Contract Cheating?

I’m kicking off my new semester teaching communication ethics with a discussion about an ethical challenge students are familiar with:  Cheating.

A testing center at Penn State uses high-tech surveillance to watch for student cheating.  (Photo:  Jim Lo Scalzo for USN&WR)

When I first taught this class many years ago, I featured a Blog about the University of Central Florida (UCF) cheating scandal, whereby a professor accused students of cheating on the midterm exam.  Since that time, UCF and many other institutions have gone high tech to fight cheating, and the use of online plagiarism detection services (such as have become commonplace. 

A not-so-new cheating buzzword caught my attention this year:  “contract cheating.”  I have long been aware of professional services that provide written work for a fee, but I was not aware how much attention this topic has garnered or how much the practice has grown among college students

I agree the companies that provide this service have become more conspicuous, and students may have become more jaded to the seriousness of this offence.  In an NPR news story about students cheating their way through college, I was struck by one student who didn’t consider it “cheating” if she paid someone to write “original” work.

“They don’t plagiarize,” she said, “…they write everything on their own.”

As much as professors would like to think this topic is black-and-white, it is not.  There are many different positions you could take.  Some cast blame on educators and even our parents.  There also are many ethical approaches you could take to explore the reasoning that leads to cheating, including utilitarianism, virtue ethics, even social contract theory and many more. 

The International Center for Academic Integrity sponsors an International Day of Action against contract cheating (coming October 16).

I look forward to engaging this year’s class on the topic and to hearing your views and perspectives.

[Click below to leave a comment.]

Posted in Cheating, Deception | 44 Comments

Tips for Blogging Here

Ethics in the News:  That’s your topic.  Stick to it.  You can focus on any issue covered in the news recently.

Research and Support:  Sound brilliant.  Explore the featured issue from multiple perspectives. Also discuss ethical theories that relate to the case. Support your claims, especially if you are being critical of someone or something.  Cite your sources by naming them and/or linking directly to their information.  If your reader wants to know more, she can quickly access additional information.

Be Interactive:  Include hyperlinks to your sources and other interesting content about your blog topic.  Include hyperlinks early in your blog and often…but don’t overdo it.

Use Images:  Use images to strengthen your content and add interest for your reader, but keep your images relevant.

Be Succinct.  Most experts recommend about 250 words.  Use good judgement.  The length of this blog is an example of suitable length.

Be Conversational:  Write your blog in a conversational tone.  Use second-person voice and speak directly to the reader.  Say “you,” “we,” “us,” etc. to include the reader in your topic.

Invite Conversation:  This is key.  Your blog should include a call to action—the action being for the reader to talk back and continue the conversation.

Write Well.  Need I say more?

There are many resources out there about writing good blogs.   And guess what?  They’re mostly blogs.  Check them out.  If you find a good source, we’ll share it on our Resources pages.


Grading:  Yes, I know you’re concerned about a grade.  Imagine all the headers listed above will form the grading rubric for this assignment.  That’s all there is to it.

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Guns Instead of Roses

Guns have been an extremely controversial topic lately, with people having very strong opinions on both sides. When the 16-year-old couple Jamie Pereira and Tito Velez posted a homecoming picture, they stirred up a lot of trouble because they were both holding guns. Although the guns were Airsoft riffles, which only shoot plastic pellets, the two students were suspended from school and even facing possible explosion.


Superintendent Richard Gross, of Bristol Plymouth Vo-tech, Massachusetts, found the picture to be over the top to bring into a school event. Even though the students took the picture at their home and did not bring the guns to school, they titled the picture “Homecoming 2014,” which frightened many people.

The students understand why it caused problems but do not believe they deserved to be suspended. Pereira and Velez had to get an attorney in order to get back in school and raised more than enough money from those who disagreed with their punishment.

Was it ethically wrong for Pereira and Velez to post this picture on facebook? Should the students have to face suspension and possible explosion?

Gun safety and school shootings have been such a big topic these days that posting a picture like that will no doubt cause many to be worried and there should an action taken to keep society feeling safe. Although the couple meant no harm, it is best for their classmates, teachers, and families included to feel protected at school.

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Is TMZ good or bad journalism?

TMZ is a well-known celebrity news website where you can get your latest gossip on celebrities, Hollywood rumors and entertainment news.  They have a TV show that shows videos of journalists interviewing celebrities as well as talk about specific things going on that they have discovered in Hollywood.  They also post to social media about news they have recently discovered.

