Volkswagen’s “Scarlet Letter”: Dieselgate

by Nicholas Paolino

It was a dark day in 2015 when the story broke of supposed emissions violations on nearly a half-million Volkswagen-built vehicles. The company reportedly installed emissions software on their vehicles that would allow them to sense the set parameters of the testing cycle that is done by the EPA. When a car is tested for emissions compliance by the EPA it is set into a “test mode”. The stated “defeat devices” would be used to alter the car’s performance while in test mode, therefore, allowing the emissions compliance test to be passed. However, as soon as the vehicle was switched back to its normal operating mode the original parameters that would have violated emissions compliance would be resumed.

When the vehicles were in normal mode, the car’s computer would drastically change things like the fuel pressure, injection timing, and exhaust-gas recirculation. By changing these variables the vehicles were able to make the horsepower they could as well as get the incredible fuel mileage that was advertised for Volkswagen TDI diesel engines.

Volkswagen heavily advertised their “clean diesel” engines during this time before the scandal eventually broke. The advertisements ranged in medium from print ads to social media campaigns, to Super Bowl ads, often preaching that their diesel engines have such low emissions that they lower NOx emissions by ninety percent. These claims couldn’t have been further from the truth as NOx emissions were found to be “4,000 percent more” than the legal limit that the EPA has set for their testing.

“Dieselgate” as the scandal was so coined, has since cost Volkswagen approximately $33.6 billion dollars.

Volkswagen used advertising to deceive their customers, and this wasn’t to go without notice. The Federal Trade Commission charged that “Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. deceived consumers with the advertising campaign it used to promote its supposedly “clean diesel” VWs and Audis, which Volkswagen fitted with illegal emission defeat devices designed to mask high emissions during government tests.” The charges called for the Volkswagen Group of America to compensate their American consumers that bought or leased any of the vehicles that fell under the “dieselgate” testing. These vehicles ranged in manufacturing dates from 2008 to 2015. This clearly shows that Volkswagen had been lying to its customers about its “clean diesel” engines for approximately seven years.

Volkswagen is still dealing with the repercussions of their deceitful tactics to this day, and their overall standing with consumers is now greatfully tainted. The Federal Trade Commmission had every right to stand up for the consumers who had purchased or leased these vehicles with the mindset that they were going to be bettering the environment while also getting great gas mileage and saving money because of it. They used advertisments that were widely viewed to sell vehicles that were greatly attributing to the detriment of our atmosphere. This could easily be described as one of the largest dsiplays of mistrust in consumer history and will forever create skeptics of the automotive industry and the push for a cleaner future.

Justin Bieber: Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation?

By Geena Levine

Justin Bieber has been in the eyes of the public since his rise to fame in 2009. Becoming famous at such a young age can be hard for anyone, but growing up under the spotlight can lead to many controversies. A recent issue that has been brought into the media was in April of this year, Justin Bieber shared a picture of him with dreadlocks on his Instagram. Although Bieber is a known advocate for social change and the Black Lives Matter movement, many were quick to judge him on social media. 

Image credit: Justin Bieber’s Instagram account posted April 26th 2021

He received many comments on his instagram such as, “”It’s really disappointing to see you with dreads, I thought you educated yourself.” Although many of the comments were negative towards Bieber and his choice of hairstyle, he did receive some positive comments. One Twitter user tweeted that “”I think there are a few thousand people who would say there are more important stories at the moment, that are WAY more important than JUSTIN BIEBER’S HAIRCUT. Happy to tell you more,” @AlekseyShinder said. 

In June, Bieber posted on his Instagram stating that, “My style, how I sing, dance, perform, and my fashion have all been influenced and inspired by Black culture. I am committed to using my platform this day forward to learn, to speak up about racial injustice and systemic oppression, and to identify ways to be a part of much needed change.”

Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin step out for dinner at Craig’s after a trip to Miami
Image credit: Page Six Style

The main issue that I see in this instance is that Justin Bieber did not post an official apology for this incident on social media sooner. Knowing his platform and how popular he is on social media, Bieber should have focused more on making sure that the public saw that he felt remorse for his actions and where he sees where his issue is. It seems through his posts on social media and his decision to keep the dreadlocks for a month, showed that he did not see the wrong in his actions. It seems very inauthentic for him to post all over social media how he advocates for social change, yet not seem to care when he is in the wrong. 

