Cybersmearing is an act of defaming another person or an organization, through the internet. Cybersmearing present serious ethical questions, because it results into destruction of the reputation of an individual, or an organization. In the SizzleBurger case, a group of left-wing environmental activists decided to start a worldwide anti-SizzleBurger campaign. The activists successfully developed an anti-SizzleBurger website, where they posted various links related to different web pages, which had defamatory messages against SizzleBurger. The activists claimed that, SizzleBurger was connected to the current worldwide food insecurity, involved in destruction of rainforests, did not use much of recycled paper in its operations, its food products were unhealthy for children and other living things, and that SizzleBurger was exploiting workers from developing countries.
From the SizzleBurger case, the major ethical issue is defamation of SizzleBurger’s reputation, by a group of activists, without having enough evidence to justify their claims. According to Kant’s moral theory, a good person is a person who is guided by good will while making decisions (Kant's Moral Philosphy, 2008). By referring to good will, Kant means that, a person considers what might be morally wrong, and what might be morally right, while making a certain decision. Therefore, through good will, an individual only makes decisions based on moral law (Kant's Moral Philosphy, 2008). In SizzleBurger’s case, the activists did not appear to make their cybersmearing campaign against SizzleBurger out of good will. This is because, they encouraged other activists to print pamphlets of the false information, which they had posted on the anti-SizzleBurger website, and to distribute them outside SizzleBurger fast-food restaurants around the world. This act was not based on good will. It appears as if the activists wanted SizzleBurger to lose its customers, employees, and eventually opt out of the market.
The stakeholders who were affected by the anti-SizzleBurger activists’ campaign were SizzleBurger employees, customers, and owners. The case of Sara and Tom provides evidence of the effect of the cybersmearing campaign on the company’s employees. When Sara read one of the pamphlet distributed outside her place of work, she immediately decided to quit her job, and join the picketers. Similarly, Tom was considering leaving his job as well. This demonstrates that, SizzleBurger’s employees felt bad about the propagandas, which were being spread by the activists. This means that, if the propagandas were true, then SizzleBurger was in the verge of losing its employees.
SizzleBurger’s customers were also affected by the Cybersmearing campaigns against SizzleBurger. This is because, in one of their web page, the activists pointed that SizzleBurger was producing unhealthy food products. Given the fact that many burger consumers around the world have been consuming SizzleBurger’s burger for a long period, such information was devastating. This was made worse by the activists’ claims that SizzleBurger’s food products were capable of causing cancerous diseases and heart diseases. Finally, the owners of SizzleBurger were also affected by the cybersmearing campaign. From the case study, it is indicated that the company was seriously concerned about its reputations, and the possible effects the company would experience from both the picketing and the website defamation.
From the SizzleBurger case, both the activists’ organization and SizzleBurger had moral responsibilities to fulfill. In the Kant’s moral theory, every individual has a duty to observe and respect moral laws (Kant's Moral Philosphy, 2008). It is obvious that the activists were aware that the cybersmearing decision against SizzleBurger was going to have negative consequences on its employees, customers, and owners. Therefore, they had a moral responsibility of evaluating the decision, before implementing it.
The process of evaluating their decision would have started by recognizing the ethical issue in the planned decision (A Framework of Thinking Ethically, 2010). This would have entailed considering whether their actions would have bad or negative consequences on the SizzleBurger’s stakeholders. The next step would have involved gathering the relevant facts about the issue. The activists ought to have investigated their claims, before posting them on the website. However, it seems as if they never collected enough facts about their claims since some of the claims made against SizzleBurger were not true. After gathering the facts, the activists would have evaluated the possible courses of actions against SizzleBurger, instead of deciding to defame its reputation over the internet. Some of the approaches that the activities ought to have explored include the utilitarian, virtue, justice, common good, and rights approaches (A Framework of Thinking Ethically, 2010). After identifying the best approach, the last step would have been implementation of the decision. However, it is clear that the activists never evaluated their decision.
The activists also had a moral responsibility of informing SizzleBurger, that it was not conducting its business operations ethically. This ought to have happened once the activists had gathered all the facts about the issues. This is based on Kant’s moral theory, which requires individuals to take actions against others based on good will (Kant's Moral Philosphy, 2008). If the activists wanted SizzleBurger to stop conducting its business operations unethically, then they would have approached its management, provide relevant evidence, and probably advise it on the corrective measures.
On the other hand, SizzleBurger has a moral responsibility of ensuring that its business operations were not posing danger to the environment, the health of the people, and that of its employees. To some extent, some of the claims made by the activists were true. Such claims include use of raw beef materials, which were highly concentrated with hormones and antibiotics to produce food products, sourcing its raw materials from farm owners who had acquired their land from developing countries at the expense of the locals, and those who used cheap labor in production of raw materials such as coffee and tea. As part of fulfilling its moral responsibility, SizzleBurger ought to have developed policies, to guide it against entering into business transaction with such producers, or buying raw beef products from ranches, which used antibiotics and hormones to rear cattle. In the same way, SizzleBurger ought to have provided its employees with favorable working conditions.
In my own opinion, the activists were not morally justified in creating anti-SizzleBurger website and consequently including the links relating to the five questions. This is because, they were aware that the anti-SizzleBurger website would destroy SizzleBurger’s reputation among its stakeholder. In addition, the activities were aware that some of the claim they had made against SizzleBurger were not true. This is because they had not collected the relevant facts concerning their claims. Similarly, the activists were not justified in picketing SizzleBurger restaurants and distributing the anti-SizzleBurger pamphlets.
Since the claims made against SizzleBurger were not true, a lawsuit against the activities would have been appropriate for SizzleBurger case. According to McClintock, an organization can initiate lawsuits in cases of cybersmear, if the Cybersmearing acts give rise to traditional causes of action such as defamation, through other mediums such as magazines and newspapers (2002). Since the activists used pamphlets to distribute the defamatory message against SizzleBurger, then it would have been necessary for SizzleBurger to initiate a lawsuit. However, the lawsuit would only be against the activists and not the internet service provider, which supported the anti-SizzleBurger website. During the lawsuit, SizzleBurger can obtain a discovery of the identity of the activists through a third-party subpoena to the internet service providers (McClintock, 2002). This would only be possible if SizzleBurger manages to demonstrate the merit of the lawsuit to the court. However, if SizzleBurger were aware that some of the claims made by the activists are true, then there would be no need of filing a lawsuit. Instead, SizzleBurger should take corrective actions, and refrain from the issues raised by the activists.
Nevertheless, in order to avoid occurrence of such cases in the future, SizzleBurger should ensure that it conducts its business operations in the most ethical manner. For instance, it should provide good working conditions to its employees, and refrain from undertaking business transactions with unscrupulous producers of raw food products. Moreover, instead of using beef products from genetically modified cattle, SizzleBurger can import cattle from developing countries, since there are reared naturally.