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Ethics in 5: Printerns on Advertising Ethics

Every week, the Prindle Intern team weighs in on an ethical issue together. Each intern is challenged to keep their response to five sentences – Ethics in 5. Click on an intern’s name to check out their previous posts on The Prindle Post!
This week’s question: Advertising
Advertising is frequently in the ethical hotseat. From body shaming to false information to glorification, producers often go about getting customers in a way many consider unethical. Recently, the use of an AI bot to advertise the movie Ex Machina was used on Tinder (making matches with people and asking them questions, and eventually linking them to an instagram advertising the movie) stirred up controversy (here). Many said this manipulated people’s emotions. Another ongoing debate in the advertising world is the use of photoshop to change the images presented to consumers. The photos are unrealistic at times, making consumers think they should look a way that is almost impossible and unrealistic. This also manipulates people’s emotions to get them to purchase certain products. Is it ever ethical to manipulate emotions in advertising? Is there a way to ethically advertise?
Corby Burger: Emotional manipulation permeates human relationships, so to call it outright unethical would be to lessen the normative weight that comes along with stigmatizing an action as truly unethical. In the case of the Ex Machina, advertisement, neither the magnitude of the emotional control on the part of the AI system nor the intentions of the marketing team warrants labeling this clever stunt as unethical. However, in utilizing Photoshop to break through the limits of aesthetic human “perfection,” there is an argument to be made that this is unethical in that the practitioners of these marketing techniques know that these sorts of images have negative effects on the psychological and physical health of the audience they are seeking to impact; yet they continue to unrealistically sensualize images through Photoshop. Now, what if the AI system was to continue its charade to a point where the subsequent emotional injuries were impactful enough to warrant calling them unethical. Would the moral responsibility fall on the creators of the device or the machine itself?
Natalie WeilandtYes, there are ways to ethically advertise because emotional manipulation (including that through advertising) isn’t inherently unethical. Everything is emotional manipulation: art, teaching, business…even simple conversations. It becomes unethical when advertisers are aware of the adverse effects that their actions have on people. We cannot change the fact that advertisers will always chase money (it’s their job, and this is a capitalist society), and they’ll find ways to do it in increasingly deceptive ways, especially given the rate at which technology presents new creative opportunities. All we can do is regulate and educate: if people expect advertisers to have evolving technology-enabled capabilities, the adverse psychological and sociological effects of their manipulation– like those displayed in the Ex Machina case– won’t be as severe or common.
Rachel HanebuttAdvertising has become the ultimate forum for deception, especially when tied to a profit. As consumers, we make active choices to buy into and accept this type of marketing strategy, therefore, it is not inherently wrong for companies to use various advertising strategies to their advantage. In regards to Ex Machina’s trickster account on Tinder, it seems like this advertisement has gone too far, however, if we are going to hold glorified ads accountable, we need to hold consumers to the same accountability. Some call Ex Machina’s sexy robot deception; I call it strategic marketing.
Amy Brown: I don’t find emotional manipulation inherently unethical, but it can certainly become unethical if taken too far. Using an ad to manipulate someone’s emotions into saying that they want to buy that makeup look or clothes, or go eat at a certain restaurant isn’t inherently bad; it becomes bad when emotions are manipulated to make someone feel extremely bad about themselves and distort perceptions in the long-term, like with unrealistic beauty expectations that stem from photoshop. It may be a stretch to call that inherently unethical, it I think that it does toe the line. If advertising manipulates emotion for positive long-term change, like an actual healthy lifestyle or such, then the manipulation may not be as unethical or wrong.
Noelle WitwerAlthough I can understand why Tinder users might have felt dismayed, betrayed, or simply annoyed when they discovered that Ava was not a real person but rather an advertising bot for a new movie, I do not think this use of deception in advertising is unethical. The type of deception used was similar to a plot twist in a novel, a surprising punch line to a joke, or the unexpected language of satire–in all of these examples, people use deception as a tool to bring attention to something and to  impact the deceived. And, in all of these examples, the range of emotions felt when the deception is revealed can be variable depending on the consumer. Deception becomes unethical in advertising when we are deceived about the nature or effectiveness of the product that is being advertised. Emotional manipulation in advertising is unethical when, as Corby mentioned, the advertisements leave a harmful negative psychological impact on the viewer and those designing advertisements are aware of this effect.
Caroline ZadinaAdvertising that appeals to the emotion of consumers is not inherently unethical from my point of view. However, advertisment that psychologically harms a person is unethical, which Amy alludes to above. The goal of advertisement is to attract, entice, and lure people in, which is only possible by pinpointing clever avenues to connect with consumers. While this example from, Tinder is definitely a new “attempt” at this made possible with our ever expanding technological world, I think that as a society we need to be more aware and cognizant of advertising and the motive behind it, in order to protect ourselves. Advertising is not going away anytime soon, and while we can not directly control what reaches us, we can control what we let in and attend to.
Cheney Hagerup: The use of Tinder in advertising Ex Machina draws me back to the movie, Her, in which the protagonist falls in love with a mechanized female persona, as transmitted through an app he downloaded. Both of these scenarios suggest an ever-increasing societal dependence on technology for social interaction in place of human interaction. I think that the advertisement exploits this dependence in a conscious effort to create controversy and, consequentially, publicity for the film. The advertisement, likewise, makes us all uncomfortably aware of this dependence, sparking important discussions.
Conner Gordon:  While the idea of emotional manipulation is a scary one, I don’t see it as being inherently wrong. One could say that a protest manipulates emotions to motivate onlookers and make a positive change, for example. The distinction between ethical and unethical emotional manipulation, then, would be the means and consequences of such manipulation. This is particularly relevant for the body image example, as it uses deceitful standards that create real, long-term emotional and physical damage for many viewers. The example of the Tinder bot is more complicated, since it is deceitful and produces negative emotions, but also creates these emotions for artistic effect (in this case, as a tie-in to the themes of the film), and ultimately operates on revealing its own deception.
Eleanor PriceAs Conner, Amy, and Corby have said, I don’t think I can say emotional manipulation in and of itself is inherently wrong — to call all forms of it wrong would then lead to whether literature, music, or any art  that one finds affecting is also unethical. However, intentionally stirring negative emotions within people to coerce them to buy a product (see a movie, donate money, etc) is unfair to those possible consumers, and the source of that discomfort can be traced to the creators of the advertisement. It seems unethical to me to deliberately cause such a drastic reaction in potential consumers.
How do you feel about this week’s question? Have something you want to share with an intern or a question about their stance? Leave a comment below on what you think of advertising ethics!

