Living in a capitalist economy, we are taught that profits are the bottom line. This belief also translates to everyday use. Society is constantly looking for answers and information, and when people are
seeking information they need to ask others for help, yet how do we
know what is right or not. There are millions of resources out there that are there to help us, but there are as many looking to deceive us.
We are also living in an age of information. We have the ability
to access so much information in so little time. One is able to go on the
internet and acquire massive amounts of data regardless if it is true or
not. The business world has used this capability to give them the best
opportunity to make money.
But as members of society we have certain duties we must oblige
to in order to maintain a moral civilization. One might ask where these
duties come from. It comes from having the innate ability to have right
reasons to do something. According to Kant one should live in a society
where people only act in a way that their actions can become universal.
In other words, only do things that you would want others to do to you.
Kant also says that one should respect each person as a free being.1
Many people would agree that one duty we have as human
beings is to inflict no harm on others. However, many people
misrepresent themselves in order for selfish gain. If a company or
organization is willing to present themselves in such a way as to mislead
the public, they are performing in an unethical way. We must also look at
this problem from an unjust point of view. We as a society have become
so lethargic that we are willing to take everything we read on the internet
as fact without doing any research. Because organizations and companies
are aware of this they act unethically and pretend to be something else
Use of the Internet
As of 2006, 40 million Americans use the internet as their primary
source of scientific information. This is second only to television. Forty-
nine percent of the Americans using the internet are looking for health
information for someone else, and 19% are looking for themselves.
Eighty-seven percent of internet users in the United States have used to
internet to search for one of seventeen health topics, but three-fourths of
those users have never checked where the information is coming from. 2
What is Truth?
The topic of truth has been discussed from Plato to Kant to the
Bible. Not one definition can be agreed upon as people have argued that
truth is objective, subjective, relative, or absolute. However, maybe
before we discuss what truth is, we must first discover what lying is. Lying
is the intended deception of someone through an untrue statement or
action. Saint Augustine, Immanuel Kant and Thomas Aquinas all agreed
that lying undermined the natural end of speech, which is to convey the
speaker’s thoughts. 3 According to Frankfurt, when one lies one
misrepresents what one is talking about, and one’s own mind. Therefore,
when one lies one is also creating a false impression to its audience. The
liar gives a reasonable basis to the audience that what he is saying is true
and in turn is deceiving, or lying to the audience. 4
In this research truth is considered as an objective absolute thing,
using the correspondence theory of truth. The truth can only be one
thing relative to reality. Even if someone says something about a subject
is true, it is not true if it can be proved otherwise. The truth is concrete
and cannot be altered. Keeping this in mind, misrepresenting the truth as
more than what it is will prove to be unethical. According to Kant:
“Truth is said to consist in the agreement of knowledge with the object. According to this mere verbal definition, then, my knowledge, in order to
be true, must agree with the object…For as the object is external to me,
and the knowledge is in me, I can only judge whether my knowledge of
the object agrees with my knowledge of the object.” 5
By this Kant meant that defined truth is something that shows the true
essence of a thing. But if this is true then people do not take it to heart
because there are many people misrepresenting information.
Bill Gates is a powerful man in the information age and in turn he
has turned Microsoft into one of the most influential companies in the
world. We do not expect Microsoft to mislead the public. An
encyclopedia is a source of truth; it is supposed to provide facts that we
can rely on. A fact is something that is not interpretable, but rather concrete and nonnegotiable. Then why is Microsoft selling encyclopedias
that display different facts to different consumers?
Microsoft’s popular Encarta Encyclopedia uses a different type of
international marketing. It creates a different encyclopedia depending on
what country you live. The facts in each encyclopedia vary to make it
easier to market to one region. Bill Gates claims that “the facts depend
on where you are coming from” 1 . But that effectively negates the
meaning of a fact. A fact is “a piece of information presented as having objective reality.”6 And if something is objective then it cannot be disputed of changed; even if it is in another region.
In the American version of Encarta, it says that Thomas Edison
and Joseph Swan simultaneously created the light bulb, while in the British version it claims that Joseph Swan created it a year earlier than
Edison. In the American and British version, Encarta credits Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone, but in the Italian version, it credits Antonio Meucci. The “encyclopedia” also has a different inventor
of the mobile printing press 7. Encarta also skews the lines of reality and
politics regarding geography. A disputed border between the nations of Pakistan and India shows an indifferent border line. 7 Microsoft also removed the area of Kurdistan from the southern region of Turkey. The Turkish government demanded Microsoft to remove it from Encarta, and even arrested the local distributors of the product. 8
If Microsoft is going to delve into the business of Encyclopedias,
one would hope that the information they are receiving from such an
influential company would be accurate and respectable. But it is clear
that they are not in the business of providing correct facts and
information, but rather more interested in making their encyclopedias
more marketable in other countries. By skewing and omitting so called
“facts”, they are ignoring their ethical duty as a respected member of the
community, and an alleged giver of facts, by giving society false
information. It is also unjust to society provide facts in a way you see fit in
order to make people happy. People deserve to have the truth and do
not need to be told part of the truth or fabrication of the truth, and it is
unfair to rely on a source for information if they are going to blend the
data any way they want.