Through this decision he has undermined his own credibility and authenticity in showing people that he does support social change. Cultural appropriation is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” With this being such a longstanding issue that people of color have had to face daily, you would think that Justin Bieber would be cautious of creating an issue in this. 

Bieber also states a lot that he “gives back to the black community”, but he does not show that much in his actions. His recent album Justice, included a song using Martin Luther King quotes, which he did get permission from MLK’s granddaughter. But in the long run does that do much benefit to the black community, or more to him. He is profiting off of using black culture in his work, but does not do much advocacy on change that can be made. Benefiting off black culture is very different from actually supporting the culture. 

I believe that Bieber did not handle this situation correctly and overall uses black culture as a benefit to himself. He made no apology when called out for his inappropriate actions, displaying a lack of respect of black culture. His actions on social media show quite the opposite of his words and overall show an inauthentic image about his views. 

Lululemon – Managing Media Crises

In April of 2020, when people were trading in business casual for pajamas and the only storefronts that were open were Starbucks and grocery stores, Anti-Asian rhetoric was bleeding into our social media feeds. It wasn’t coming from the expected Facebook articles, but from retail brand Lululemon Athletica.

Tyler Fleming, the art director for Lululemon, had shared a link to a tshirt that had the image of “bat fried rice.” The shirt was the work of artist Jess Sluder. The image immediately received backlash over racist imagery. 

Lululemon Athletica Storefront | Tsawwassen Mills Outlet Shopping Mall

Although Fleming shared this link on his personal Instagram account, users quickly started to leave angry comments on the official Lululemon account. Once the issue came to the company’s attention, they immediately fired Fleming and released 2 statements.

“We apologize that an employee was affiliated with promoting an offensive T-shirt, and we take this very seriously,” it said. “The image and the post were inappropriate and inexcusable. We acted immediately, and the person involved is no longer an employee of Lululemon.”

While every ethical person can agree that racism is bad, especially for business, should Fleming have been fired and taken all the heat for a shirt he didn’t make?

During this time, there was a lot of fear in the air, along with COVID-19. Infection numbers were on the rise everyday and people didn’t know where COVID-19 was coming from. With a lack of information everywhere, this left everyone searching for their information online. 

Ahhh, the internet. Where every thought can be aired to an audience of strangers and where people think that google is a fact checker. At this time, since COVID-19 had originated out of China there was a lot of anti-Asian prejudice that was wrongfully placed. The terms “kung flu” and “China virus” adorned newspapers and social media feeds, leaving a racist undertone everywhere people looked. 

Jess Sluder, the designer of the tshirt, claimed that when he made the shirt it wasn’t racially motivated and that he was just making a joke. He did apologize if his shirt offended anyone, but I don’t buy it. Racial tensions were high in America at this time and this was not the time for jokes.

The internet and Lululemon found Fleming guilty by association. After being fired, Fleming removed himself from social media and deleted his accounts as he should have. The last thing this world needs is another racist and dividing voice, no matter how quiet that voice may be.

As a global company, Lululemon made the right call in this situation. Cutting down issues at the root to avoid becoming a larger issue. In fact, they have a good track record of having zero tolerance for employees who take their personal opinions to the Internet.

In 2013, the founder of Lululemon, Chip Wilson, claimed that women’s bodies don’t always work with the company’s clothes.

Chip Wilson, founder of Lululemon Athletica

This statement came months after claims that Lululemon’s leggings were too sheer and called the quality of the luxury athleisure clothes into question. Rather than fix the quality issues within his own company’s product, Wilson said “some women’s bodies just don’t actually work [for the yoga pants

In an interview, Wilson made the statement that women were buying sizes that are too small for them and that the rubbing of their thighs had weakened the integrity of the fabric. 

As you can imagine, a media storm formed after that. If it is one thing women do not stand for it is body shaming, especially coming from a man who wants to charge them $100 per pair of leggings. 

Wilson eventually stepped down as chairman of the company and Lululemon recalled its leggings for quality issues. 