TMZ journalism is questionable because they don’t really have boundaries.  When Harvey Levin, founder of celebrity news website, was questioned on if they have a specific “code of ethics” to avoid international news situations his response was jokingly “oh yeah we would never do anything like that.”  They seem to always post the latest celebrity gossip, but sometimes it can being going too far and even be false.

TMZ sports is responsible for leaking the Ray Rice video of him beating his wife in the elevator.  The question is asked, was this appropriate to show to the public?  Now, that the NFL has seen the video they are taking action, so was this video a good thing to show? This may be true. TMZ also was responsible for leaking Stephen Collin’s confession to being involved with a 10-year-old.  Again, the question is asked, “Is this appropriate to show to the public?”  Once this video was leaked, the popular 7th Heaven TV show that starred Collins no longer aired.  If this recording wasn’t leaked, would people like 7th Heaven still be taking action and cancelling the show?  Probably not. This goes into consequential ethics.  If the recording or video is shown to the public, is it creating more good or evil?  Yes, it may be a little inappropriate but if it’s going to get people to not support them and get higher people to take action then maybe it’s worth it.  Looking at both cases, I believe it has done more good than evil by punishing both stars.

However, TMZ has been known for having false accusations.  For example, they reported that Miley Cyrus died in a car accident in 2008 with no proof and later was removed from the website.  They also reported that Lil Wayne was in critical condtion and was being read his rights after suffering from a seizure.  TMZ reported that Lil Wayne was seconds away from dying.  This again was completely false and was later removed.  This leads to the question, yes TMZ is reporting everythign they hear the second they hear it, but shouldn’t they get their facts straight first?  Instead of being the first to post the news story, shouldn’t they make sure it’s actually true? Can we even rely on TMZ?

The media has mixed feelings of TMZ as well as the public.  If you ask someone like Evan Rosenblum who has worked with Harvey and TMZ how he feels about it, he will tell you TMZ is amazing.  The Daily Beast wrote an article saying that Rosenblum felt that Harvey is the best investigative journalist in the country and has broke amazing stories that the public needs to know.  Another media outlet that spoke about TMZ didn’t seem to agree with this statement.  The Chicago Now said that TMZ brings only negative press coverage for any person or company and they are looking to insult the topic at hand.  For example, TMZ respectfully reported the Tito and Jenna Jameson allegation, but after it was over continued to bash the couple.

Does TMZ do more harm than good? The question remains, but you can still ask yourself if the recording of Stephen Collins and Video of Ray Rice was never obtained and showed b TMZ, then would they still have jobs?  Probably.

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Toys ‘R Us Reverses Course Of Action

The well-known children’s store across the nation, Toys ‘R Us, is receiving huge backlash after releasing a line of Breaking Bad inspired action figures.

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Of course we know that there are many action figures on the shelves carry swords, spears, and guns. But a Florida mother is insisting that these meth-dealing dolls go a step too far.

The school-teacher-turned-meth-dealer Walter White doll comes with a pistol as well as a duffle bag full of cash and a plastic bag of blue crystals. His sidekick, Jesse Pinkman, comes with a gas mask and a tray of meth crystals.

Sarah Scrivjer, of Fort Myers, is urging the toy store to remove the toys from their shelves, stating, “While the show may be compelling viewing for adults, its violent content and celebration of the drug trade make this collection unsuitable to be sold alongside Barbie dolls and Disney characters.” The petition she started on had received 2,500 signatures as of October 20th.

In a statement to The Washington Post, a Toy ‘R Us spokesperson said, “We carry a variety of fictional character action figures, including those for our collector customers. The products are carried in very limited quantities in the adult action figure area of our stores.”

Two days after their initial statement, Toys ‘R Us had to reverse course after Schrivjer’s petition reached 9,300 signatures. “Let’s just say, the action figures have taken an indefinite sabbatical,” Toys R Us said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.

Not everyone has agreed with Schrivjer’s petition, so much so that a man, Daniel Pickett, started a counter petition calling for the retailer to keep the toys on the shelves.

Many people have spoken out about this topic; making it clear which side they stand on. Actor Bryan Cranston, who played Walter White in the series, has taken to Twitter to discuss his frustration with this matter.

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There are clearly two sides to this argument. Should Toys ‘R Us have removed the toys sooner? Was their initial response too nonchalant? Or should they have stood their ground and kept the toys on their shelves?

Posted in Public Relations | 3 Comments

Morally Offensive Content


I found this picture on Instagram under the account of @insta_comedy. The purpose of this account is to make jokes about the pictures portrayed. The post is caption “LMAOO CHILL” with emoticons. The picture is in reference of the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal.


