Web Ethics, Due Diligence, and the Happy Maxi-Pad

There is no denying it any more. It is per se unethical to pass along information discovered on the web to anyone, much less to put it on a blog or in an e-mail, until you have performed due diligence and determined with reasonable certainty that it is accurate and true.

All the more reason, then, to praise the Snopes “urban legends” website, which does a superb job tracking down and clarifying web hoaxes, rumors and other misinformation. A lot of the latter isn’t even intentional, but the consequences of not checking the facts can still be significant and harmful,

I thought about this after encountering an amusing bit of web lore that many of you may have already seen, on aan old blog post that introduced the piece like this:

“This is an actual letter from an Austin woman sent to American company Proctor and Gamble regarding their feminine products. She really gets rolling after the first paragraph. It’s PC Magazine’s 2007 editors’ choice for best webmail-award-winning letter.”

Well, that was enough to convince me, for a moment at least, and I read with amusement the well-crafted rant by someone named Wendi Arons to a male executive at Proctor and Gamble, complaining about how ignorant and insensitive he and his company is to have “Have a Happy Period!” imprinted on the product. Then I decided to do my due diligence, and it was lucky I did.

Sure enough, Snopes confirmed that several aspects of the letter and its presentation on the site were misleading. It was not, as the intro I read, “sent” to Proctor and Gamble, but one of several humorous “open letters” published years ago as part of a feature on another website. The addressee, “Mr. Thatcher,” never existed. The company’s “Happy Period” campaign was real, but it was hardly the product of male cluelessness, because female executives were prominent in its adoption and approval.

As web misinformation goes, Wendi Aron’s letter is fairly harmless, although I can see it being cited approvingly as an example of oppressive male influence over things they know nothing about. Still, what began as a satirical and fictional letter gradually became a real one in cyberspace, and the decision by a group of women morphed into a male gaffe, just because a series of posters, bloggers, and e-mailers didn’t take the time to check the facts. It was a chain of web malpractice, and I was nearly a part of  it—and if I had been, it wouldn’t have been the first time.

We have an ethical obligation to check our facts, and not spread misinformation through carelessness, laziness, or gullibility. The internet is a powerful tool, and like all powerful tools, it needs to be respected and used with only with care.

5 thoughts on “Web Ethics, Due Diligence, and the Happy Maxi-Pad

  1. Pingback: Valuable Internet Information » Web Ethics, Due Diligence, and the Happy Maxi-Pad « Ethics Alarms

  2. I’ve been burned by this myself in the past. I actually made a Sunday school presentation based on an “urban legend” that had some truth, but with enough falsehoods to damage the credibility of the whole thing. I was quite humbled the next week when I had to inform the class of my error.

    Since then, I try to do my due diligence before passing something on. And I get some kind of perverted satisfaction from pointing it out to others when they forward something to me without checking it out first…

    I’ve found http://www.truthorfiction.com to be a very helpful resource. I like it even better than Snopes as it seems to have more up to date information. They also have an excellent post on the anatomy of a rumor that spells out the characteristics of an e-rumor. http://www.truthorfiction.com/anatomy.htm.

    It reminds me of the working definition of Truthfulness as defined by the Character Training Institute:

    Earning future trust by accurately reporting past facts.

    To truly be truthful, you have to check out the accuracy of your facts BEFORE you report them…

    Thanks to Ethics Alarms for having such a strong commitment to the truth.

    Sheriff Ray

    • Thanks for the comment and the link, Ray…having as many good fact check sites to consult as possible is a great help. Wish me luck trying to meet my own standard; experience tells me that it’s never as easy in practice as it sounds in theory.

  3. I’ll agree that everyone, no matter the nature of the chain letter, should do a little research. Yes, Snopes is the best place to check. However, it’s not only Democrats that are the victims of these lies. It also applies to the Republicans, the Christians, the atheists, and everyone else in every other walk of life. I’m sure you’re just more sensitive to the lies regarding the Democrats than others, and sadly, I’m sure you’re specifically targeted to be an E-mail recipient when someone comes across one of these claims.People just need to stop sending junk, period.

    • Hey, everybody! LOOK! Another commenter who thinks I’m biased toward Democrats!

      No, Yuri,I am NOT more sensitive to lies about one side or the other, and the fact that you think “it’s not only Democrats that are the victims of these lies” is even relevant to the topic shows that you need to bone up on what ethics is all about. The fact that ethical misconduct idc common doesn’t make it more ethical. Please do your homework. You can start above, where the basics are laid out.

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