“You can be unethical and still legal” said Mark Zuckerberg – No thank you, Mr. Zuckerberg

News Item: Facebook hit with $5-billion federal fine for privacy violations

News Item: Facebook hit with $5-billion federal fine for privacy violations

“You can be unethical and still be legal that’s the way i live my life,.”
Mark Zuckerberg, quoted in “He Thinks We’re Going To Take A Swing At Him?”: Inside The Decades-Long Cage Match Between Mark Zuckerberg And The Winklevoss Twins — by Ben Mezrich, Vanity Fair, May, 2019

unethical:  not conforming to a high moral standard : morally wrong.


We seem to have a crisis of ethics these days, in pretty much every arena and aspect of modern life.  Banks charge people for services that they did not request (think Wells Fargo).  People invent fake news stories; others share these stories, spread them, not taking the time to check on the truthfulness of the stories; or, not caring.

But, even within such an environment, the quote above from Mark Zuckerberg is jarring.  So blatant.  So…disappointing, So dangerous. So harmful. So wrong.

It’s pretty obvious what the options are;

Not Legal and not Ethical
Legal but not Ethical
Ethical but not Legal
Ethical and Legal

It’s been decades since I read the book Situation Ethics by Joseph Fletcher.  My copy is buried in  storage, and it is not available in the Kindle version. So, I can’t quote directly.  But what I remember is this:  that what is ethical can be determined by context, but doing the ethical thing is always motivated by love of the other person.

Martin Luther King, LetterAnd, yes, there are times when doing the ethical thing may be against the law. Martin Luther King, Jr. included this passage in his Letter from Birmingham Jail:

The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.” …Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.

Situation EthicsAn obvious example, in addition to the one used by Dr. King re. segregation, would be a person who was hiding Jewish people from the Nazis. Such an act was against the law; yes, they would be breaking the law. But would they have been acting ethically? Yes.

Or…was Rosa Parks breaking the law when she refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955? Yes.  Was she acting ethically? Yes.

In our modern circumstances, we should ask:  is “legal” activity always ethical?  The answer is no.

And Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that.  “You can be unethical and still legal” he said.  And he stated that he would do the legal, even if he was not doing the ethical. “That’s the way I live my life.”

No thank you!, Mr. Zuckerberg.

Mark Zuckerberg needs to have a change of heart, and a deep discovery of some much better ethical foundations. “You can be unethical and still be legal that’s the way i live my life” is a philosophy of life that should be condemned, and utterly rejected.  And he should be called out for it time and time again.

And, Facebook, Wells Fargo, and other companies who test the bounds of what they can get away with need to find some way to commit to the genuinely ethical. This would make our world better, don’t you think?

What about you?  Do you aim for doing what is ethical? Is your moral compass solid, and reliable? If not, why don’t you?

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