Web Hoaxes: Not Funny, Always Unethical

P.T. Barnum’s “Fiji Mermaid:. At least in 1842,. it wasn’t on the web.

Ethics Alarms is swearing off “angry ex-boyfriend/girlfriend takes cruel outrageous revenge” stories, no matter how juicy the ethics lesson may be. First it was the tattoo artist who defaced his ex’s back with a huge and ugly drawing of steaming dog excrement that was fantasy masquerading as news, and now it’s the Polish dentist scorned…remember? The one who pulled out her cheating boyfriend’s teeth? Yes, it seems that horror story was a hoax too.

A lot of people who should know better think that web hoaxes are funny and hoaxers are clever. I regard them as the ethical equivalent of  chefs and waiters who spit in restaurant customers’ food. The web creates—a web!—of information and communication across nations and cultures, and poisoning that web with bogus stories creates a chain of unpredictable harm. At very least, hoaxes make every trusting source that passes along the lie an unwitting accomplice in a despicable act. It harms long-nurtured relationships of mutual trust between those who post on blogs and websites and those who read them. Continue reading

Now THIS Is Unprofessional Conduct: The Lesson of the Jilted Dentist

No! It's NOT safe! It's not safe at ALL!

The hallmark of professionals is trust. We should be able to trust professionals to do their duty on our behalf despite their personal feelings. Lawyers often dislike or even fear their clients, for example: a defendant charged with murder who has stabbed his previous three attorneys with pencils is now back in court with a fourth, though certain precautions have been taken. When a professional finds that his or her personal feelings are so intense that they jeopardize the professional’s ability to fulfill their duties objectively, fairly and well, then that’s a conflict of interest, and it must be dealt with, usually by stepping aside.

A professional who doesn’t step aside despite an evident conflict has determined that he or she has the detachment and self-control to overcome it. A recent news story from Poland, however, suggests that it is not a good idea to risk too much trust on a professional’s determination that she can remain objective. Continue reading