So never fear yoga pant fanatics, you can sleep easier now in your overpriced leggings knowing that Lululemon is a socially ethical company. 

Written by Katie Bonney


SeaWorld: Where does their loyalty lie?

By: Samantha Puleo

SeaWorld 50th Anniversary Celebration
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/128012202@N05/15448172568/in/photostream/

Since March of 1964, SeaWorld has been one of the biggest attractions the US has to offer. The parks features orcas, dolphins, sea lions, and various other marine life, along with rehabilitation centers. For a long time, SeaWorld had a great reputation and received much praise, until tragedy struck in February of 2010, where trainer Dawn Brancheau was fatally attacked and killed by one of the orcas, Tilikum. After this, The parks’ marine mammals have been under debate and criticism over the years. With lots of critics saying that the park entails animal abuse.  This grew further when in 2013 the documentary, Blackfish, was produced and highlighted the mistreatment and abuse these orcas had been put through over a span of 35 years in various parks. But, the most talked about orca in the documentary is Tilikum and his experiences of being hopped from one park to another and not to mention the three people he had killed in his life span. During the documentary it is shown that Tilikum had previously killed a trainer at the first park he was featured at, Sea Land. So you’re probably asking yourself , why would this literal “killer whale” be picked up by a franchise as big as SeaWorld and why would they subject their own trainers to a whale like this? Well, don’t worry, I can answer this question.

Tilikum, the largest Orca ever recorded in captivity.
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/milanboers/3507418462

This is essentially where SeaWorld’s loyalties come in. During the Blackfish documentary, the past trainers from SeaWorld that worked personally with Tilikum had said that they were never made aware of the fact that Tilikum had killed a trainer at his previous park. This seems down right unethical in my opinion. It also shows me that SeaWorld definitely didn’t have a loyalty towards its employees, otherwise they would have fully disclosed every detail of this whale’s past to these trainers. I mean, these people really are the ones who should know everything about these animals since they’ll be physically working with them. What this should show you is that SeaWorld had financial loyalty to itself and only itself for purchasing Tilikum, but why is that, why would Tilikum specifically bring more money to them than any other orca, don’t they all look the same? Well yes they do for the most part all look the same, but SeaWorld only had females and they needed a breeder, so seeing Tilikum up for sale was a huge asset for them, no matter the circumstances of the whale. This purchase seemed like a great strategy but this was only the beginning for SeaWorld’s problems.

A family of Orcas
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/30314434@N06/41003693334/in/photostream/

It is a known fact that the orca species as a whole is based in family and tradition. Scientists have found over the years that these mammals don’t leave their families as they mature and look for new territory, they stick together for life and even go so far as to breed with other family members. That is how close-knit and territorial these families can be, so when random whales from all different cultures are put into tanks together, which is exactly what SeaWorld had done with Tilikum and the other females, there is a really bad reaction. In the Blackfish documentary, the past SeaWorld trainers had said that Tilikum was constantly abused by the female whales, causing him to bleed during shows and have rakes on his skin from their teeth. This is due to the females urging to show dominance over him and because of the fact that none of them knew each other, there was no family ordinance. Family order is crucial in orca cultures. So SeaWorld putting these different animals in with one another not only puts them in danger amounts each other but it also puts the trainers working with these orcas in danger because the animals could take our their frustrations with each other out on the trainers. Not only that, the documentary also shows that SeaWorld employees would tell visitors that the orcas would on average live longer in captivity than in the wild, to about 35 years old, when in reality these animals live to almost 100 years old in the wild. This narrative that SeaWorld is trying to put out is a blatant lie and a clear relation to their strong loyalty to themselves and their finances. This then shows that SeaWorld’s lack of psychological and physical care had to have taken a serious toll on these animals, resulting in a break in their psyche, resulting in Dawn Brancheau’s tragic death. I feel like if there were a loyalty to both these parties, these whales would’ve never been in captivity on the first place. If SeaWorld had taken initiatives to support education towards these animals in the wild, rather than keep them in captivity for their own financial benefit, this would not only have been great for the orcas but also could’ve saved the lives of the trainers that died. Based on all of this, SeaWorld definitely needs to take a look at itself and its ethical standpoints. They need to ensure that their loyalty always lies with the well-being of their trainers, but most importantly their animals.