Ethics in 5: Printerns on Water

Every week, the Prindle Intern team weighs in on an ethical issue together. Each intern is challenged to keep their response to five sentences – Ethics in 5. Click on an intern’s name to check out their previous posts on The Prindle Post!

This week’s question: Water and California

California is, and has been, experiencing an extreme drought for the past few years. Water rations have gone into effect as water authorities say that the state only has one year of water saved up. The rations include requesting restaurants to not serve water unless requested, car washing and landscape watering is restricted, and water may be rationed for agriculture as well, which accounts for 80% of the state’s water usage. In the midst of all this, Nestle is currently bottling water from California and then selling it back in the local market. In fact, numerous bottled water companies actually source their water from drought-ridden regions of the country. Some argue that since this is where the brand is stationed, it’s okay to draw from California; others argue that companies should not bottle water from areas that are running out. Should companies be allowed to bottle and sell water from drought-ridden areas? Is it ethical business practices to do so? Should agricultural companies be allowed to draw 80% of the water when people are running out?

Corby Burger: From an economic perspective, the argument could be made that in times of drought the most important use of water is consumption, and allowing market forces to distribute drinking water through private entities such as Nestlé may actually lead to the most efficient outcomes for both consumers and producers. However, in examining this proposal we must take into account the externalities that Nestlé’s continued production places on surrounding communities. The continued extraction of spring water from the area in which the Nestlé plant is located is inhibiting the natural recharge of aquifers located in the drought stricken communities that rely on this groundwater runoff. In the case of agricultural consumption, California farmers should be more practical in the types of plants they choose to cultivate, as the ever popular almonds trees and alfalfa sprouts require incredible amounts of water to grow in the desert ecosystems of California. People in California (which by law includes corporations), and the public sector alike should work together to more effectively manage water resources in the state, and to ignore this responsibility is a dangerous moral failure.

Natalie WeilandtUnless bottling the water is the most efficient way to extract it, and drinking it bottled is the best way to put these scarce resources to use, I would argue that Nestle’s actions are unethical and should be stopped, or at least regulated and limited. Drawing bottled water from a drought-ridden area is not sustainable from a business standpoint, nor an environmental one. Even when considering the issue from Nestle’s perspective as an economically-driven entity (read: corporation), is it worth the bad press to pursue something with a shrinking market and a limited supply anyway? Nestle isn’t just a corporation; it is a huge corporation with many products other than bottled water. It is therefore unnecessary for them to be bottling water, given the scarcity of the resource, and taking into consideration that complete deprivation of this resource means a loss greater than profit: it means a loss of human life.

