Facebook Wars II: More School Abuse of Power and Privacy

"Hello? ACLU? Anybody there?"

In January, Ethics Alarms weighed in on reports from Illinois and New York about students being disciplined by their high schools for postings on Facebook about the sexual proclivities of female students in the community. The ethics verdict: the schools were abusing their power and the students’ privacy:

“When did schools suddenly acquire disciplinary control over what students do when they aren’t at school? There is no question that the websites involved were inappropriate, disrespectful, cruel and hurtful, just as the rumors and insults included in high school graffiti were, in those glorious days before the internet. Students so abused need to complain to parents, and parents need to talk to the parents of the offending students, and if they can’t or won’t address the problem, then the courts or law enforcement may need to become involved.”

The rationale offered by the schools at the time was that the students had violated rules against cyber-bullying, that ever-vague plague, although there is no more legitimate authority for a school to decree what a student can say about another student on a personal website than there is for a school to restrict what a kid can say at the dinner table.

Naturally, when an institution exceeds the natural limit on its authority, there is nothing to keep it from even more egregious abuse. Thus two Georgia students were just suspended and one another was expelled for negative Facebook postings about a teacher. Continue reading

Ex-Rep. Steve Driehaus and Sore Loser Ethics

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), who lost his seat last November to Republican Steve Chabot, is suing an anti-abortion group for making statements that he says misled voters about his stance on abortion, leading to his demise at the polls.

In his defamation lawsuit, Driehaus argues that the Susan B. Anthony List lied about him in public statements and then sued him for trying to stop the group from posting misleading billboards, thereby “depriving him of his livelihood.” Driehaus, who campaigned as an anti-abortion candidate, voted for the controversial national health care law, which many anti-abortion activists maintain supports taxpayer-funded abortion. Driehaus argued and still maintains that the claim was false, and that the law bars any federal funding of abortion.

Driehaus’s suit is unethical and  ridiculous. Continue reading

Thought Police at the Transportation Security Administration

Leave it to the Government to give us a definitive example of this problem: how do we tell if someone is being unethical or just infuriatingly dumb? Most of the time, of course, we can’t tell.  You can conclude, however, that when high-placed leadership in a government agency, without a legitimate reason for doing so,  takes action that makes those who worry about excessive government intrusion into private thought, speech and conduct quake in their boots, the end result is the same. Such actions cause an erosion of trust, the lifeblood of democratic societies. That makes the conduct dumb and unethical. Continue reading

Law, Citizenship, and the Right to be a Jackass

Three springs ago on the streets of Pittsburgh, David Hackbart was starting to parallel park when a car pulled up behind him. Don’t you hate that? Hackbart did too, and presented his flip-off finger to the anonymous driver in silent protest. “Don’t flip him off!” came a shouted edict from someone outside his car, and Hackbart, not in the mood for officious intermeddling, gave the anonymous civility referee The Finger as well. Continue reading