Hold Websites Responsible For False Advertising And Fake News

I had noticed last week that several supposedly respectable websites I check on had a news link that claimed that Michael Douglas had died. It was so pervasive I googled the news. Nope. Completely false. Total clickbait and a lie. Still, those fake headlines stayed up for days.

On The Daily Beast right now, looking exactly like one of the left-leaning news aggregator’s features, is a story headlined “Rush  in Total Ruins.” Then we have the revelation that Facebook profited from accepting links to false stories, paid for by Russian organizations seeking to undermine public faith and trust in democratic institutions. Facebook also has delivered to my page death hoaxes involving Clint Eastwood, Tiger Woods, Diana Ross, Raquel Welch, and Brad Pitt among others. Many of these are phishing schemes.

Websites that claim to be trustworthy and credible cannot agree, for whatever price, to place lies under their banners. They have a duty of due diligence. If they breach it, they should be liable. Even if the law can’t punish them based on  content, it should be able to punish such sites for aiding and abetting fraud for profit. How hard would it have been to check whether Michael Douglas was alive or not? How much time would it take to have an intern check to see whether Rush Limbaugh’s career is endangered? Newspapers have always excised discretion regarding ads, accepting their responsibility to keep their readers from being scammed. From what I am seeing now, websites accept no similar responsibility.

There have to be consequences. Continue reading

Follow-Up! Defending Prof. Kevin Allred’s Right To Make An Ass Of Himself On Social Media

When we last visited Montclair State University Women’s Studies Professor Kevin Allred, he was about to be sacked at Rutgers for  tweeting

“Will the 2nd amendment be as cool when i buy a gun and start shooting at random white people or no…?”

In that case, I agreed that the university had little choice but to remove Allred from the campus, noting that Allred,  as an employee, an adult (theoretically) and an instructor, should have known better than to broadcast his provocative musings in 140 characters or less to the world at large, rather than confining them to class. He should also have  known that campus shootings aren’t a joking matter after the Virginia Tech attack. If he had the sense to write “someone” rather than “I,”  avoided “when” to make it clear this was a hypothetical, the situation would probably have not arisen. Then, I wrote,

  “…Rutgers would only be risking outraged parents demanding to know why a prestigious school thinks it’s responsible to have their students going into debt to pay for courses like the one Allred teaches.”

After he had to leave Rutgers, Montclair State hired him to teach the same course on “the music and career of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter.”

I know, I know.

Now Allred is in hot water again, this time for tweeting,

Trump is a fucking joke. This is all a sham. I wish someone would just shoot him outright.” 

He then retweeted the image of Kathy Griffin holding a model of the  President’s severed head. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein

“That is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It’s baseball–a pastime involving a lot of chance. If [Ben] Zobrist’s ball is three inches farther off the line, I’m on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan.”

—-Theo Epstein, president of the Major League Baseball’s 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs, upon learning that Fortune Magazine had chosen him #1 among “The World’s Greatest Leaders” in a click-bait list released last week.

Thank-you, Theo, for explaining moral luck and the perils of consequentialism to the public. When it came down to the final innings of Game 7 in last year’s World Series, it looked for a while like Cubs manager Joe Maddon was about to blow the chance to win an elusive title after over a century of frustration by keeping his clearly gassed closer on the game. That his risky decision didn’t make Maddon a goat for the ages and Epstein one more name in the long list of Cubs saviors was pure moral luck—the element of chance that often distinguished heroes from villains. winners from losers and geniuses from fools in the public’s mind—and gross consequentialism, judging decisions by their uncontrollable results rather than their objectively judged wisdom and ethics at the time they were made.

If the Cleveland Indians had won that crucial game in extra-inning, no matter how, Epstein might have made Fortune’s list (I doubt it), but he would have been nowhere near the top. Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month: Reality Dive

The Pitbull is amused. He's a good sport.

The Pitbull is amused. He’s a good sport.

One should know that this is a really incompetent website. The title can be read multiple ways, one of which is self-indicting (and as it happens, accurate). The motto is just stupid: “The Truth As It Was Meant To be Heard.” Funny, I didn’t hear anything. And what I read wasn’t true.