Rachel HanebuttI personally do not think it is ethical for companies to draw water from drought-ridden areas. Water bottle companies, such as Nestle, are not exempt from the increasing restrictions on water usage, even though they are selling back into the local Californian market. In the case of agriculture, however, I think that farmers should be allowed to use water, as needed, in order to continue to produce food for the state, but only if they are making attempts towards proactive adaptation in agriculture. If, however, it becomes necessary to restrict the usage of water for agricultural purposes as well, I think that California will need to resort to importing water and food from other states because the state as a whole did not proactively adapt to these drought conditions as they should have.

Amy Brown: I find it completely unethical to draw water from drought-ridden regions; that perpetuates numerous environmental issues and takes water from people who really need it, even when it’s being sold back into that market. It will be at a higher price, which is unfair to consumers; I also find it morally wrong to sell a necessary, life-sustaining good for a high price knowing that people have little choice but to buy it. While I think 80% of the water usage seems a bit high, if the farmers are not wasting water and using just what they need and every citizen still has enough water, there’s nothing wrong with using that water. If the agricultural companies are being wasteful and taking water that could be for people and essentially throwing it away, that is unethical.

Noelle WitwerAlthough I know that this is a complicated issue both ethically and economically, my first instinct is to say that bottling water and selling it back into the drought-ridden economy of California is unethical. Firstly, it seems to be manipulative by increasing the scarcity of an already scarce resource in order to drive up prices for water even more. Secondly, I would argue that both selling and buying excessive amounts of disposable water bottles is, in a way, unethical in itself due to the harmful effects of water bottles on the environment. A related ethical issue is the question of who is responsible for stopping the harmful activity of bottling water from drought areas, or bottling water in general? Is it the consumers’, the companies’ or the government’s responsibility?

Vanessa Freije: Yes, it is unethical. Even from a Marxist stance, the fact that Nestle is bottling up water from a drought-stricken region and selling it for capital gain just seems wrong. Water is an inelastic good, something that humans need. Nestle does not need to be taking water from California. Despite the possible economic gain from Nestle’s activities, it is critical to consider the trade-off and the potential losses in terms of human quality of life.  In this case, it is a simple cost- benefit analysis and a question of what we believe is more important –a greater quality of life or economic gain? MOREOVER, NESTLE’S CALIFORNIA WATER PERMIT EXPIRED 27 YEARS AGO. I think that speaks for itself. To read more about it, check here.

Caroline ZadinaWater is necessary to human life and existence. With that said, I believe that bottling up water from drought ridden California is unethical because as the drought continues and worsens, it has the potential to put many human lives at risk. People in California need their water. However, I also realize the difficult position Nestle currently finds itself in from a business perspective. I think that Natalie brought up a terrific point in that Nestle is a huge corporation with a ton of different products besides bottled water, so it will survive even if they cut back a little. I also believe that Nestle has a corporate responsibility to its 25,000 employees, many of whom live in California, and are experiencing this drought first hand. Eventually, at this rate, water will run out, preventing further business and putting their people in danger at the same time. I think that Nestle has a lot to gain in this situation. If they stand up and choose to do something to make this situation better, their brand name will be the catalyst to change and may trickle down to encourage  other companies to do the same.

How do you feel about this week’s question? Have something you want to share with an intern or a question about their stance? Leave a comment below on what you think of this issue!

Ethics in 5: Printerns on Social Networking Ethics

Every week, the Prindle Intern team weighs in on an ethical issue together. Each intern is challenged to keep their response to five sentences – Ethics in 5. Click on an intern’s name to check out their previous posts on The Prindle Post!

This week’s question: Social Networking Ethics

Comments regarding employers or coworkers posted on social networking websites are costing employees jobs across the country. The ethical and legal challenges surrounding the use of social media and its consequences in the workplace affects the business industry as a whole because employers across the nation are setting policies regarding employee use of these websites while working and even what these workers can say when off the clock. According to the Business Ethics website, as of 2010 software developer Cisco Systems Inc. even has a program, Cisco SocialMiner, designed to help employers monitor their employees’ social network site status updates, forum posts and blog posts in real time. The line between an employer’s right to monitor employees and an employee’s right to privacy can easily blur in this climate.

