Ethics in the News: Sex Offender’s Death Turned Into Meme

In August of this year Jeffrey Epstein, one of the most notorious sex offenders, was reported to have committed suicide in his cell after being convicted of sex trafficking. At least, that’s what was the information released to the public at the time.

You may have seen some of the ‘Epstein didn’t kill himself’ memes circulating about. These stem from the same case. As “serious irregularities” were found in the case, it seems that there may be more to the story. The several inconsistencies included the fact that while under suicide watch, the cameras went down and no officers were in the area at the time to see what happened. 

A week and a half prior to his death, Epstein was found unconscious in his cell with signs of strangulation. The authorities placed him under suicide watch, and there were even more inconsistencies with the situation, such as the fact that the cameras happened to go down and there was a lack in officers that night, so no one was watching him, even though he was specifically being kept under watch.  (Is this needed?)

This wasn’t Epstein’s first case by the way. He was being investigated all the way back in 2003 for unlawful sex with minors and sexual abuse. While that case didn’t end in prosecution, there were several cases from 2008 to the Summer of 2019 in which victims came forward to tell their story and how their “…hopes were quickly dashed and my dreams were stolen.”

Looking at the compilation of these cases from an ethical perspective, it’s clear that there are some concerns with the way things happened. Utilitarianism, a.k.a providing the greatest good for the greatest number of people, is obviously a concern in this debate. 

The next is the social contract theory, which can be applied to journalists, as well as the officers who were on duty when Epstein was found. SCT explains how fear of tragedy prompts people to enter social contracts and establish a set of agreed-upon rules. Journalists have the obligation to report the truth and the officers have a set of rules to protect and serve (which was violated if Epstein’s death really was a homicide.)

Finally, we took a look at satire and freedom of speech. ‘Meme-culture’ is wildfire and things catch on so quickly in today’s technical society. Memes are qualified as the expression of an idea and can fall under satire depending on the content. Since this is the case, it’s protected under freedom of speech. Even so, there are people, such as Epstein’s victims, who have to go through every day seeing these memes, which could potentially cause mental/emotional harm.

So what do you think? Do you think it was a suicide or homicide? What are your thoughts on the memes going around; are they just entertaining satire or is there a bigger issue behind them? Do you think that the memes are negatively affecting Epstein’s victims, and if so should they be taken down or is that a breach of Freedom of Speech?

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