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.

 


Dancing Around Landmines: Blogs and Other Communication Tools Aren’t Risk-Free

While there is a good reason we have a democratic legal system with corresponding laws that help guide societal behavior (the always debatable issue being, of course, to what degree the legal system impacts individual and societal rights), it’s bothersome when the law gets in the way and isn’t as progressive as perhaps it should be. 

Case in point is an ABA eReport article that discusses a New York State proposal that would designate legal blogs as advertising, thus subjecting them to state scrutiny and regulation:

“The storm was set off by a proposal that ‘computer-accessed communications’ such as blogs be included in New York’s definition of legal advertising, and therefore require state scrutiny. The proposal, by a committee created by the state’s Administrative Board of Courts, also suggests the state code of professional responsibility extend court jurisdiction to out-of-state legal advertising that appears in New York….

And if blog posts must be approved, what’s the point? ‘This seems to be another in a series of recent regulatory efforts by state bar regulators that seem woefully out of touch with the Internet era,’ wrote Dennis Kennedy, a St. Louis lawyer who posts at Between Lawyers.” [Read Kennedy’s post If Lawyers Can Advertise in New York, They Can Advertise Anywhere…But They Probably Can’t.]

Equally bothersome, however, is when individuals expose themselves to legal liability by doing something that appears to be intentionally stupid. I’m referring to examples provided in the USA Today article Courts are asked to crack down on bloggers, websites, such as posting false STD information about someone on Don’tDateHimGirl.com or setting up a fake MySpace.com page that contains obscene content. Not very smart — and that’s an understatement.


Speaking at BlogOrlando: Legal Issues Session

BlogOrlando’s Legal Issues session will give us an opportunity to cover some important areas, such as whether bloggers are considered journalists and if so, what legal protections they may have; libel & slander (and the role of satire); how to protect against liability regarding blog comments left by other people, and so on. And if there is time, I’ll also talk about what conflict management approaches, short of using cease and desist letters or initiating other legal action, may be open to bloggers.

In other words, this session will provide basic information that ultimately will help bloggers avoid some mine fields and allow them to focus on what they really enjoy doing — communicating and interacting with our readers and others in the community.

Here’s a brief list of some helpful sites to know about:

And these lists of blogs, compiled by 3L Epiphany, are also good information sources and commentary to keep on hand:

 


The U.S. Federal Government Posts 9/11 Trial Exhibits Online

In a historical move, the U.S. federal government yesterday provided online access to 1,195 of the 1,202 exhibits admitted into evidence during the trial of U.S. v. Moussaoui (United States v. Zacarias Moussaoui, Criminal No. 01-455-A), making this the first time a federal court has done so in a criminal case.

The exhibits offer insight into one of the most important legal cases of modern history, and their emotional impact can’t be overestimated (the exhibits include actual 9/11 video footage and recorded calls, a collection of photos of the victims, as well as graphic photos of bodies found inside the Pentagon after Flight 77 crashed into it).

As explained in the overview, the exhibits are organized first by the party seeking their admission (Prosecution Trial Exhibits are available here and Defense Trial Exhibits are available here), second by the phase of the trial in which they were introduced (Phase One concerned Moussaoui’s eligibility for the death penalty, and Phase Two concerned whether he would be sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of release), and third, by exhibit number.

 


Technology Helps Manage Logistics & Maintain Parent-Child Bonds Despite Divorce

Divorce is always a sad thing, but especially when dependent children are involved. However, regardless of any past animosity between former spouses, communicating effectively with each other on a regular and ongoing basis — and approaching the raising of kids as a team effort — is usually beneficial to everyone in the long run.

Fortunately, there are tools available to help adults manage the logistics of two or more households and schedules.

The KidsNCommon site (fee-based, free for 30 days), for example, helps parents establish a “community” within which an invited person — the other parent, a relative, a friend, or even the child — gets access to customized information. This information can include the Parenting Plan (a good resource on parenting plans is ParentingPlan.net), the Documents page, the Bills page (with tabs for Shared Expenses, Child Support, Spousal Support, Bank Accounts and Service Vendors), and the all-important Calendar page. The Calendar allows invited community members to see upcoming events organized according to categories such as Payment Reminder, Work, School Event, Extra Curricular, Recreation, Travel, Vacation, Holiday, Co-Parenting Meeting and Legal — with optional email reminders sent out as well.

KidsNCommon offers other services and benefits as well. For example, community members get their own email address, such as suzysmith@kidsncommon.com, that helps everyone stay in touch and receive schedule reminders. The site also offers information on topics such as child health, dealing with the psychology of divorce, and balancing families, careers and other relationships.

