The Court Ruling I’ve Been Waiting For Since 2011

In a June 30 decision, B.L v. Mahanoy Area School District, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals  ruled that a Pennsylvania  high school violated a cheerleader’s First Amendment rights when it kicked the young woman off the squad for a message she had posted on SnapChat. A distruct court judge had ruled last year for the ex-cheerleader, whose  post pictured the teen and her friend holding up their middle fingers accompanied by the eloquent sentiment , “fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything.” She was  upset because she had only made the junior varsity cheerleading squad, rather than the varsity team.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania argued the case for the girl, so at least sometimes the organization  still puts its partisan politics aside to do its traditional job of looking out for the First Amendment. The group called the ruling a “landmark decision,” finally barring schools from policing students’ off-campus speech using the claim that it might disrupt school activities.

The Supreme Court decision on campus speech, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, did not apply to off-campus speech. Tinker held that student speech could be regulated by schools only if it would substantially disrupt school operations or interfere with the rights of others. That case involved a school disciplining students when they wore black armbands to class as a protest against the Vietnam War.

The 3rd Circuit majority ruled .“We hold today that Tinker does not apply to off-campus speech—that is, speech that is outside school-owned, -operated or -supervised channels and that is not reasonably interpreted as bearing the school’s imprimatur,”

Because the teen’s speech was outside the school context, Tinker did not apply. The cheerleader’s speech “lies beyond the school’s regulatory authority,” the court said.

The ACLU’s  press release stated that the decision was important “because it recognizes that students who are outside of school enjoy full free speech rights, not the diluted rights they have inside the schoolhouse.”

Bingo.

Finally. Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Reflections, 6/28/2020: For The Defense….

Greetings from the Ethics Alarms bunker…

1. I’m current reflecting on a personal and professional ethics conflict. A colleague and long-time professional competitor—I would never call him a friend—has been ousted from his leadership position in the very successful organization he founded as a result of unproven allegations of sexual harassment and assault. It was a “believe all victims” situation, as well as what feels like a successful coordinated effort to “get” someone who had accumulated a lot of enemies, resentment and envy in a notoriously nasty industry once his power was waning.

On one hand, I feel like I should reach out to him and offer my guidance and support (as an ethicist and sexual harassment trainer, not a lawyer, and gratis, of course). On the other, I am pretty certain that he is guilty of at least some of what has been alleged, based on confidential accounts I have recently heard from reliable sources. Ethically, however, his ousting (it appears that he was given the option of “retiring”) lacked due process and fairness, and the organization was guided by public relations motives rather than legal or ethical ones.

Whose side should I be on?

2. Stop making me defend Facebook! As if there wasn’t enough to worry about, the aggressive pandering mode of corporations right now is being exploited by would-be censors of political speech. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced updated election policies and stricter “hate speech” rules in response to employee protests and pressure from activists, whose transparent objective is to silence or constrict any political views antithetical progressive positions and goals. In a message last week, Zuckerberg  outlined plans to police disinformation relating to voting and elections, to flag certain content that risked triggering violence (I wonder what  that standard is like today?) and concluded,

Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “If You Present Me With Appeals Like This, You Will NEVER Have My Support”

I’m grateful to JP for making the connection between the insulting, shaming marketing ploys I wrote about in the post and the similar techniques I see on Facebook. Not all of them involve virtue-signaling, as in the “Share this appeal for X charity and prove you care, or we’ll know you’re a cheap unfeeling bastard.” Just as bad are the “prove you’re really my friend by writing a sentence about where we met, because I’m going to unfriend everyone who doesn’t” posts. I’m not your validation monkey. Grow up.

A pretty good summary of obnoxious Facebook posts is this article, which observes,

Annoying statuses typically reek of one or more of these five motivations:

1) Image Crafting. The author wants to affect the way people think of her.

2) Narcissism. The author’s thoughts, opinions, and life philosophies matter. The author and the author’s life are interesting in and of themselves.

3) Attention Craving.
The author wants attention.

4) Jealousy Inducing.
The author wants to make people jealous of him or his life.

5) Loneliness. The author is feeling lonely and wants Facebook to make it better.

Notably absent from the piece is the obnoxious conduct my Facebook friends are addicted to: searching for and posting every anti-Trump news item or opinion piece they can find day after day.

