If you’re in the publishing community, every little tidbit of gossip, news or whatever generally funnels its way through the blog pipes. Of course, if you’re one of the lucky ones who manage to avoid blogging or reading blogs, then DAMN! I want whatever it is you’re taking because these things are addictive. Anyway, a recent hubbub got me to thinking about ethics. The hubbub I’m referring to is the Triskelion affair. There’s so much she said/she said out there it makes one dizzy. In truth, the only thing I took away from all the blogging posts and comments is the following Reader’s Digest blurb, which I’m certain, is NOT the whole story.
And Now, For The Resssttt of the Story (thank you Paul Harvey)
Once upon a time, there was an industry professional who made a post on a loop. The post apparently contained some extremely personal information, although I’ve NO idea what. Sometime later, someone who was on the same closed loop as this industry professional made the choice to take the industry professional’s post and put it out in the public arena.
Naturally, fodder was born for the blogosphere, and the blog du jour happened. Are you cross-eyed yet? Wait! Visit the Wikipedia ethics link to get TRULY cross-eyed. If you’re feeling completely uninformed about this latest blogfest and want to absorb all the juicy gossip on this debacle, fray, gossip fodder, whatever you want to call it, then visit Smart Bitches or Dear Author. So if you can go there for explanations why read my post you ask. You don’t. Have to read that is. I just thought the topic of ethics seemed apropos to the situation.
It’s All About Who We Are
I’ve had a couple of business ethics classes, and ethics isn’t easily defined. Primarily because there are different mindsets, theories and interpretations (see Wikipedia). Here’s what I came away with from my classes. The study of ethics examines the parameters of acceptable or unacceptable behavior. Behaviors primarily rooted in an individual’s belief structures as well as they culture they live in. Ethics also focuses on what a society or culture defines as acceptable or unacceptable behavior.
So how do ethics apply to the Readers Digest blurb above? Well, sometimes rules should be broken and other times they should be observed. (ok, ok, I didn’t mean to give you a heart attack. This rule breaker does believe that there are moments when lucidity means you won’t end up in jail.)
Proposed Topics For Discussion
Do I think posters on closed loops are entitled to post freely with the implicit understanding that no emails should be forwarded outside of a loop if it’s stated in the group rules?
Absolutely. Most closed loops come with that stipulation already built into the rules prepared by the list owner, or the group owner states them periodically. From an ethical perspective, it’s just the proper way you do business. People on a closed loop should feel free to share without the fear of disclosure elsewhere unless permission is granted. Let’s face it, the rule is there for a good reason. Posting a sensitive question or answer on a loop has the potential to damage one’s career if someone chooses to pass it along. When someone shares information off a closed loop, the circle of trust is broken and it can often result in a well of information going dry. You know the saying; fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Do I think the expectations of privacy by a poster are realistic?
Nope. Not everyone has ethics. Wish they did, but this isn’t Utopia, Toto. Thinking one’s post will be treated with respect and kept in confidence is foolhardy. On one of my loops, there was a similar incident to the Reader’s Digest blurb. One member forwarded, without permission, another member’s post with some trauma ensuing as a result. I was blown away by this breach of ethics, particularly when it was clearly stated in the loop rules that this type of action was verboten! The lesson here is to choose one’s words CAREFULLY, and even then one’s post can still be misinterpreted because body language doesn’t show up in email.
Do I think there are times when someone has the right to pass on a post from a closed loop?
Well, we’re walking into muddy waters with this question because of the possibilities that might exist depending on email’s content. Say for instance someone posts an email on a loop about committing suicide, murder, intentions to rob a bank, whatever. In those types of instances, I believe one has a moral and ethical duty to try and stop that person from following through on those comments.
If we’re talking about an email that contains professional information and/or personal information, then I believe taking a post from a closed loop and disclosing it to people outside of said loop is unethical. NOW, if an individual reads professional information in a post that was of importance to the livelihood and well-being of others (anyone remember ENRON?), then there is a moral and ethical obligation to notify those individuals. NOT by forwarding a post without permission. If you read something on a closed loop that will have a direct impact on others, paraphrase the damn thing while holding onto your original copy in the event you have to hand it over to the authorities! Pertinent issues that are critical to the well-being of others will still be disseminated even if you just share the gist of the information you read. I do have one exception to the paraphrasing, which is exposing corrupt government.
Fool Me Once, Shame On You — Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me
Perhaps the most important point to remember is this. An individual who forwards emails without permission (no matter the motive) is quite likely to lose the trust of others. Every person who received the forwarded email in the Triskelion matter will remember receiving an email taken from a closed loop and where it came from. From this point forward, how many people will be inclined to trust the individual who forwarded the email? I know I wouldn’t. So any damage isn’t solely restricted to the person who had their email forwarded.
Given my stated beliefs does this mean I expect everyone else to follow MY ethical standards?
I had to think about that question for a moment. Do I expect other people to be nice, kind, thoughtful and morally upright? Expect? No. Wish they would be? Yep. The world would be a much nicer place if people took the time to think before they opened their mouths or pressed that submit button (including myself!) However, I’m realistic (and rather resigned) about the issue. Utopia is a mythical place, and a lot of people deliberately choose to be mean, nasty, ugly, cruel and vindictive. I can’t change them; only myself (although I do give those people described a wide berth).
For me personally, ethics is about doing the “right thing.” It’s about doing the right thing even when you’re pissed as hell and you want to get even (and since I’m 1/4 Italian I understand the desire for vendettas.*grin*). For me, ethics is taking the high road. It’s means being accountable for your actions. God knows that’s not always easy for me, but I do try, and that’s all I think any of us can do. Sometimes we do stupid things, but the more we try to do the right thing the more we’ll succeed, and isn’t that a good thing?