I kept seeing a featured link to the Reality Dive’s slideshow, “The Most Incredibly Dangerous Dogs” on legitimate sites that should know better. Ethics Tip to these “sponsoring” sites: posting links to low-life outposts like Reality Dive undermines trust in your own site. You’re vouching for this crap.

I will remember.

Finally, I had to click. Sure enough, the title advertised was clickbait, aka a lie. The feature wasn’t even titled “The Most Incredibly Dangerous Dogs.” It was titled “Most Dangerous Dog Breeds” ( Most Dangerous Dog Breeds what?) The text of this mess indicated, if one thought about it, that the most dangerous dog breeds aren’t dangerous at all. Even that doesn’t plumb the sheer incompetence and misrepresentation on display in the slide show.

But first, a comment.  Many people, an amazing number, are stone ignorant about dogs. Never mind that dogs are all around us, work for us, play with amuse us, love us, help us, make us laugh and protect us, there are millions and millions of people who, out of phobias, traumas, negligent upbringing or just inattention, go through life regarding dogs as mysterious, sinister, untrustworthy, hairy noisy drooling things with sharp teeth to be feared and avoided. I feel sorry for them, but as with all ignorant people, I don’t feel too sorry. This condition is fixable, curable, but most of these dog-dummies choose instead to infect others with their malady, which is communicable. Worst of all are The Smugly Ignorant Who Think They Are Not, who actively work to create more people like them. I flagged one of the vile offspring of such Typhoid Marys of dog-hate in an earlier Unethical Website, Dogsbite.org.

Whether features like “Neat Pictures Of Dogs Pulled From The Internet With Meandering And Mostly False Text That Supposedly Explains Why They Are Dangerous But Doesn’t Because The Slideshow Was Created And Authored By a 16-Year-Old Intern From Madam Louisa’s Home For The Bewildered”—okay, that’s what it should have been called—are more or less ethical than the canine-breedists whose propaganda kills thousands of innocent animals every year is a good question. Reality Dives doesn’t care about dogs, one way or the other, just clicks. It assigned this feature to someone whom I seriously question whether he or she could tell a dog from writing desk. Nevertheless, these posts spread ignorance and fear, and set up people to think like the creators of Dogsbite.org.

Now let’s examine the slideshow a bit.

Numero Uno of the “dangerous breeds” is, you guessed it, the American Pit Bull Terrier. The writer  picked the most sinister picture he could find of the breed once called “The Nanny Dog” for its wonderful way with kids (still true, you know):

pitbull-1

 

I found the site he took it from: interestingly, it is a website that celebrates what great dogs these are. This picture on that site also could have been used, but that wouldn’t support the “narrative’: Continue reading

Ethics Observations On This Kind Of Post-Election Hate, Those Who Write It, And Those Who Believe It [UPDATED]

thanksgiving-conflict

The piece in question is one published in The Daily Banter. The author is Justin Rosario, self-described as a “center-left Jewish-Puerto Rican atheist liberal.” His essay came out just before Thanksgiving, and he titled it, Yes, You Should Shame Your Trump Voting Relatives At Thanksgiving Dinner
(They’ve gone beyond politics and should be treated like the pariahs they are).

Here are the guts of it, when he explains exactly what your Trump-voting relatives “are”:

They’re the people in Germany who stood by and watched the Jews be herded into concentration camps and murdered. Except they’re worse because at least the Germans had never seen anything like the rise of Hitler before. They had no frame of reference to understand what was happening to their country. Your Donald voting relatives have heard and read about Nazis their entire lives. They know and they didn’t care.

Yes, they will have a million excuses for why they voted for someone they knew was a monster but they’re all bullshit. It wasn’t the economy. It wasn’t ISIS. It wasn’t unemployment. It wasn’t Hillary’s emails. It wasn’t Bill’s affairs. It wasn’t Washington corruption. Every single reason they give is a lie and they know it. They wanted one thing and one thing only: To take “their” country back from that fucking n*gger in the White House. That’s it. End of line. Full stop.