Reaching the Golden Mean in Tabloid Journalism: How do we shift from “Celebrities vs. Paparazzi” to “Celebrities & Paparazzi”?

by Lara Guvelioglu

(Britney Spears surrounded by the paparazzi while running errands in Beverly Hills, November 2007 Image Credit: © Shutterstock)

The term paparazzi comes from the character Paparazzo in Federico Fellini’s 1959 movie, La Dolce Vita, the story of a relentless street photographer who teams up with journalists to report the scandalous and glamorous lives of celebrities. While the name Paparazzo had no association with tabloids at the time, Fellini loved how well the name fit the character since the dialect reminded him “of the buzzing of an insect you can’t get rid of.” Little did he know that his humorous analogy would be the center of our modern day ethical and legal dilemmas surrounding the tabloid industry.

By definition, being a public figure comes with a certain level of sacrifice to an individual’s privacy. These individuals are expected to accept living their lives in front of the public eye, sharing milestones and certain personal details with hundreds of thousands of strangers, keeping up public appearances and interactions with their fans even at the cost of their own comfort and interruption of their daily lives, and the list keeps growing. Especially with the advancement of technology and social media, audiences expect celebrities to sacrifice more of their privacy, creating an increased demand for tabloid journalism (the world of salacious celebrity gossip and exaggerated/sensational reporting), pushing paparazzi to seek juicier and more personal content. Such shifts in demand have become increasingly toxic over the years. 

(Examples of tabloids – celebrity gossip and exaggerated sensational journalism aimed to appeal to their audience’s emotions through bold statements. Image (credit) taken from Remove Gossip & Tabloid Magazines from our checkouts! by Sarah Robinson on Change.org)

It’s no news that tabloid journalism is quick to take things too far and stray from journalistic ethics in its efforts to dig up unique insider looks into celebrities’ lives, to generate louder buzz among competitors: reporters fabricating fake news to one up competition, deliberately crossing lines of journalistic ethics without regard or respect to celebrities’ reputations and personal lives; paparazzi relentlessly stalking their targets even at the risk of breaking laws and putting both their targets’ and their own lives at risk, etc.

One of the most well known historical examples of this dangerous practice is paparazzi’s high speed chase that resulted in the tragic death of Princess Diana, Dodi Fayed, their driver and bodyguard in Paris in 1997. While there were other factors that contributed to the tragedy, Princess Diana’s driver was speeding through the tunnel trying  to get away from the paparazzi on motorcycles surrounding them. Now one might argue that these people were simply doing their job. But at what cost? Additionally, as if causing these dangerous conditions wasn’t bad enough, some paparazzi chose to snap photos for the tabloid while others ran to the injured princess’s aide to save her and others from the wreckage.

(Last footage of Princess Diana Paris, France, 1997 – Princess Diana, Dodi Fayed and their driver caught by the paparazzi moments before the accident that killed all three passengers. Princess Diana can be seen hiding in the back seat. Image Credit from SkyNews )
(The wreckage of the accident – Princess Diana’s vehicle being removed from the tunnel in Paris, France, 1997. Image Credit / Getty)

That was 1997. Surely things must have changed by 2021, right? While the circumstances of Diana’s death have led to many nations’ revision of rules and regulations around their tabloid journalism, there are no universal laws that hold paparazzi and tabloids accountable for their questionable practices with any given lawsuit against a tabloid being reviewed on a case-by-case, circumstantial context. Since 1997, and even before then, celebrities have continuously criticized paparazzi’s toxic and dangerous practices – exposing many instances where paparazzi’s behavior have harmed their physical and/or mental health. With people’s health and lives at risk, where is this toxic kind of journalism headed?

(Former One Direction member, Niall Horan was swarmed by fans and paparazzi while passing through LAX in 2013 where he was “dragged to the floor” by a paparazzi. He later criticized his physical treatment through the above message (screenshot credit)on social media. )
(Actress and singer, Selena Gomez, was involved in a minor car accident where her SUV collided into a parked vehicle while trying to avoid paparazzi in 2014. She later took her experience to social medias(screenshot credit), joining the growing number of celebrities frustrated at their treatment by paparazzi.)

