To quote myself, planting false facts in the information supply may not make people sick like putting poison in the water supply, but it is damaging enough to be recognized as not worth tolerating for the occasional giggle. A year ago, I introduced the Ethics Alarms Web Hoax Scale,inspired by yet another unethical trick by the loathsome Jimmy Kimmel. As it turned out, 2014 was a banner year for web hoaxes, due to the activity of a couple webs sites that only exist to deceive the news media and make every American certain that they shouldn’t trust anything they read, anywhere.
As you know if you’ve read much here, I detest web hoaxes. I’m also not too crazy about those who use them to announce their superiority to the people who were fooled, essentially saying, “It’s harmless, unless you’re not smart enough to get it—like you.” This attitude emboldens and rationalizes for the hoaxers. I’ve fallen for some, usually when a source I trust has preceded me, marring the site with a post based on a lie. I don’t think it’s funny to make others involuntary accessories to deception.
I was reminded of the Web Hoax Scale, which, like the Race-baiting Scale, I want to finalize before making it a permanent part of the Ethics Alarms tool box, when my least favorite Republican Presidential candidate, Rand Paul, launched a fake Hillary Clinton site on Pinterest. It would have been a #1 on the original hoax scale , rated as harmless because no one who had ever heard of Hillary and who could beat my dog at Scrabble would think it was anything but a gag. (Should a hoax that doesn’t and can’t fool anyone qualify as a hoax at all?) I was going to write, however, that in this context, a fake website is inherently unethical whether it is recognized as such or not, and I have reflected that position in the revision of the scale. Continue reading