The Ethics of Reposting Photo of Alleged Attacker

In Is this Blog Justice?, Philip Young questions whether the reposting of a photograph of Jackie Danicki’s alleged attacker on the London Underground by others is ethical:

“If someone we know were to be attacked we’d all want to do what we could to help. We might think that a reasonably well read weblog offered a useful platform for doing so. But would it be ethical?….

… as the CIPR [see the Chartered Institute of Public Relation’s Social Media Guidelines — Consultation here] thinks about a social media code of conduct which includes issues of competence, I wonder if this incident highlights an important distinction between citizen journalism and its more established equivalent?”

(A quick point: Please read Jackie’s disturbing story, as well as the additional information she leaves in the comments on her post. Also note that I’m using the word “alleged” here not to question Jackie veracity, but as a legal term reflecting the status of her claim.)

Perhaps I’m mincing words, but I’m not sure the question is one of ethics as much as asking whether the republishing of the photograph of the individual in question is the right thing to do vs. whether it is legally sound to do.

If this man is the person who actually committed the assault (which is the issue here), then one could argue that finding him and bringing him to justice is a social responsibility, part of which is asking the public to help identify him. One could further argue that republishing his photograph on a private blog is not that different from publishing it through an official law enforcement site, at least conceptually, assuming the original source of the information is reliable. Furthermore, since the attack occurred in a public setting, an argument of invasion of privacy by the assailant could not be as easily made.

However, whether this is a legally sound action is another matter. Should any initially unknown facts or issues arise, anyone who has republished the photograph puts themselves at greater risk than simply having linked to the original post or Jacki’s Flickr picture (which, by the way, as of right now has been viewed 2,604 times). And should the assailant make any counterclaims of harm caused him by the publishing or republishing of the photograph (stranger things have happened), then anyone who has participated in this may be on the line as well.

For what it’s worth, I commend Jackie for having handled the attack as she did — by filing an official report, by publicly sharing her story, and by having the wherewithal to take a photograph of the alleged assailant and posting it on her blog. Hopefully the perpetrator will be caught soon.

 


How Much Personal Information Should Be Shared Online?

When a blog is used for professional marketing and networking, one of the big questions is always how much of the blogger’s personal views to include and how much of his or her personal life to reference.

Great question, and there’s no consensus. For example, some of my online PR and social media colleagues openly weave personal events from their lives into their blog posts, frequently to illustrate some point, but sometimes just to share with readers and others in the profession. But another colleague has a policy not to mention anything personal, whether in online or offline conversations, unless it’s on a superficial and inconsequential “small talk” level. These are, of course, vastly different approaches.

I’ve often wondered what the right balance is, given that blogging and other social media, is, well, social in nature. When readers who are perhaps not very familiar with the culture of social media, as well as readers from traditional corporate environments (where the belief in message control still exists and is desperately hung on to), come across a post that’s more personal in nature, how will they respond? Will they assume the blogger is not “being professional” in that instance?

I’ve been thinking about this more in the past few days after the conversations I had with several of the session leaders and attendees at BlogOrlando. Those immersed in blogging and social media were more comfortable with the inevitable intertwining of the “purely” professional (although I’d argue that there is no such thing) with the personal, while those individuals who came from more traditional and corporate environments were still wary about it all.

The fact is, however, that even the most closely guarded people leave impressions behind, if not in their actual blog posts, then in such public venues as the comments on other blogs, in podcasts, on MySpace and other similar sites, in Flickr pictures (those they upload, those they appear in and the manner in which they appear, and those they choose as favorites), on message boards or business review sites.

Since individuals inevitably reveal more about ourselves than they usually realize, perhaps the answer is in being authentic (yeah, “authenticity” is one of those words that’s been horribly overused lately) instead of posed, plastic or uni-dimensional. This does not mean letting it all hang out. But it does mean not trying to uphold some artificial appearance.

Perhaps it also means being less judgmental about certain things (see Scott Baradell’s post about the attacks on public figures who show human fallibility); recognizing the richness, as Lee Hopkins described, that online communications, despite their limitations and risks, provide us — and our responsibility in this process; and the need to try to make amends when we’ve made mistakes or wronged someone (see Gary Goldhammer’s humorously-written, but with a serious message, Yom Kippur: A Post of AtonementL’shanah Tova, Gary).