Here is JP’s Comment of the Day on the post, “If You Present Me With Appeals Like This, You Will NEVER Have My Support”:

For a while now I have noticed that there is a trend (especially among evangelicals) to share religious or faith-based content on Facebook that state something like: “I bet this won’t even get one share,” or “Share if you like Jesus, skip if you want Satan to win.”  As a Christian and a minister, 100% of the time I will not share it or like it at all. That does not make me a bad or callous person. As a human, I am emphatic and sympathetic about the plight of the sad kid in a third world country  shown on the post. As a Christian, not only do I not want Satan to win, I know he has already lost. So what’s the problem? Why won’t I share?

Well, before I answer that, I want to back up here.

Why do people share things on Facebook? A survey done by the Fractl marketing agency said 48% of posts were done because others will find them interesting.  52% focused on things the posters were thinking or feeling. Only 11% of posts are intended to educate others (and we all know how well that is going). While it wasn’t mentioned in the survey, it was clear that 100% of posts were about the people themselves posting them. Therefore everything being stated by the person  related to the person in some way. I don’t think that is a bad thing, in fact, I’m pretty sure that is Facebook’s sole purpose. So when a person shares that picture, in some way they are saying they themselves are Christian, or “hey this is an issue I care about!” However, I find this  highly problematic.

The first way relates to the Blaze offer. One of the reasons this marketing campaign is so successful is because people are gullible, weak-minded, or proud. You challenge them on an issue that attacks them in someway, and they feel like they have to respond. It reminds me Marty McFly’s self-destructive flaw  in the “Back to the Future ” movies. He couldn’t back down when someone called him “chicken.” It was Doc who had to tell Marty that if he didn’t learn to walk away, he was going to suffer the consequences. The second movie shows us the future where Marty’s  life will be ruined after he gets in a car accident by accepting a drag race challenge after being called a chicken. This fate is erased in the third film after he finally learns to resist the trigger.

While I doubt any of our sharing or agreeing will have any lasting consequences (other than a flooded email box), I wonder if this pattern builds up to something bigger — (I know: slippery slope!). Continue reading

Censorship “For The Greater Good” Loses A Round In Massachusetts

Good.

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts (that’s like the state Supreme Court in a normal state) held that free speech rights were wrongly infringed upon by a lower court’s non-disparagement order forbidding the husband or wife from posting about their divorce on Facebook and other social media sites until their child turned 14. The child at issue was a toddler when the ruling was handed down.

It is disturbing to me that judges lack sufficiently Americanized ethics alarms to squelch the temptation to issue rulings like the one overturned.  Sure, kids are harmed by their parents saying terrible things about each other, but there is nothing special about such communications on social  media. Parents harm their kids by screaming at each other in the kitchen. That’s life.

“We conclude that the nondisparagement orders at issue here operate as an impermissible prior restraint on speech,” the Supreme Judicial Court ruled. Though the  judge “put careful thought into his orders in an effort to protect a child caught in the middle of a legal dispute who was unable to advocate for himself… there was no showing of an exceptional circumstance that would justify the imposition of a prior restraint, the nondisparagement orders issued here are unconstitutional.”

 Two Norfolk Probate and Family Court judges issued the original bans when the ugly divorce between Ronnie Shak and his former wife, Masha  Shak, who shared one son born in 2017, spread to social media.
Continue reading

Observations On An Ethics Mess

Ethics Messes are situations too chaotic and ugly to qualify as Ethics Train Wrecks. This is an Ethics Mess. Think of it as a runaway Ethics Train Wreck that hit a nitro-glycerine factory and was then stomped by Godzilla. All we can do is sift through the gore.

California State University, Sacramento associate professor Tim Ford and his wife had a confrontation with their neighbors during which Ford’s wife, who was intoxicated, called one of the neighbors a “nigger” several times as well as a “bitch.” The target of her abuse, Mikaela Cobb, videoed the exchange and posted it on Facebook. The professor’s conduct was far from civil as well, as he is caught shouting, “I’m a professor at Sac State, dude. I have a Ph.D. I don’t need to be dealing with shit like this!”  He can also be seen tossing  a can of some beverage at the neighbor’s window.

Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen said last week that he had recently received and watched the “very disturbing video” that showed the professor and his wife in “an ugly verbal dispute with their neighbors.” Even though the couple’s neighbors are not Sac State students, Nelsen said, he still regarded the situation as serious and a school matter, and he said that the video had a harmful impact  on the campus community. Continue reading

Facebook Users Are Actually Posting This. It Shows Scrambled Ethics Alarms.

A Facebook friend really and truly posted this and encouraged people to pass it along.