ShareKids.com (fee-based) is another site that offers an easy online location to share information and manage schedules, keep track of shared expenses, create photo galleries, and even create private chat rooms.

Sharekid.com also links to other valuable resources such as the Family Mediation Inc.’s downloadable (and, at under $20, affordable) Child Custody Parenting Plans book with forms, and the international non-profit Bonus Families that coined the beautiful term “bonus” to describe “a stepfamily or a single parent living with their children and another adult partner” (I highly recommend this site).

In addition to the importance of streamlining communication and schedules for the sake of the children, maintaining and fostering strong parent-child bonds is crucial to helping kids adjust to their new family status, particularly in cases where physical or legal custody is awarded to only one parent.

Virtual visitation can be an important part of helping the non-custodial parent maintain close ties with his or her children, whether the parent lives nearby and can’t see the child every day, or lives further away, precluding frequent in-person time together.

InternetVisitation.org describes virtual visitation as “using tools such as personal video conferencing, a webcam, email, instant messaging (IM) and other wired or wireless technologies over the Internet or other communication media to supplement in-person visits and telephone contacts between two people.”

The site offers practical how-to information on what’s needed to set up a call and a related forum discussing such things as VoIP, Skype, Vonage, video calls and video call accessories. Internet Visitation also lists the latest legislative developments; to date Utah, Wisconsin and Missouri have passed virtual visitation laws, with fifteen other states showing activity.

Finally, there’s also a must-read blog, Virtual Families and Friends.com, written by “virtual dad” Jim Buie and co-authored by his son, Matthew Buie-Nervik. An absolute gold mine of information.

 


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.

 


The National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse Accuses McDonald’s of Hiring Convicted Sex Offenders

The National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse (NFPCSA) is calling for a boycott of McDonald’s restaurants after Nashville station NewsChannel 5 WTVF uncovered that nationwide, McDonald’s restaurants have hired “dozens” of convicted sex offenders.

According to the WTVF report, “McDonald’s says it has a policy against hiring sex offenders at its 8,000 or so company owned stores. But at the 18,000 franchise stores that operate under the golden arches, they’re free to hire anyone they want.”

WTVF’s investigation revealed nine sex offenders in Delaware, thirteen in Indiana and sixteen in Louisiana working in McDonald’s restaurants. But, unfortunately:

“We can’t tell you how many other child molesters or other sex offenders are working at McDonald’s restaurants here in Tennessee or anywhere else. That’s because in most states, including Tennessee, sex offender registries don’t have information about employers. So the public can’t find out — until something bad happens.”

No response yet on McDonald’s Corporate site.

 


Animal Legal Defense Fund Releases Ranking of State Animal Protection Laws

Earlier this year the Animal Legal Defense Fund released a 3-page report ranking all fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia based on the strength and comprehensiveness of their state anti-cruelty laws.

Although ALDF makes it clear that all the states’ laws need to be strengthened, the states that ranked best were California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan and Oregon, while those that ranked worst were Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota and Utah.

The latter five states fell into the worst category because, among other things, they either did not have any felony anti-cruelty provisions or because, in the case of Kentucky, felony provisions applied only to select situations.

ALDF also provides a list of Jurisdictions with Felony Animal Abuse Provisions and the year of enactment.

By way of quick definition, a felony is “a crime sufficiently serious to be punishable by death or a term in state or federal prison… [or] a crime carrying a minimum term of one year or more in state prison,” [note: given the legal status of animals, whether wild or designated as “property,” the death penalty has never been, not is unlikely ever to be, imposed in any animal cruelty case], while a  misdemeanor is “a lesser crime punishable by a fine and/or county jail time for up to one year… [and]are tried in the lowest local court such as municipal, police or justice courts.”


Gary Goldhammer Comments On The Zacarias Moussaoui Verdict

Gary Goldhammer wrote a thought-provoking post about the Zacarias Moussaoui verdict. Gary isn’t just your ordinary blogger writing about what is undoubtedly one of the most high-profile death penalty trials in United States history. He’s also the author of Dead End, a 1994 book that examines the financial and human costs of the death penalty.

For anyone who wants to learn more about the death penalty and how it is administered in the U.S., go to Pro-death penalty.com and the Death Penalty Information Center.

Here are some quick links of interest:

And to test your knowledge about the death penalty, follow this link to DPIC’s 10-question Death Penalty Quiz.