 


Corporate Responsibility, Ethics and Good Business Practices

After the hugely damaging Enron et all fiasco and the resulting public distrust and cynicism, once again we find corporate responsibility, ethics and good business practices at the forefront of many discussions.

Business Ethics Magazine lists its 100 Best Corporate Citizens for 2006 (Spring 2006, Vol. 20 #1) and explains that its methodology goes beyond simply measuring accountability to shareholders:

“Traditionally, firms have been judged on how well they serve stockholders. But in the 21st century — a new era of ecological limits, corporate ethics crises, and rising societal expectations — this traditional focus offers too narrow a definition of success. Firms rely upon healthy relations with many stock-holders. That means not only creating healthy returns for shareholders but emphasizing good jobs for employees, a clean environment, responsible relations with the community, and reliable products for consumers.”

Companies that made the list for the past seven years are Brady Corporation, Cisco Systems, Inc., Cummins, Inc., Ecolab Inc., Graco Inc., Herman Miller, Inc., Hewlett-Packard Company, Intel Corporation, Modine Manufacturing Co., Pitney Bowes, Inc., Procter & Gamble Company, St. Paul Travelers Companies, Southwest Airlines Company, Starbucks Corporation, Timberland Company and Whirlpool Corporation.

Writing about the 100 Best Corporations list, Mike Swenson asks us to consider, “could your company or client make this list today?  What would have to happen to make your company or client eligible to be one of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens?”

In the same vein, Ethical Corporation released a special report (PDF here) on Corporate Responsibility and Education. The foreward to the report states that:

“… whether corporate responsibility is a moral and ethical imperative or simply a new factor in doing business profitably, there emerging consensus is that it is here to stay and needs to be carefully managed. This requires new knowledge, skills and values that allow managers to balance profitability with stakeholder interests and social and environmental realities.

Academic institutions have a vital role, perhaps even obligation, to equip the next generation of business leaders with the cross-functional skills to cope with and flourish in an era of globalization in a way that creates economic growth and a sustainable future for people and the planet.”

However, the report also notes that business school students can still graduate without having had to include corporate social responsibility into their studies. What is therefore being envisioned is a “triple-track approach” to incorporating CSR courses into the curriculum:

  • CRS courses offered as electives,
  • CRS courses required as part of the core curriculum, and
  • CRS components included in other core courses.

The report also provides lists of European business schools offering CRS programs (p. 20) and top U.S. business schools for social and environmental stewardship (p. 24).

In Foreward Blog’s Foreward Podcast #3, meanwhile, Trevor Cook discussed the importance of ethics in public relations. Although his interview is geared towards PR students and young practitioners, these two statements apply equally well to all practitioners:

“We’d rather lose a client than an editor… and if we get a reputation of being too slippery with the truth or being too glib… then we’re going to go out of business very quickly…

We in the profession should be thinking about… the context and broader implications of what we do, because sometimes just telling the truth can be an easy way out…”


The Online Disinhibition Effect

For those of us who have blogs and are heavily involved in social media, their benefits are easily recognizable. Their strength lies in their ability to invite and encourage communication or, as Susan Getgood writes,

“The reason blogs have traction is that they deliver on the promise of the World Wide Web. Everybody *can* be a publisher. That completely changes the equation — the ‘printing press’ is no longer scarce, limited to those with deep pockets.”

Of course, along with that discourse comes risk. As Jeremy Pepper has often said, “if you have a thin skin, you shouldn’t blog.” And he’s right. Sharing ideas, taking positions and defending them against criticism isn’t for the faint of heart. Occasionally what’s written on a blog is even challenged via lawsuit, which Kami Huyse writes about here.

But generally one presumes that challengers, critics or detractors are rational and fair responders, albeit passionate ones. However, the blogging world and other forms of social media also has its unbalanced participants.

Perhaps these individuals are a result of what psychologist John Suler (who also has a blog, The Psychology of Cyberspace) terms the Online Disinhibition Effect:

“It’s well known that people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say or do in the face-to-face world. They loosen up, feel more uninhibited, express themselves more openly. Researchers call this the ‘disinhibition effect.’ It’s a double-edged sword. Sometimes people share very personal things about themselves. They reveal secret emotions, fears, wishes. Or they show unusual acts of kindness and generosity. We may call this benign disinhibition.