In 2021, it’s time we as a society, demand legal and ethical guidelines for how tabloids’ news content is obtained. With respect to tabloids’ freedom of speech and celebrities’ need for privacy, these guidelines should strive to set expectations and standards for both sides through open and transparent communication. These two opposites of the entertainment industry, an industry built on communication & media, should come together to listen and collaborate for safer tabloid journalism standards instead of fighting one another, which might lead to dangerous situations. Only through this mutual respect and alliance efforts can our society reach a golden mean, a golden standard, of entertainment ethics, and we get one step closer to a truly civilized community.

The Continued History of Photo Manipulation and its Consequences on Young People

How far is too far?

Written by: Claire Foley

The fashion and beauty industries have been scrutinized for years for the unrealistic body standards that are illustrated in their work. Photoshop, in particular, has been a major talking point within the case built against these perpetrators. One iconic instance that brought the ethics of photoshop into question was the photoshop fail that Target® had with several items featured on their website in 2014.

In 2014, Target® posted these photos (below) to display their “Xhilaration® Junior’s Midkini 2-Piece Swimsuit”. As viewers noticed, the model is missing significant portions of her body (including parts of her arm, back, fingers, thighs, and groin). And those are just the obvious adjustments!

Model’s back and arm were reduced and left as a sharp protrusion from her underarm.
Portions of model’s back, arms, fingers and bottom are removed. #ThighGap right?

Not only was this a careless and sloppy effort by Target®’s team, but these adjustments are detrimental to the mental and physical health of the models pictured, and anyone who sees it. To make matters worse, this was displayed on the ‘youth’ section of their website.

According to ABCNews.com reporting, Target® spokesperson Evan Miller responded to the mistake by saying, “It was an unfortunate error on our part and we apologize…We removed the image from the site and we’re working to get a new image up there.” Truly a heartfelt acknowledgment of their participation in the system that historically deteriorates the body image of women and young girls. If only.

Flash forward to more than seven years later. Facebook® has (nearly) monopolized the social media world, and the mental health of our younger population is at risk. I wonder if the two are related?

Internal documents from Facebook® were leaked to the Wall Street Journal in the Fall of 2021, and uncovered unreported research (conducted by Facebook® themselves), that outlined the platform’s “ill-effects”. It is important to note that Instagram is among the platforms that Facebook® owns.

Facebook Whistleblower speaks out on details of research

Amongst the information in this exposé were appalling details about what Facebook® knew about how their platforms negatively impact teens. The issues that young users are connecting to the platform range from eating disorders to even depression/suicidal thoughts. 13% of British users and 6% of American users point a finger at Instagram as a contributor to their suicidal thoughts. 32% of girls who already feel bad about their bodies, said that Instagram made them feel worse, and 40% of teen boys experience negative social comparison from the app.

Again, the kicker here is that they knew and did nothing – and it concerned children! Legally, those under 13 years old are not even supposed to have social media accounts, but Facebook® is turning a blind eye to both underage use and their duty to protect those they serve.

You may be thinking: What can be done, though?

Just as it is required to disclose an ad on Instagram, in the Summer of 2021, Norway passed a new law that requires content creators to disclose edited photos. This law was supported and ultimately passed because of the concern for the detrimental effects photo editing has on the body image and mental health of young people.

Although this is sort of a band-aid for a bigger societal bleed, it is progress, and progress is absolutely needed. We cannot let anyone suffer in silence, especially such a vulnerable population. Progress must begin with accountability for those who enable the unrealistic standards (Facebook®, other social media platforms, fashion/beauty industries, etc.), but is then ultimately reinforced by legislation, like we see in Norway.

Enough is enough.

Protection or profit? Where does the loyalty of Bravo Production lie?

Written by Colleen Mearon, October 14th, 2021

As the legal battles of reality star Erika Jayne and her estranged soon-to-be ex-husband Tom Girardi have been displayed on televisions across the country, Bravo has been subpoenaed for unaired footage of the star from season 11 of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

The hope is that this unaired footage could assist lawyers taking action against Girardi and Jayne. Fox News reported that Girardi has been brought to court in a $2 million embezzlement case regarding settlement funds that were meant for plane crash victims. Jayne filed for divorce one month prior to accusations surfacing, therefore raising further allegations that the couple split to protect their finances and assets.

