this isn’t informed consent as the research field and various ethics codes define it. But even if it was, this statement is a lie. Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Law & Law Enforcement, Research and Scholarship, Rights, Science & Technology, The Internet

Ethics Dunce: Anyone Who Thinks Hillary’s “I Gave It All To Charity” Excuse Excuses Anything

Money-box-giftI apologize in advance for this, because I assume all of you are as sick of commentary on Hillary, her book promotion tour, and her endless stream of statements that validate everything her critics have been saying for over a decade. However, her latest ethically tone-deaf statement is a special category of dishonesty that I vowed long ago to flag every time it was tried by a public figure, and given a pass by the news media. So here we are.

Hillary responded to the growing controversy over her absurd speaking fees, which she charges to universities as well as corporations, by saying this to ABC’s Ann Compton:

“All of the fees have been donated to the Clinton Foundation for it to continue its life-changing and life-saving work. So it goes from a foundation at a university to another foundation.”

Giving money to another individual’s charity of choice is indistinguishable from giving money directly to that individual. If a lobbyist gives corporate money to a politician’s charity, for example, that’s a crime in most states, and should be. The charity dodge is a popular one with corrupt individuals, because the average member of the public, being among those whom Abraham Lincoln noted that you can fool all the time, and also possessing the ethics analysis skills of the typical whippet, just nod and say, “Oh. Okay!” Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Education, Ethics Dunces, The Internet

Some Ethics Comments On The SCOTUS Hobby Lobby Decision

Hobby-Lobby1. First, read the decision, here. When you do, you will be disgusted at the blatant exaggerations and outright misrepresentations by various pundits, advocates, activists and reporters. In the case of the latter, this is incompetence and a breach of duty to the public. In the case of the rest, it is either dishonesty and willful deception, or stupidity. For example, as an exercise, count the number of misrepresentations and misstatements inherent in this tweet, from MSNBC ‘s Cenk Uygur:

 “I love that conservatives are now on the record as against contraception. Brilliant move to be against 99% of women!”

I count five, but I could be off by one or two. Is this genuine misunderstanding, or just intentional rabble-rousing? Who can tell, with shameless partisans like Cenk? Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, The Internet, U.S. Society

Obnoxious, Offensive, And Unethical: Facebook “Research” Turning Users Into Guinea Pigs

guinea-pig

Facebook apparently has been manipulating the feeds that some users get to see in order to measure how it the content affects the tone of their own posts.

You can read about the research here; I’m not publicizing it, because the Facebook’s research is an abuse of users and their trust. I don’t mind them reading my posts, for they own the service, and the service is in their name. I assume they will use my data and content to make money, but I didn’t agree to allow them to manipulate me, or what I write, feel, or think. I’m also not especially optimistic about the uses the results of such research might be applied to.

The researchers claim that the research is ethical because a computer program scanned for words that were considered either “positive” or “negative,” but the Facebook content wasn’t actually read. Facebook  terms of service state that user data may be used “for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

Since Facebook users agree to the terms of service, the researchers argue that this constitutes “informed consent” for their experiment.

Wrong.

Also ridiculous.

Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Professions, Research and Scholarship, The Internet, U.S. Society