Corby Burger: Taking on the role of an employee brings with it more than just a paycheck, but grants a certain supplemental professional identity; and the candidness brought on by social media is making the line between one’s personal and professional life vanishingly thin. As we become desensitized to living our lives in the virtual world, we fail to realize that each tweet, insta, or status update is exposed to an unfathomably large audience, and this can have major repercussions when individuals are representing more than just themselves. Although some may claim this is an infringement of personal freedom, employers should maintain the ability to set cohesive employee codes of conduct that extend to the cyber realm, as they have a vested interest in cultivating a holistic company policy that recognizes an employee’s public association with their place of employment. Social media sites are fundamentally public, and to argue that these employers are infringing on the rights of their employees is to ignore the very nature of social media itself. What is important to me in this debate is the level of awareness and notification that employees have in relation to a company’s social media policy, setting clear standards the firm demands.

Natalie Weilandt: Allowing employers to actively monitor their employees’ social media outlets is a slippery slope that we need to be firm in resisting, especially as members of a technological society with increasingly hazy definitions of personal privacy and autonomy. If it becomes permissible for companies to control what we say on social media, what other types of (potentially even unforeseeable) elements of our self-expression will they be allowed to control in the future? Limiting the expression of opinions or personal statements as they relate to life outside the workplace is a limitation of our most basic freedoms, and a dangerous blurring of the lines between personal choice and the choices of those who are, in many ways, more powerful. It’s dangerous because it would aim for companies to be allowed to eliminate potentially progressive dissent (and as we’ve learned throughout history…where there’s dissent, there’s sometimes a much bigger problem). At the very least, this is unrealistic to employ on a practical level simply because there’s an inescapable susceptibility to corruption– who defines what’s “inappropriate”?

Noelle Witwer: The idea of the company that you work for monitoring your social media usage is an uncomfortable and distasteful thought for many people. I think that this initial reaction of discomfort that we may experience is due, in part, to the fact that we prefer to believe the things that we post on social media will be limited to the audience for whom we intend them– our friends and family. We also may argue that work and personal life should be separate entities–before the internet, your company couldn’t monitor your life outside work, so why should they be able to do it now? However, these beliefs may be naive: the fact is that currently, when you choose to put something on the internet, you are essentially putting that information in the public domain. Since the general public can access this information about you with relative ease, it makes sense that employers want to be aware of what their affiliates are posting online–the real ethical issue arises when the employer is making the decision about what online content posted by an employee they consider to be “acceptable” or “unacceptable”.

Vanessa FreijeWhat employees choose to do off the clock is their own business. However, what they choose to post on social media and on the internet is a reflection of the image they are choosing to promote. Personally, I believe that as a responsible adult you should be cognizant of what you’re posting and understand the consequences. If you’re posting things that would promote a negative image, then, as an employer, I would be worried about how that could hinder the company’s reputation. I don’t think that employers should have full monitoring access to employees’ social media, but I do think that to a degree the company has the right to ask employees to keep it appropriate on social media.

Amy Brown: In most cases, I find that employers should not be following up on their employee’s social media pages. Work and social lives tend to be two different areas, and as long as an employee is not posting things that reflect badly on the company image, it seems unethical to routinely check their social media. That said, if employees’ social media posts are causing problems for the company’s image, bashing fellow employees through updates, or going against company policies – such as not posting about certain jobs or projects of the company – then the company has a right to intervene and let the employee know that that behavior is unacceptable. In general, a company should not be monitoring an employee’s social media on a regular basis if there is no reason for suspicion.

Eleanor Price: Employers shouldn’t investigate employees’ social media, especially if the employees have no reference to where they work — in this way it is totally clear that they do not represent the company. I believe that it is acceptable that an employee have a life outside of his/her job, one that the employer has no place in, and therefore should not investigate.

Cheney Hagerup: I believe that freedom of speech should be granted to employees on all forums, in any medium. If an employee chooses to speak negatively of their organization, and an employer happens to come across the commentary, I can imagine that social repercussions may be in store for the employee. However, I do not see it as ethical for the employer to actively monitor the employee’s activity on social media, nor should formal punishment be enacted on the employee. There is a fine line between work life and personal life, but that line exists for a reason, as all actions an employee takes in their personal life should not come to represent their employer as a whole – that would offer the employer the liberty to criticize all actions and personal views of the employee. Furthermore, freedom of speech on social media sites may encourage more equality and fair treatment in the workplace.