He apparently thinks it’s reasonable and profound. In fact, the message is obnoxious and unethical.

  • It’s a lie. It doesn’t speak for employees of those stores.  It certainly doesn’t speak for all of them, as it claims. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t even written by an employee of any of those stores.
  • So someone is posting messages on behalf of people who didn’t consent to it, and sending offensive messages to their employers’ customers. Nice. And my Facebook friend, who once had a functioning mind, thinks this is praise-worthy.
  • If I received one of these from the management of a store I patronized, that store would never get my business again. If I was the management of one of these stores and learned that one or more of my employees were involved in circulating such a message, I would terminate those employees  for cause.
  • This is what happens when the chic thing to do is to call anyone doing their jobs “heroes.”  I appreciate workers in grocery stores and other businesses, but then I always do.  For example, I talk to them, thank them, and don’t do business with them while talking on my cell phone. I tip them frequently and generously, like I did the guy who was spraying disinfectant on grocery cart handles yesterday. I do not and will not appreciate any employees behaving like I am beholden to them because I bring business to their stores that allows those stores to keep them employed. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/21/2020: Groundhog Day

Hi.

I was talking with a colleague about the most relevant movie to watch these days. As readers here know, the outbreak of elected officials letting power go to their heads led me to designate Woody Allen’s “Bananas” for that honor.  (And yesterday I posited the relevance of “Airplane!” )Still, it’s hard to argue against my friend’s position that the right choice is “Groundhog Day.”

In the interest of sanity, I reject “Contagion” and especially “World War Z” or “Quaranteen.” (All good movies though.)

1. Right now it’s turned face to the wall, but today I’m putting a sheet over it…My college diploma becomes more embarrassing by the day. Harvard University has accepted nearly $9 million from the pandemic relief package. With a 40 billion dollar dollar endowment, Harvard is better off financially than the U.S. government.

[Notice of Correction: I wrote “million” instead of billion in the original post. Really stupid typo. I apologize.]

There is no excuse for the school accepting the money. It is getting widely criticized for taking it, and ought to be.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education said ithat Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “shares the concern that sending millions to schools with significant endowments is a poor use of taxpayer money. In her letter to college and university presidents, Secretary DeVos asked them to determine if their institutions actually need the money and, if not, to send unneeded CARES Act funds to schools in need in their state or region.”

In an episode of Spokesman vs Spokesman, a mouthpiece for the Ivy said, disingenuously,

“By federal formula laid out in the CARES Act, Harvard was allocated $8.6 million, with 50% of those funds to be reserved for grants to students. Harvard is actually allocating 100% of the funds to financial assistance for students to meet their urgent needs in the face of this pandemic. Harvard will allocate the funds based on student financial need. This financial assistance will be on top of the significant support the University has already provided to students — including assistance with travel, providing direct aid for living expenses to those with need, and supporting students’ transition to online education.”

This is an exercise in deflection and rationalization. The only issue is that Harvard has plenty of money to do all of this without any hand-outs from the government, and many other institutions need the money more, which is an easy calculation because no institution needs money less than Harvard does. Continue reading

Afternoon Ethics Alarms, 4/19/2020: Facebook, Harvard, Broadway And You Know, Morons…

Good afternoon!

1. It’s come to this…Commenter Matthew B sent me the link to an article on Facebook, and when I clicked on, it this came up…

Yes, Facebook warned me that Ethics Alarms was a “malicious site.” I especially like the part where Facebook says to contact them if I think they were in error, but also say that they won’t do anything if it is.

2. Meanwhile, regarding my  alma mater whose diploma I already have turned to the wall, here is an illustration in the latest Harvard alumni magazine for an article about how bad home schooling is:

Yes, “Arithmetic” is spelled wrong.

I bet Harvard Magazine tries to claim that this was intentional by the artist, to highlight the inadequacy of a home schooling education. That will be, of course, a lie, but there won’t be any way to prove it. You know, when you are America’s oldest and most prestigious university, you really can’t afford to be that careless, especially to your alums, and particularly when your administration has embarrassed itself repeatedly on the last decade. Continue reading

Pandemic Ethics Overflow, Including The Funniest Story So Far, And Newly Certified Big Lie #9

1. The funniest pandemic-related story comes out of Australia, and it goes in the “Scientific incompetence” files. Or maybe the “Sure, we should always trust the judgment of scientists” file. From The Guardian:

An Australian astrophysicist has been admitted to hospital after getting four magnets stuck up his nose in an attempt to invent a device that stops people touching their faces during the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr Daniel Reardon, a research fellow at a Melbourne university, was building a necklace that sounds an alarm on facial contact, when the mishap occurred on Thursday night.