When searching for Martin Luther King Jr. on the internet, one
must be wary of what they find. When I searched “Martin Luther King” on
Google, the third match that came up was for martinlutherking.org, and
the description read “The truth about Martin Luther King: Includes
historical trivia, articles, and pictures. A great source for teachers and
students alike.” 9 I clicked on the site believing that it is a great source of
information I could find on Martin Luther King. What I found was one of
the most shocking pieces of information I have ever seen on the internet.
I clicked on the link that took me to “The truth about King.” This
goes on to explain to the reader that King’s real name is not Martin
Luther, that he is not a PhD, and that he is not a reverend. It goes on totell the reader that King is a communist, a sexual degenerate, and non
believer in civil rights.10
I was incredibly taken aback by the information presented to meby this website. When I am presented information on the internet that I meet with skepticism I look if the site has any sources. This site had some credible sources such as the New York Times and Pulitzer-prize winning biographer David Garrow, yet as I scrolled to the bottom of the page I saw “hosted by Stormfront”11. I clicked on the link and immediately felt like a
fool. It turns out this website is sponsored by a white pride organization.
I am sure many people feel foolish when they are duped into
believing something is true when it is not. I was hurt and felt betrayed
when I found out who ran the website. They purposely portrayed
themselves as a non-partisan group that was only seeking the truth. They
even described it as a site as a great source for students and teachers.
This is an example of a website providing false information in the form of
misrepresenting who they are. Most people see the description on the
search engine and immediately believe that it is a site dedicated to King.
However, Stormfront is using misrepresentation in order to get people to
look at their ideas. I believe all people, no matter how controversial they
are, have a duty to not mislead people by misrepresenting themselves.
This is a blatant attempt to deceive people and is unethical. It is also
unfair to people that one would misrepresent themselves as something
else when in fact they are something completely different. It would have
been ethical if Stormfront did not try to hide who was sponsoring the
website. If the description said this website is sponsored by a white pride
group and here are the facts about Martin Luther King, they would have
done their duty of not misrepresenting themselves.
A wiki is an online resource which allows users to add and edit content.12The definition alone should draw a red flag from people seeking the truth and facts. There are many misinformed people and this is just giving them another outlet to express their views on any topic.
Two of the most popular wikis are Wikipedia.org and
Wikianswers.com. Wikipedia is ranked as the 8th
most trafficked site in
the U.S. 13 This website advertises itself as “the biggest multilingual free-
content encyclopedia on the Internet.” 14 Wikipedia says it is an
encyclopedia, yet it allows anyone to edit or add content to its pages, and
Wiki answers is a website that claims to provide answers, and I’m sure
most people are looking for true answers. An encyclopedia is a source of
information, and the information in it should be backed by proper
information and facts, not authored by uninformed users. Although there
are references at the bottom, they are not reliable. When I searched for
“wiki” on Wikipedia there were many references on the bottom, yet when
I clicked on them they all said there was an error on the page. There is no
point putting references on a page if they do not work. This is another
type of misrepresenting of information: backing up your research with
This leads to a huge problem when students are looking for
research on a topic. When one searches Google, the first link is often a
page on Wikipedia. Most people respect Google as the best search
engine and think that whatever page comes up first is the best possible
resource. However, when the first page leads you to a wiki, then the
reliability is very foggy and questionable. No one knows who is posting
the information and what information is true. A wiki just creates more problems for those seeking facts because of the ambiguity of the
There is also a site called Wikileaks.org. On this site are millions
of leaked documents from governments all over the world. Wikileaks.org
believes that if the people know more about what the government is
doing behind closed doors then we will be able to scrutinize them to a
greater degree. However, where will this lead us? If millions of people
around the world read classified documents about our country then we
could be at risk. Again, we have a duty to society to cause no harm
because that is the world we wish to live in. If people are able to post any
information they want then what will stop them from posting the most
Many people claim that wikis are a good source of information
because more people can edit and scrutinize them. People say strength
lies in numbers and that a million people are smarter than one. But if
there are a million people editing something then it is less useful than one
informed person giving information.
What does this mean?