Caroline Zadina: From my point of view, when you accept a position at a company, your name now represents their brand, therefore, your actions reflect not only on yourself, but the company as well. If an employee chooses to speak negatively about about an employer or their organization, I think repercussions should be expected. Even in cases where an employee uses offensive language not directed at the company, if it reflects a poor image on an organization’s choice of personnel, I believe the company may be justified in taking action. If it is a right, I am not quite sure of; however, I do believe that every choice you make in life affects others so one must act accordingly. For example, when I played soccer at a D1 institution, all of my media platforms were heavily regulated by the athletic department and coaches. If I posted something that they disliked, I was asked to remove it because I was a member of the team and therefore my actions reflected back onto my teammates. In cases when you want to keep your private life private, I would suggest not posting on social media.

Rachel Hanebutt: Employers seem to be treating social media as an extension of an individual’s job reputation. In a sense, it is just that, however, even an employee with the “cleanest” social media presence is subjected to off the clock monitoring.  Employers do not have the jurisdiction to control the social events their employees attend, or the types of socializing their employees participate in.  Why should they be able to control what they post, comment, or allow to be presented on their social media site?  Vetting employees’ social media sites prior to employment is one thing; playing “Big Brother” to current employees’ online social presence is another.

How do you feel about this week’s question? Have something you want to share with an intern or a question about their stance? Leave a comment below on what you think of social networking ethics!

Ethics in 5: Printerns on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Every week, the Prindle Intern team weighs in on an ethical issue together. Each intern is challenged to keep their response to five sentences – Ethics in 5. Click on an intern’s name to check out their previous posts on The Prindle Post!

Issue: Religious Freedom Restoration Act

The RFRA has stirred up nationwide controversy. Many say that the law gives a license to discriminate, specifically against members of the LGBTQ community. Supporters of the bill state that it is similar to laws that allow Muslim prisoners to keep their beards, and would prevent situations such as Catholic nurses being legally required to assist with abortions. Do you find the bill morally acceptable? Should religious freedoms ever give a license to deny services/discriminate against certain groups? Should religious beliefs impact the lives of others? What do you make of the controversy as a whole?

Corby BurgerAnalyzing RFRA requires looking at the two factors that make this bill unique as compared to other legislation of this nature. First, it allows for private entities to take legal action against other individuals when they feel that their religious freedom has been infringed upon, where previously this legal maneuver was only available to individuals whose religious rights were being infringed upon by the government. Secondly, and what could open to door to discrimination against the LGBTQ community, the state of Indiana is without legislation that protects individuals against discrimination based upon their sexual orientation. This legislative coupling is what makes this bill unjust in its current form because it creates a loophole for discrimination based on sexual orientation. Religious people do have an inherent right to practice their beliefs freely, but this should not manifest itself in ways that create inequalities in the marketplace based on sexual orientation.

Rachel HanebuttBuilding on Corby’s analysis, I think it is important to understand that the passing of federal legislation in 1993 does not necessarily validate passage of the same exact legislation on the state level in 2015. Regardless, as the world changes and society’s interpretation of the world changes, legislation (and the minds of legislators) must remain cognizant of the ways in which 2015 is much different than the past. For this reason, I personally believe that Indiana’s legislature must rectify the existing gaps in anti-discrimination laws that have been highlighted by the passing of RFRA. Additionally, I think it is important that Hoosiers seriously reflect on the ways in which this bill will affect the future of not only state and local business, but national and international business as well. Laws which allow for blatant or even subtle forms of discrimination will not and can not be tolerated.

Amy BrownWhile I’m glad that the law’s language has been amended to include that it cannot be used to defend discrimination against people due to their gender identity or sexual orientation, I still find the bill concerning. I feel that there is a large grey area because now individuals can sue each other over what they consider religious discrimination, instead of just being able to take action when the government is infringing upon their rights. This means that the courts will be deciding between two different deeply held moral convictions instead of the law; I don’t think that should be the court’s job. Additionally, businesses are lumped in as persons/individuals, and I do not believe that the rights of businesses and the rights of a person should be the same. I believe that everyone should have the right to practice their religion freely, but it should never infringe upon the lives/rights of others or significantly impact others’ lives in a negative manner.

Cheney HagerupAny sort of discrimination is unacceptable in this day and age in my eyes. I believe that people should be treated as human, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.. Whether individuals disclose their sexual orientation or not, there is never justification for making assumptions about people and then acting on those assumptions in such a hurtful way.

Eleanor PriceIn short, no, religious beliefs should not give anyone lawful reason to discriminate against people, especially in a commercial setting. The law is also concerning in its definition of personhood, as it includes businesses as people.

How do you feel about this week’s question? Have something you want to share with an intern or a question about their stance? Leave a comment below on what you think of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act!