It was targeted to the vast audience that uses social media. Instagram reaches 150 million people of different ages but mostly 18 to 35 year olds. 90% of them are under 35% making them a youthful demographic mainly made up of women.


The joke includes Halloween, Ray Rice and the doll, eluding his wife. It is very disrespectful towards woman and men. The fact that they take domestic violence so lightly and make fun of it is disrespectful and offensive.


This goes to show that some people have no respect or consideration towards victims. Pictures like this set a standard that serious issues can be turned into jokes once the scandal is over, the comments on the picture promotes laughter and thoughtlessness.


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Are there Ethics in Death?

Brittany Maynard was a 29 year old newly wed who thought she had the whole world ahead of her. A little while after her marriage, Brittany was diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor.

Brittany Maynard was like any other young newly wed. She was vivacious and full of character; excited to start a new chapter in her life. Unfortunately for Brittany this was one chapter that wouldn’t have an end. Being diagnosed with a deadly tumor, she was only given a short time to live. Being the proud person Brittany was, she wanted to die on her own terms. She decided to seek medical help in her own suicide. With all of the news coverage on her, she is receiving a lot of criticism, as well as support. Unfortunately the family is not receiving any privacy in the matter.

The Media has been covering this topic since it came out a little over a month ago. With all of the coverage she is firing up much debate on assisted suicide, and if its the right thing to do. She has received messages from current patients with the same problem telling her to stay alive and hold on as long as she can, but she is set on ending her life on her own terms. This is drawing attention away from the fact that this woman is deathly ill, and focus more on the issue surrounding Brittany. This should be a time for her to spend with her family; not for interviews and tv time.

Brittany made the decision to overdose on barbiturates that she received from a doctor in Oregon. Laws in Oregon allow doctors to supply terminally ill patients with medicine that will give them a “way out.” Brittany Maynard started the group “Death With Dignity” that supported people with terminally ill diseases to die on their own terms. She believed if someone was going to die, and knew of it; that they should choose when they do so. On November 1, 2014,  Brittany Maynard died due to an overdose. She died with no regrets in a house she loved, which is located in the city of Portland, OR, surrounded by the people she loved.

When it comes to assisted suicide, or just death in general; do you think there are certain ethics that need to be involved? Is it a selfish act that she decided when she wanted to die, or should her family have had a say in it?  Do you think something like this should be allowed in all states for people who know they will die? Finally, do you think that something this personal should be displayed on the news, even if it is warranted by the subject? Click here for information on Brittany Maynard’s Death


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Media-Does It Make Celebrities Suffering From Mental Illness Worse?

Often the media shows celebrities going through mental breakdowns and usually the media does not seem to care about the additional harm that they may be causing them. In fact the media and many viewers and readers seem to enjoy watching and making fun of these celebrities. Throughout the years many celebrities, who were once child stars, have been such victims of the media such as Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan.

Another recent victim that has been showcased in the media is Amanda Bynes. Not only are the tabloids and online entertainment sites such as TMZ and E-online repeatedly displaying her mental breakdown but she is publicizing her own mental breakdown on social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. Some of Amanda Bynes recent tweets can be read in the recent ET article at
shocking_sexual_abuse_allegations_then_deletes_them/. She tweeted sexual allegations against her father, and then she later deleted some of those tweets and blamed it on a microchip in her brain. Some of her tweets which display her unstable mental condition are:

“My dad never did any of those things The microchip in my brain made me say those things but he’s the one that ordered them to microchip me.”

“So if the magazines would please stop acting like I need mental help I would really appreciate it.”

“So call me what you want but please do not call me crazy or insane because that’s a joke.”

According to Dr. Keith Ablow, in his article on,, he writes, “It is time to wonder whether social media itself can not only publicize the symptoms of those suffering with severe mental illness, but also inflame them. By giving a worldwide megaphone to those with disorders like bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder, sites like Twitter and Facebook may be creating a vicious cycle of disinhibited thoughts and actions (typical of such illnesses), leading to media coverages of those symptoms, leading to even more magnified symptoms.” He believes that research should be conducted to see if social media is dangerous for people with mental illnesses. Ablow feels that social media “is the most dangerous drug our culture has ever known- mid-altering,addictive and epidemic.”

It is sad to think that celebrities like Amanda Bynes actually may be making their own mental conditions worse by using social media sites. For example, perhaps when people respond to Bynes through social media and the media also reacts, this worsens her mental condition as she receives more negative attention.