Your Donald voting relatives were so freaked out that a black man was president that once Donald told them it was not just permissible to be racist but necessary, they leapt at the chance to put Those People back in their place. And in doing so, they knowingly elected a man that will be all the things they were so afraid Obama was going to be: A tyrant. A dictator. A bully. An autocratic pig that will disregard the rule of law and treat America like his own personal playground. A brutal despot that will silence the media, arrest his political opponents and use the full power of the government to destroy his enemies.

Observations: Continue reading

“The 2016 Election Is a Disaster Without a Moral”? Only If You’re In Denial, Mr. Chait!

That should be "lessons," plural...

That should be “lessons,” plural...

The many outbursts of  liberal anger, resentment, accusations and denial over the election have been revealing, and not in a good way. Few have been as directly and stubbornly misguided and biased, however, as the current New York Magazine article by Jonathan Chait, with the clickbait title, “The 2016 Election Is a Disaster Without a Moral.”

It is, in essence, yet another example of Democrats attempting to argue away any accountability for their own misfortune, making Chait’s piece itself a denial of several moral lessons, such as “I am the architect of my own destiny,” “Take responsibility for your failures,” and “Don’t blame others for your own mistakes.” The post-election progressive freak-out, of which Chait is a part, also has a very important moral lesson in store, the one embodied in the Serenity Prayer authored by theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971):

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the  courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Clearly, this moral lesson is completely elusive, with pointless recounts underway supported by the Clinton campaign; round the clock complaining about the Electoral College, part of the 225 year-old rules of the game the Democrats accepted when they ran a candidate in the election; unethical and futile attempts intimidate electors or convince them to violate their vows;  embarrassingly infantile laments and near-breakdowns of whining students on college campuses,; and “Not My President!” protests and riots.

The lessons are there to learn, Jonathan, you just don’t want to learn them. He actually writes—and if this isn’t denial, I don’t know what is, “It is hard to think of an election defeat more singularly absent of important lessons.”  What??? To the contrary, it is hard to think of an election that taught more important lessons than this one. Continue reading

Fake News Ethics: A Quick Audit

fake-news

There is…

(1) fake news,

(2) misleading or incompetent reporting,

(3) news that some people call fake because they don’t like its likely effects or implications, and

(4) news that people want others to think is fake so they can peddle their own fake news.

Did genuine, unequivocal fake news affect the 2016 election—that is, the first kind, the kind peddled by hoax sites like The News Nerd, and the Macedonian junk like the story about the Pope endorsing Trump?  There’s no evidence that would suggest or support that. Many voters are naive, gullible, ignorant fools, but still: how many actually changed their votes based on complete fiction? It’s impossible to tell, but stating that this was the case is itself a form of fake news.

Democrats and partisan pundits had been using the “fake news” device to mute the voices of journalists who didn’t follow in lockstep to the mainstream media pro-Democratic march. The IRS scandal, which is real and damning, has been largely ignored by the mainstream news media and called a “nothingburger” in Obama Administration talking points.The assertion that it is a myth that the IRS is using its power to suppress conservative dissent is …..fake news.

Because Fox is the only major news outlet (I do not count the slimy Breitbart websites) that was consistently critical of the Obama administration when it deserved it (and sometimes when it did not), Democrats not-quite-successfully-enough set out to marginalize Fox, calling it “faux news” and pushing the Obama narrative that it wasn’t even a legitimate news source. Obama, in an interview with Rolling Stone (speaking of sources of fake news!), blamed Clinton’s loss in part on “Fox News in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country.”

Isn’t that amazing? What gall. It isn’t the fact that the debt (that Obama promised to reduce) is now just short of 20 TRILLION dollars, with Obama adding a record $7.917 trillion to it, it’s that the one news source that actively exposed that fact was available to middle class voters that led to Hillary’s loss.  It wasn’t that the Affordable Care Act didn’t let Americans keep their health care plans as Obama repeatedly swore it would, it was that Fox News kept reminding its viewers of that (as the rest of the news media soft-peddled it) , while also publicizing that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, one’s health care insurance was less affordable unless the government was paying for it. It wasn’t that Hillary Clinton had lied about her e-mail tricks for over a year, the problem was that Fox was responsibly reporting that she was lying, unlike CNN, NBC, and the rest.

You know. Fake news.