On the other hand, the disinhibition effect may not be so benign. Out spills rude language and harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, even threats…. We might call this toxic disinhibition.

On the benign side, the disinhibition indicates an attempt to understand and explore oneself, to work through problems and find new ways of being. And sometimes, in toxic disinhibition, it is simply a blind catharsis, an acting out of unsavory needs and wishes without any personal growth at all.

What causes this online disinhibition? What is it about cyberspace that loosens the psychological barriers that block the release of these inner feelings and needs? Several factors are at play. For some people, one or two of them produces the lion’s share of the disinhibition effect. In most cases, though, these factors interact with each other, supplement each other, resulting in a more complex, amplified effect.”

Suler then outlines several factors in detail:

  • You Don’t Know Me (dissociative anonymity)
  • You Can’t See Me (invisibility)
  • See You Later (asynchronicity)
  • It’s All in My Head (solipsistic introjection)
  • It’s Just a Game (dissociative imagination)
  • We’re Equals (Minimizing Authority)

Suler’s article certainly sheds light on the inappropriate behavior occasionally seen online and is therefore well worth the read.

 


With Canada’s Seal Hunt Less Than Two Days Away, Rhetoric Is In Overdrive

As the countdown ticker on the Humane Society of the United States site shows, Canada’s infamous yearly seal hunt — this year permitting the killing of 325,000 young seals — is less that two days away (at the time of this writing, 1 day and 19 hours).

With both supporters and opponents of the hunt preparing for the international media attention this event attracts, rhetoric is in overdrive.

From the Fisheries and Oceans Canada site:

  • The Seal Hunt Management Plan’s objectives are to “ensure conservation and sustainability, long-term sustainable use, humane hunting practices, and encourage fullest use of hunted seals.”
  • “The commercial seal hunt in Atlantic Canada in 2005 was the source of more than $16.5 million in direct revenue from the sale of product – virtually the same as in 2004, and up from an estimated $13 million value in 2003.”
  • “The seal harvest in Atlantic Canada has been directed at beater pelt sales (independent harp seals between 25 days and 13 months of age).  The primary market is for beater pelts, which can fetch up to $70 each in strong markets.”
  • “The hunting methods presently used were studied by the Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing in Canada and they found that the clubbing of seals, when properly performed is at least as humane as, and often more humane than, the killing methods used in commercial slaughterhouses, which are accepted by the majority of the public.”
  • “Methods used to kill seals in Canada were found to be generally more humane than the shooting of animals for sport. The Commission also found that no methods of killing which have come to their notice, other than clubbing or shooting, achieve acceptable standards of humaneness.”

Additional statements from a recent CBS News article:

  • “…the reality is that whitecoats can’t be hunted anymore. But it’s also true that young harp seals lose their white coats (and their protection) at about 12 to 14 days of age. After that, they’re fair game for hunters, although they’re usually about 25 days old before they’re hunted. Most harp seals taken are under the age of three months. Young yes, whitecoats no.”
  • “A 2002 report in the Canadian Veterinary Journal found that ‘the large majority of seals taken during this hunt … are killed in an acceptably humane manner.’ This study found that 98 per cent of hunted seals it examined had been killed properly. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) cites this study among others as proof that the hunt opponents are wrong in their accusations of widespread cruelty. And regarding the ‘skinning alive’ charge, the DFO says appearances can be deceiving. ‘Sometimes a seal may appear to be moving after it has been killed,’ the DFO says. ‘However, seals have a swimming reflex that is active, even after death. This reflex falsely appears as though the animal is still alive when it is clearly dead – similar to the reflex in chickens.’ “
  • According to the DFO, “the club, or ‘hakapik,’ used by many sealers is ‘an efficient tool’ that kills ‘quickly and humanely.’ “
  • “The federal government acknowledges that it has laid more than 200 charges against sealers since 1996, but argues that shows it’s serious about enforcing its regulations.”

And finally, from the Humane Society of the United States, a video and slide show (scroll midway down page to find). Despite the pictures of whitecoats intended to pull at everyone’s heartstrings, these images speak volumes.


