Situational American Morality


A new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago has implications for both politicians and advertisers — and should scare anyone who cares about ethics.

The study involved having consumers

. . . read a political monologue about federal funding for Planned Parenthood that they believed was previously aired over public radio.

Respondents were randomly assigned one of two feedback conditions where upon completion they were informed that the monologue they had just read was either true or false.

Consumers were then asked whether they felt the monologue was justified. The bottom line:

  1. If the consumer agreed with the monologue, they were less critical of it, regardless of whether they were told it was true or false.
  2. If the consumer disagreed with the monologue, they were more critical of it regardless of whether they were told it was true or false.

In other words, in today’s America, it doesn’t matter if someone is telling the truth or lying as long as the consumer agrees with what they are saying. Functionally, that’s a blank check for a politician or advertiser to say anything as long as it includes something the consumer wants to hear.

Unfortunately, this “culture of lying” has consequences. It affects where people want to live, work and spend their money.

As an Airbnb host, we’ve been getting an earful from foreign travelers who don’t want to live here as well as workers who are asking for transfer back to their home countries. We have a doctor who views the level of medical errors in the US as unacceptable and disgusting. We have the Irani who says that, if she becomes ill, she will return to Iran for treatment rather than seek treatment in the US. We have a mother from Europe who is leaving so her daughter won’t become “Americanized”. We have the black teacher who grew up in the US and now works in Saudi Arabia, and says that her quality of life is better there than it ever was in the US.

We have the realtor from Kansas who lives in an American enclave near Mexico City and has seen a 41% increase in sales to Americans moving south this year. Mexico claims that it has 2 million Yanquis living there, most undocumented immigrants. South Korea has close to 1 million Yankee civilians; there are other large pockets in UK, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Australia and other countries. The US Government itself is mum on the number of Americans leaving the country. (All of these numbers exclude military and government personnel stationed outside the US.)

A primary complaint among expats is that they want to escape what the US political culture has become. That brings us back to our topic — the moral acceptability of lying.

For some of us, lying remains unacceptable regardless of the excuse.


  1. Allison B. Mueller, Linda J. Skitka. Liars, Damned Liars, and Zealots. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2017; 194855061772027 DOI: 10.1177/1948550617720272
  2. University of Illinois at Chicago. “We tolerate political lies for shared views, study suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 August 2017. <>



thmywnvasdThis is from ComputerWorld, a tech journal.

“According to the Post report , fake news writer Paul Horner is taking credit for Trump’s winning the election, saying, ‘I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up.'”

The question roiling social media circles is what to do with lies posted as news.  Zuckerberg (CEO at Facebook) has posted that 99% of news reported on his site is truthful, but he is not bringing in fact-checking organizations to look at what is posted.  How that is going to play out is unclear at this point.  Will there be something like a “Good Housekeeping Seal” for news posts that can be validated?  Will he ban sites that consistently post false information?  He mentioned seven ideas about how to deal with it in his most recent blog.  Zuckerberg closed his post by writing:

“Some of these ideas will work well, and some will not. But I want you to know that we have always taken this seriously, we understand how important the issue is for our community and we are committed to getting this right.”

However, critics point out that Facebook has consistently trended fake news since the firing of its human editorial staff and their replacement by software.  Zuckerberg hasn’t indicated a willingness to reverse that decision.

Fake news is biased news.  PCWorld, a publication of the IDG media conglomerate, ran a test on the content of fake news and found it massively directed at Trump supporters, by a ratio of 129 to 41.

In the meanwhile, it’s reader beware.  What you read on social media may or may not be worth the electrons used to display it.  (That’s exactly why this blog provides sources, so that readers can check the information being reported.)


  1. Dewey, Caitlin, “Facebook has repeatedly trended fake news since firing its human editors,” The Washington Post, 12 October 2016.
  2. Gaudin, Sharon, “Five things to know about fake news on Facebook, Google”, ComputerWorld, 21 November 2016.
  3. Hachman, Mark, “Just how partisan is Facebook’s fake news? We tested it.”  PCWorld, 21 November 2016.
  4. May, Ashley, “How Facebook plans to crack down on fake news,” 20 November 2016.
  5. Wadhwa, Vivek, “Fake news is just the beginning,” The Washington Post, 21 November 2016.