I considered making Anonymous the subject of an ethics quiz, but there isn’t any genuine ethics question about the group that an ethical 7th grader shouldn’t be able to answer while playing a videogame.
It is an arrogant and lawless group of vigilantes, and nobody ought to be confused into admiring it or applauding its actions because Anonymous has chosen adversaries even more revolting than it is. The fact that Anonymous is currently tormenting the Westboro Baptist Church, those homophobic religious fanatics who think harassing family members of fallen soldiers at funerals is a reasonable method of proclaiming opposition to homosexuality, certainly triggers a positive response on the Cognitive Dissonance Scale, but that is visceral, not rational. Citizens do not forfeit their rights because you don’t approve of their conduct, even if their conduct is objectively offensive.
First, the unethical quote, from an email sent to a website by a representative:
“Just hacked Westboro’s site. Freedom of speech is one thing. But freedom to hate is another. A domain such as “godhatesfags.com should not exist despite rumblings of members picketing Sandy Hook. Those families have enough anguish to deal with.”
We know, or should, that two wrongs don’t make a right, so four wrongs is an easy call. One: Hacking is illegal, dishonest, a breach of privacy, and indefensible. Two: No, Freedom to hate is not “another” thing at all. It is part and parcel of freedom of speech and thought. Americans are allowed to hate anyone and anything they choose to, just as Anonymous obviously hates the Westboro Baptist Church. Heck, I hate the Westboro Baptist Church. Anonymous, like all those who try to censor hate, is really saying that it gets to decide who can hate what. Wrong. Three: Anonymous has a right to say that godhatesfags.com should not exist, just as the Westboro website in fact has a right to exist. Again, Anonymous presumes to restrict the speech and opinions of others, because they are certain know best. They are vigilantes. As far as ethical conduct is concerned, they know nothing.
Add those to the clear wrong of Fred Phelps’ vicious nuts threatening to disrupt the funerals of the Newtown shooting victims, and we have four wrongs….and a spectacularly unethical quote.
Now the conduct: Anonymous hacked the Church’s data and posted the personal and professional information of members on the internet. The hypocrisy of a group called Anonymous doing this should be evident; the wrongfulness doubly so. This is Doing Unto Others What You Dread Anyone Doing To You. The invalid rationalization supporting such actions is, of course, “Tit for Tat,” the theory that unethical conduct by one party waives all ethics in dealing with them. There is a word for people and organizations who think this way: dangerous. There are a few others too: untrustworthy, irresponsible, and arrogant.
As for the group itself, it is ethically no better than the Phelpsians, with the same self-righteous delusions of grandeur and disregard for the rights of those who disagree with them, with one difference. The Westboro Baptist Church has the guts and integrity to act in full public view, identifying itself clearly and openly, and to be accountable for its conduct. That makes it more ethical than Anonymous, and when a sickening group like the Westboro Baptist Church tops you in any ethics category at all, it is time to reconsider your operating policies.
Facts and Graphic: The Inquisitor
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.