The 27 year-old astrophysicist, who studies pulsars and gravitational waves, said he was trying to liven up the boredom of self-isolation with the four powerful neodymium magnets….“I had a part that detects magnetic fields. I thought that if I built a circuit that could detect the magnetic field, and we wore magnets on our wrists, then it could set off an alarm if you brought it too close to your face…

So he made millions of people around the world slap their foreheads in amazement.

2. About those idiots who drank the fish tank cleaner: The emerging facts, after so many headlines blamed the husband’s death on the President’s misinformation, show this was more fake news. The Arizona woman who said that she and her 68-year-old husband ingested a substance used to clean fish tanks after hearing President Donald Trump enthuse about the potential value of chloroquine (but not fish tank ccleaner constaining the chemical)  as a cure for the Wuhan Virus is a Democrats, opposes Trump, and has given thousands of dollars to Democratic groups and candidates over the last two years. In late February, she gave to a Democratic PAC, the 314 Action Fund, that is part of the  “pro-science resistance.”It has even used the death of her husband to attack the White House.

Now the surviving fish tank-cleaner gourmet admits that she and her husband were both Democrats, not Trump supporters. But she  told NBC News that she took the fish tank cleaner to follow Trump’s advice.  “We saw Trump on TV—every channel—and all of his buddies and that this was safe,” she said last week. “Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure.” Naturally, nobody checked her story: it was too good an opportunity to get Trump.

Now the women admits that she heard about the potential benefits of chloroquine, an antimalarial drug, in news reports, and decided at the “spur of the moment” to try  it “We weren’t big supporters of [Trump], but we did see that they were using it in China and stuff,” Wanda told the Free Beacon. “And we just made a horrible, tragic mistake,” she said. “It was stupid, and it was horrible, and we should have never done it. But it’s done and now I’ve lost my husband….We didn’t think it would kill us. We thought if anything it would help us ‘cus that’s what we’ve been hearing on the news.”

But at least she was able to spin the story so the  the news media would falsely say that the President was responsible for them drinking fish tank cleaner, so it wasn’t a total loss. Continue reading

New Media Gaslighting Update, And An Insufficiently Inflammatory Rant

As the majority of Americans gradually come around to appreciating the President’s efforts and leadership in the uncharted metaphorical waters of a strange and still infuriatingly under-understood pandemic, the Get Trump media has shifted into pure propaganda and fiction to claim otherwise. Here’s David Leonhardt, arguably the most rabid and untrustworthy of all the op-ed writers in the Times “resistance” stable, claiming, Trump Is Hurting His Own Re-election Chances: Don’t be fooled by snapshot polls.” That should be, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” Even worse is The Atlantic, which is literally a full time Trump Derangement publication now. Peter Wehner is the prime balladeer of the magazines fantastic songs: two weeks ago, he wrote, “The Trump Presidency Is Over: It has taken a good deal longer than it should have, but Americans have now seen the con man behind the curtain.”

This kind of hysteria-mongering is even worse: “How Donald Trump Could Steal the Election.” The First Amendment allows publications to publish such vomit, but that doesn’t mean its ethical for them to do it. Like earlier article about how the President might just refuse to leave office if defeated, or use the epidemic to declare himself dictator, such fever-dreams are based on nothing but clinical obsession and hate. The author The Atlantic dredged up is a professor of political science at the University of Maryland named Jeffrey Davis. He, his university, and The Atlantic should all be discredited in the future, as their judgment is stunningly awful and their trustworthiness is non-existent.

Then there’s this: In an open letter to Vice-President Pence, British journalist Mehdi Hasan writes in The Intercept that he must  invoke 25th Amendment and have the President removed as “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Yes, it’s good old Resistance Plan E (on the list that goes up to S.) And what triggered the resort to this oldie but goodie? The President was mean to a reporter, Hasan is a journalist, so that settles it! Cementing the total lack of seriousness in his article, Hasan cited Bandy Lee as authority—you know, the discredited Yale psychiatrist who has breached her profession’s ethical standards by diagnosing the President from afar, and who is thus the go-to guest any time CNN or MSNBC has another “How do we get rid of this guy without beating him in an election?” panel. (She also exposed her integrity and motives recently by refusing to diagnose Joe Biden’s cognitive problems.) It’s another embarrassing article. Why would anyone publish such garbage? Continue reading