The availability of information is a big asset and it is treasured by many people. The accessibility of facts, pictures, and videos at the click of a button is a far cry from books and word of mouth. Yet, we still have an
obligation to not lie to people; to not harm people with false facts. Even
though the exchange of information is now in a digital realm, the duty to
do right and to treat others the way we would like to be treated is still present. People believe that because the information they are giving is
not face to face, and they do not need to see the receiver of information,
it is not necessarily lying. With information comes responsibility: to
provide the right information. And that responsibility transcends
throughout all the realms in which information is passed, the digital realm included.
We often wish to live in a society where people do not harm each other. We preach peace, but mainly focus on physical harm and do not think of the mental harm that we inflict on each other such as lying which is destruction of the mind. We always teach our children to not lie yet we do not think of all the forms of lying and continue to pass on information that is false without thinking of the consequences and implications behind it. Information helps society grow and mature and the more information we receive at the easiest accessibility the better. However, with the excess of information comes an excess of false information.
What is the larger problem?
Although I have talked about the issue of misrepresenting the
truth, the real issue lies beyond that. Misrepresentation of facts is not a
new phenomenon nor will it become something of the past. Instead it is
the way we receive information that holds to be the real problem. The
internet reaches millions of people every day from all walks of life. A
hundred people from a hundred different countries all a hundred
different ages could all read the same substance, and would undoubtedly
respond to it differently. Fifteen years ago the same information was not
readily available to that many different people. The accessibility of the
internet contributes to the perception that misrepresentation is a new
concern, when in fact it is the convenience itself that leads to people
receiving misleading truths. However, it is not only the handiness of
accessing information, but also the fact that people are able to provide
information over the internet without any need to provide a name or
qualifications. Before the internet, one would know who the information
is coming from depending on where it was coming from and who was
printing it as one would know an independent printing company would
have different views than a major company which uses multiple editors.
But with the anonymity of the internet it is possible for someone to pose
as an erudite writer without any credibility and post tons of false facts
that could be mistaken as truth. Even though the ethical problem lies
with misrepresenting the truth to people, the overarching problem
includes the combination of the ease of accessing information and the
ease of posting information anonymously with misleading the public.
When it comes to information, who has the duty to find out if it is right or
We have seen many examples where the company or organization is misrepresenting themselves and information. But are they really at fault? Do we not have the right to free speech? Are we not free
to write what we wish if we are not in violation of slander or libel? It is
important to look at both sides of the argument and there is one other
party involved when information is passed: the receiver of the
As a receiver of information we also have an ethical duty to ourselves to make sure the information we are receiving is accurate and trustworthy. We must not take things at face value all the time or we will end up living in a very confusing and ignorant world. People are free to post or tell people anything they want, and it is up to everybody involved to determine if that is right to them or not. The giver of information has
an ethical duty to not deliberately mislead people, but it is also on the
receiver as well. Information is a two way street and each side has an
ethical duty to uphold in order to determine what is being misrepresented
What does the Future hold?
The internet is fast becoming the most common source of
information and it is getting easier for people to post information for the
public viewing. However, there are ethical dilemmas attached with this
increasing phenomenon in the information age. The fairness of what is
being presented will be called into play as people question what
information they receive from any source is real or not, and the ethical
duty to present and receive accurate information will help define how
people look at information in the future.
1. Donaldson, Thomas & Werhane, Patricia H. [n.d.] Introduction to Ethical
Reasoning. Handout from BCOR 4000. Dr. Dirk Hovorka. August 28,
2. McInerny, Claire. [n.d.] What’s good. What’s not & How to tell the difference.
Retrieved October 15, 2007 from
3. Lie. (2007) Retrieved October 20, 2007 from
4. Frankfurt, Harry G. (2005). On Bullshit. Princeton University Press
5. Correspondence of Truth. (2007). Retrieved October 20, 2007 from
6. Fact. Retrieved October 3, 2007 from http://www.mw.com/dictionary/fact
7. Gates, Bill. The Facts Depend on Where you are Coming From. Business Times.
Retrieved October 3, 2007 from
8. Edwards, Chris. (November 2004). Why You Won’t Find Kurdistan on a
Microsoft Map of Turkey. Geographical. Retrieved October 3, 2007 from
9. Martin Luther King-google search. Retrieved October 15, 2007 from
10. Martin Luther King Jr- A True Historical Examination. Retrieved October 15,
2007 from http://www.martinlutherking.org/
11. Ibid 10
12. Google. (2007). Definitions of Wiki on the Web. Retrieved November 19, 2007
13. Alexa. (2007). Site Information for: Wikipedia.org. Retrieved November 19,
2007 from http://www.alexa.com/data/details/main/wikipedia.org
14. Google. (2007). Wikipedia-Google Search. Retrieved November 19, 2007 from