Certainly the media such as tabloids, online sites, television and radio make money by repeatedly showing her unstable mental state and downward spiral. The media does not seem to care if they are making her worse. Although one reporter, Prachi Gupta on, does seem to care in her article at
_why_we_should_be_kinder_to_child_stars/, she writes, “Bynes’s recent tweets are a reminder that we should apply some restraint when we too-enthusiastically write about the nasty meltdowns of other child stars “gone bad” because, as any Internet writer knows, reading the comments result in real pain. Pain that can make a troubled person far more troubled…. We were too hard on Amanda Bynes, but maybe we can be kinder to the next generation of child stars.”

It is encouraging to read that Ms. Gupta realizes that the media has been too rough on Amanda Bynes, and that they should be kinder in the future. Do you agree with Ms. Gupta and feel that the media should not be as rough in these situations? I agree with Ms. Gupta. Or do you think that the media should continue treating these stories in the same manner, because that’s just part of being a celebrity, and people love hearing about the problems of celebrities, and that’s the job of some people in the media, while making money and increasing their audience?

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Red Bull – Can it Actually Make You Grow Wiiings?


In 1987, the Red Bull energy drink company was founded in Austria. The energy drink gained popularity over the years and is now the best selling energy drink in the world.

In 2000, Red Bull released its first advertisement with the slogan: “Red Bull gives you wiiings.” The advertisement was initially released to the Austrian community and was later mass produced and released all around the world.

This commercial was released in the United States in 2002. Following the increased popularity of the commericals, Red Bull reproduced the advertisement and made many more like it; all with the slogan: “Red Bull gives you wiings.”

A man named Benjamin Careathers, along with many other consumers of the Red Bull products joined forces and filed a law suit against Red Bull on January 16th 2013.

The plaintiffs (consumers) claimed that Red Bull’s marketing and advertising was misleading to the public. The claims by Red Bull to “give you wiiings” are false. The consumers also claimed that there were no scientific facts to back up Red Bull’s claims for improved performance, concentration and reaction speed.

The case was handled in the Southern New York District Court. The suit concluded that, Such deceptive conduct and practices mean that [Red Bull’s] advertising and marketing is not just ‘puffery,’ but is instead deceptive and fraudulent and is therefore actionable.” 

Red Bull proposed a settlement for $13,000,000 in favor of the consumers. Anyone who has purchased or drank a Red Bull since 2002 is eligible to receive $10 in cash or $15 in Red Bull products. No proof of purchase is necessary.

After settling, Red Bull released this statement:

“Red Bull settled the lawsuit to avoid the cost and distraction of litigation. However, Red Bull maintains that its marketing and labeling have always been truthful and accurate, and denies any and all wrongdoing or liability.”

From an ethical standpoint, how do you think this case should have been handled or handled at all?

Is Red Bull to blame?

Isn’t society smarter than thinking an energy drink would actually make their body sprout wings?

Was this all for the money? Or were the consumers right in suing Red Bull?

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A Little Birdie Told Me


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I am constantly using twitter as a makeshift diary, and apparently I am not the only one. JetBlue passenger Lisa Carter Knight, was kicked off the plane over her live tweets about why her flight got delayed.

Flight 760, a JetBlue flight departing from Philadelphia to Boston, was behind schedule an hour. As a crowd waited in the jetway, a passenger joked that he hoped the bar was fully stocked. Moments later, from probable miscommunication, the pilot told the passengers he had been accused of drinking, and now had to undergo a sobriety test.

After hearing this news, Lisa Carter Knight began live tweeting her experience.

One of her tweets read “#Jetblue Major debacle on flight 760 in Philly- pilot accuses passengers of accusing him of being intoxicated demands all passengers back.”

Knight continued to tweet a play by play of the delay, including pictures of the pilot exiting the plane to take his sobriety test. All of her tweets can be viewed in this video from ABC 6 Action News.

The pilot ended up passing his sobriety test, and all passengers were allowed back on board, except Knight.

“JetBlue has denied me service back to Boston because a pilot made a decision that my social media interaction with my friends and family was not appropriate and was not going to be tolerated by him,’ wrote Knight. ‘So, I was thrown off the flight tonight.”

According to JetBlue, they did not remove Knight because of her tweets. They only remove customers from flights who they feel are disruptive or exhibit objectionable behavior.

According to, JetBlue has a respectable reputation. JetBlue lands #2 on America’s Best Airlines 2014.

Is this occurrence atypical of an admired airline? Or does an incident like this remind us that we have only scratched the surface of the social media era?

I believe that social media acts as a double-edged sword for businesses.The speed at which personal information travels and surfaces leaves little time for rational reaction. Perhaps JetBlue is still figuring out how to handle large amounts of unprecedented feedback, which as we have seen in this case, is not always pleasant.

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