A commenter yesterday inquired about the Ethics Alarms position regarding efforts to punish participants at white nationalist rallies by publishing their photos on Facebook and other social media, presumably to help get them fired.
I’ll begin the analysis with the Naked Teacher Principle, explored in its many variations on Ethics Alarms, which states,
“A secondary school teacher or administrator (or other role model for children) who allows pictures of himself or herself to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing the teacher naked or engaging in sexually provocative poses, cannot complain when he or she is dismissed by the school as a result.”
The same general reasoning would apply to a secondary school teacher or administrator (or other role model for children) who placed videos or photos of himself or herself demonstrating in favor of racist causes, or giving the “Sieg Heil!” salute, on social media. Even a superb teacher, and one who never exhibited any racial bias at all, would be rendered untrustworthy by such photographs. A neo-Nazi has a right to his or her political views, but those views cannot interfere with the individual’s ability to do a job.
No, I wouldn’t trust a Klan member, a neo-Nazi or a white nationalist to teach my child.
The same would apply to social media posts, and the exact analogy are the college professors who have recently found themselves enmeshed in controversies by declaring on Twitter or Facebook that white people should be killed, that males are a social contagion, or similar bigoted sentiments. These teachers should be separated from their students, and many, though not all, have been. They are, however, publicizing themselves, as well as their bigoted views. Like the naked teachers who posed on-line, they are accountable for the images they project and publish, and how those images affect present and future employees.
However, this is different:
Thousands of strangers across the country had been working together to share photographs of the men bearing Tiki torches on the University of Virginia campus. They wanted to name and shame them to their employers, friends and neighbors. In a few cases, they succeeded.
The activity described is a direct effort to punish people for their opinions expressed through legal means. It is in the same unethical category as sending private e-mails that reflect badly on former lovers through social media, or using a questionable tweet to destroy the life and career of the tweeter. This kind of “amateur sleuthing” as the Times whitewashes the practice, is vicious, destructive, reckless, unfair, and a Golden Rule breach.
I have already pointed out that I might be tempted join a demonstration against the unethical airbrushing of history that taking down Robert E. Lee’s statue in his home state represents. If I were an idiot (but not a bigot), and didn’t recognize that the white nationalists were just exploiting the General’s memory for their own agenda, I might have been in that group of Tiki torch marchers. A photograph of me marching with a bunch of Klansman and neo-Nazis would hardly be good for my ethics business, though I would be completely innocent of racist views.
The “amateur sleuths” also are not always correct (being amateurs, after all) , as well as being self-righteous, vicious, and opponents of free speech. The Times describes that fate of a professor, Kyle Quinn, who runs a laboratory dedicated to wound-healing research, and who resembled another man caught in a photo marching with the racists. Quinn was attacked on Twitter and Instagram, and social media demanded that he be fired, accused him of racism, and posted his home address online.
Be proud, you vicious social justice warriors!
The conduct of using a personal activity to get people fired, however, is unethical even when those individuals are correctly identified. American citizens have a right to a personal life. They have right to controversial views, even bigoted and racist views, as long as their ability to work with others and do their jobs well and ethically are not affected. The “amateur sleuths” don’t know them; they don’t know what kind of lives they lead, or what kind of parents or community members they are. All they know is that they have joined with a group in a specific event, making a political statement that is protected by the Bill of Rights, and for that they and their families, businesses and employers must be hurt, injured, punished and destroyed. Under no system of ethics is such conduct justifiable. It is, as I said, a Golden Rule breach. If everybody did this, we would live in Soviet-style fear that Lena Dunham lurked behind every bush. And the end that would be achieved by this means is the death of free speech and democracy.
I agree that an employer who is alerted to an employee’s public outing as a possible neo-Nazi could not be blamed for firing that employee, though it would show exemplary fairness and courage to resist. Do the eager, angry, merciless social justice warriors who puff up their chests with pride upon ruining lives think back on how this exact practice was used to attack gays and mixed-race Americans living as white in less enlightened times? I doubt that they think at all; their political correctness fervor has killed their judgement as well as their ethics alarms.
I feel strongly about this issue in part because of my late friend and laws school roommate, Leo B. Kennedy, who died in a freak accident at the age of 26. He was on the way to becoming a lawyer, and quite probably an elected leader. He was smart, articulate, charismatic and handsome. He treated everyone with respect, and was likely to be extremely successful as well as a beneficent force in his community.
Leo was also a white supremacist.
I know this because I and my other late roommate, Myron Dale, argued with Leo about his racism and anti-Semitism late into many nights. But Leo’s legion friends and colleagues did not know about his views, because he was relentlessly and passionately Christian in his conduct, and believed, he said, in treating all human beings with love and respect. And he did, until the day he died.
I would have hired Leo. I would have trusted him with my life—especially since he was Marine and used to shoot squirrels out of the trees from our house in Arlington, Virginia. He was more, much more, than his racist views, and because he was open-minded and compassionate (Leo’s only charity was the United Negro College Fund), I believe he would have eventually abandoned his bigotry for the right reasons: because he listed to arguments, and responded to logic, reason, and speech.
Not because he was punished for what he believed.