If you overhear a remark made by a friend that others you care about (members of your family, say) interpret as racist, what should you do? Do you have a moral obligation to speak out?
Things like this make me squirm. I had trouble finding good guidance on the internet. (The NPR ethicist is somewhat vague on this point. Come on!) Since I would like less racism to exist in the world I would be motivated to take some sort of action, but what, and how?
Does it matter what my relationship with the speaker is? As a practical matter it does. While I may have a moral obligation to do or say something, I also have obligations to keep my job, to keep my family safe, and so forth. Thus, if the speaker is my powerful and resentful boss (in actually my boss is no such thing) I might approach the situation with great caution. If the speaker is a violent thug I would walk away. If the speaker is a friend I would ask her to reconsider her words, to reflect on their impact on others, to contemplate whether they need to be said even if thought.
What about in cyberspace, where one can have relationships without meeting? What if the speaker is such a cyber-friend? Online one can link, comment, and cross-post in ways that suggest endorsement. What if the words were not overheard, but read on a blog, one to which you have contributed? What are the ethics in the blogosphere?
This situation has come up and now I have to figure out what to do. I am not going to publicly name the blogger whose post my family and I find offensive. I do not think that is constructive or important. I did, however, communicate with him privately to suggest he consider removing the post because it could (did) cause offense, reflects poorly on his site, and perhaps those that advertise, post, or link to it. I’ve removed all such links from my site.
I love the internet. I love that anybody can express anything they like. I respect everyone’s right to free expression. But I don’t want to be associated with some of it. The blogosphere is a strange, wonderful, and interesting world. I’m still learning how to behave in it. Perhaps we all are (?). I’ve published this post because I find online relationships, communities, cultures, and ethics interesting, if not important. I welcome comments, thoughts, and links about such matters. If you’ve got any, lay them on me.