As part of an organized effort up and down Democratic groups, ranks, allies and media operatives to de-legitimatize Donald Trump’s victory, the definition of “fake news” has been conveniently expanded. The Washington Post published a jaw-droppingly sloppy, partisan piece last week alleging that

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.”

Continue reading

“Fake News” Ethics: Top Ten Culprits (And Facebook Isn’t One Of Them)

pope-trump

“Fake News” is now a big topic in the news media, as it tries to lead public attention away from legitimate scrutiny of its own bias and incompetence, Facebook, in particular, is the target of this outcry, because the false narrative (should Facebook also be helped responsible for policing false narratives?) that fake news drove Donald Trump’s shocking victory is more palatable than the accurate narrative that Trump was opposed by the only candidate so corrupt, dishonest and inept that he had a chance of winning.

Here’s an interesting study of how Facebook’s algorithms circulates news stories that are made up. The focus on this kind of fake news, however, creates a fake picture of the problem that over-emphasizes hoax stories, many of which, apparently, come from teens in Macedonia exploiting American online gullibility for profit. The problem is that Americans are so ignorant that when some of them read a story that says  the Pope endorsed Donald Trump, they believe it. (Popes don’t endorse presidential candidates, and if anyone conscious thinks about it for five minutes, they should be able to figure out why.) The problem is that 40% of Americans are so lazy that they get their news from social media (and another chunk gets its news from comedy shows.)

The Blame Facebook theory is that because Facebook is foolishly relied upon by inept and gullible citizens to get their information about the world, Facebook has to take on the impossible task of vetting news items.

Facebook, however, is neither trustworthy nor competent to do this. Facebook is biased. Facebook is overrun with social justice warriors whose idea of what Facebook should censor is anything that offends them. For example:

Mark Zuckerberg had to fend off employees during the U.S. presidential campaign who wanted to censor billionaire Donald Trump’s posts due to alleged hate speech. Controversial statements by Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign in December forced Mr. Zuckerberg to quash a mini-mutiny of staffers who threatened to quit if they could not delete the candidate’s posts. Sources close to the matter told The Wall Street Journal that some of the comments in question involved a plan to ban Muslim immigrants while the U.S. determines how to best combat the Islamic State group.

Biased selections regarding which news to print while censoring the statements of a Presidential candidate are at least as misleading as fake news.

Presumably Facebook won’t try vet the misleading, dishonest news stories, commentary, links and memes I see flooding Facebook every day, courtesy of my nice, friendly, smart, educated, completely left-biased and right-biased friends who throw absolute garbage out as truth and immediately receive dozens of “Likes” for doing so. These are a lot more visible and just as brain-muddling as any Macedonian fiction. Here’s one example from yesterday, and to the good friend who posted it, I love you dearly but you are gullible and irresponsible:

BREAKING: Trump Announces Plan To ELIMINATE Overtime Pay For 20,000,000 Americans

This is completely false, as one would learn, sort of, by reading the story. Republicans are going to review regulations established in the last 60 days and kill the ones they think are ill-advised, as the law allows Congress to do. One that might be in jeopardy is a recent  rule that requires companies to pay time-and-a-half overtime to employees who make under roughly $47,000. The article also eventually says that it is House Republicans who say they are targeting the rule. So, to summarize:

  • Trump announced no such plan.
  • Nothing is being eliminated, since nobody has received any extra pay to be eliminated.
  • The alleged regulation cancellation wouldn’t take away overtime pay, as the headline states, but the requirement of paying overtime plus 50%.
  • Killing the rule wouldn’t take away such overtime or ban it; employers would still be free to pay time and a half at their discretion.

In short, the headline is fake news, designed to attack Trump. This kind of fake news isn’t included in the linked study, and for good reason. If we fairly call misleading headlines fake news, Facebook would be charged with vetting the mainstream media constantly. What about real quotes, from supposedly reliable people, that falsely spread rumors or specious accusations? Jim Comey did not violate the Hatch Act, as Harry Reid claimed. Trump is not a Nazi, as Howard Dean just claimed. Those quotes are just as misleading than nonsense about the Pope endorsing Donald Trump, but they are real quotes, from well-respected people who are being irresponsible. Continue reading