Journalist Chose Fairness Over Objectivity

C-SPAN recently broadcast Personal Recollections of the Civil Rights Movement, which offered a fascinating look at the experiences of journalists who lived through that tumultuous era. Panelists included Chuck Conconi, Helen Thomas, Jack Nelson, Carl Stern and Barbara Reynolds.

A comment made by Chuck Conconi (now Editor At Large of Washingtonian Magazine, but back then a journalist with the Washington Post) stood out for its unapologetic honesty. Speaking about his coverage of the movement, Conconi said,

“I could be fair in my reporting, but I couldn’t be objective.”


Danish Embassy in Damascus is Latest Target in Rage over Caricatures of Prophet Muhammed

CNN.com reports that hundreds of Syrian demonstrators stormed the Royal Danish Embassy in Damascus, Syria today and set the building ablaze. This is the latest reaction to the publishing of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

Many Muslims are offended because they find the cartoons disrespectful and blasphemous; others object because various hadiths prohibit any depiction of the Prophet, regardless of what the images contain (although Wikipedia notes that representations of the Prophet have existed in Islamic art for quite some time).

The Vatican had this to say about the cartoons:

“The freedom of thought and expression, confirmed in the Declaration of Human Rights, can not include the right to offend religious feelings of the faithful. That principle obviously applies to any religion…

Any form of excessive criticism or derision of others denotes a lack of human sensitivity and can in some cases constitute an unacceptable provocation.”

Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, part of the Vatican’s diplomatic service, was also critical:

“Freedom of satire that offends the sentiments of others becomes an abuse — and in this case it has affected the sentiments of entire populations in their highest symbols…

One can understand satire about a priest but not about God. With reference to Islam, we could understand satire on the uses and customs and behavior, but not about the Quran, Allah and the Prophet.”

See Wikipedia’s Jyllands-Posten Muhammed cartoons controversy for a chronology of events and international reaction. Make sure to also read the posts by Allan Jenkins and Neville Hobson, both of which offer an analysis from a communications perspective.

I predict that this explosive situation is only the beginning of other similar international incidents we’ll see in the coming months and years. I’d venture to guess that others (see, for example, Media Orchard’s post Newest Beer Pitchman: Jesus Christ) would agree.


Online Suicide Notes

It was bound to happen. Our most intimate moments in life and death are now public for anyone to see.

According to New America Media, 17 year-old Joshua Anson Ballard posted his last MySpace.com bulletin on Nov. 29, 2005 just a short while before fatally shooting himself. And Chris McKinstry, the founder of Mindpixel, made two posts dated January 20, 2006 on his Mindpixel Blog before taking his own life a few days later.

What’s our obligation if we stumble across something like this? Should we get involved, contact the authorities? Can we just click away without guilt? I’m not sure there is a universal answer. In the cases of Joshua and Chris, it seems that people did try to intervene before it was too late.


Resources for Blogging in Politically Repressive Environments

Here are two important blogging resources for anyone opposed to censorship and supportive of free speech … and, most importantly, for any blogger working within a politically repressive environment.

On a related note, there is currently much talk about credibility, accountability and accuracy within the blogosphere. I’ve often thought that limiting the anonymity of bloggers or those who comment on blog posts is one way of increasing accountability. Spirit of America has challenged my view on this (see entire argument on Anonymous Blogging Apologia):

“Most of the bloggers who have been arrested in the past two years were easy to find because they followed the advice of some purist critics of anonymous blogging: They used their real names and details of their lives. Considering the likelihood that the harrassment of bloggers will continue, we believe anonymous blogging should remain a valid option and comprehensive instructions on how to do so should be available.”


Civility A Hot Topic Among Bloggers

The recent verbal sparring between Six Apart president Mena Trott and backstage.bbc.co.uk’s Project Lead Ben Metcalfe at the Les Blogs 2.0 Conference has hit a massive nerve among bloggers. A Technorati search for “Ben Metcalfe” reveals 400 posts. I won’t comment on what happened at Les Blogs since I wasn’t there, but I admit I’m glad that civility – and the absence thereof – is a hot topic again. While it’s true that definitions of what’s considered civil behavior vary based on environment, personal values and cultural norms, it’s indisputable that incivility takes its toll. This might be a good time to re-read an older, but still relevant, article on workplace civility. It contains good ideas applicable to many settings.