This became a huge topic of conversation on Bravo’s most recent, drama-filled season of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Jayne discussing the lawsuits and being questioned by her “friends” on the show.

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Season 11 Cast

Despite the case being a topic of conversation on the show, is it fair for the court to have access to unaired footage? Would that breach a contract between the reality star and Bravo? For now, the Bravo production team and producer Andy Cohen have been protecting Jayne and have not yet agreed to release unaired footage.

But are they truthfully protecting Jayne or are they using this as a means of profit for the show? Many people watched this season of the RHOBH solely to learn about the case and get Erika’s side of the story, raising views of the show to record highs. Attorney Jay Edelson told Fox News that “so far, Bravo has chosen to use the Girardi embezzlement scandal to increase ratings and make significant money for itself.” 

Erika Jayne and Bravo Producer Andy Cohen

Bravo could have avoided involvement in this ongoing issue by not hiring back Jayne for season 11. Instead, she was paid $600,000 to participate in the show this year, where she was able to frame herself as an additional victim of Tom Girardi, steering the attention away from his true wrongdoings of embezzling money meant for victims of a horrible plane crash.

Bravo’s Real Housewives series ends with a reunion for cast-mates following the production season with producer Andy Cohen as a host monitoring discussion of the cast. The trailer for the season 11 reunion emphasizes the tense atmosphere of this reunion, where the focus heavily lies on Erika Jayne.


“Although the reunion trailer suggests that Andy is finally going to ask the tough questions of Erika, he is strategically doing so to increase his ratings and make Bravo even more money,” Edelson claimed to Us Magazine. “We believe that Bravo has a legal and moral duty to cooperate in our litigation so the true facts come out and the families of the Lion Air crash victims can get some justice.”

With Jayne in the spotlight, Bravo is gaining viewers and increasing the show’s ratings- profiting off of her legal struggles as they are put on-air. The focus has strayed too far from the center of this issue: money is owed to victims. As a media company, Bravo has a responsibility to the public and they are failing to remain ethical in their decision making.

The Burning Question

By Meghan Schweizer, October 13, 2021

McDonald’s Logo. Image Credit: https://images.app.goo.gl/kUHKEiEiD1ceZGnD9

February 27, 1992, began as an ordinary day for a 79-year-old elderly widow, Stella Liebeck and her grandson, Christopher Tiano. The two took a ride to McDonald’s in her grandson’s Ford Probe to grab a bite to eat. They chose the drive through to place their order. The vehicle did not have cup holders. Liebeck wanted to add cream and sugar to her coffee. Her grandson decided to pull into a parking spot after receiving their food. So, how did this elderly woman receive severe burns over 16 percent of her body?

Liebeck had attempted to add cream and sugar to her coffee but unfortunately coffee spilled on her lap causing second-and-third degree burns, requiring hospitalization, further treatments, and skin grafts. When she presented McDonald’s with the bills for medial costs $10,000 over what her Medicare Insurance would cover, they responded with an offer of $800. After attempts to settle out of court failed, Liebeck sued McDonald is for $125,000 as reported in the 2013 documentary, Scalded by the Media.

If a liquid at that temperature contacts the skin for more than a few seconds, it will cause profoundly serious burns.”
David Arredondo, MD.
(Simmons 1)

McCafe Coffee Image Credit: https://www.pxfuel.com/en/search?q=mccafe

Was the “burning” question that the temperature in which McDonald’s brews and sells is far warmer than coffee made by most home coffee-brewing machines or how Stella Liebeck was treated? During the trial, Liebeck’s surgeon, David Arredondo MD, told the jury, if a liquid at that temperature contacts the skin for more than a few seconds, it will cause profoundly serious burns. Dr. Arredondo provided the court and jury a graphic example and photos of Liebeck’s burned groin and skin grafts.

During the trial it was revealed that McDonald’s had received more than seven hundred complaints about burns from beverages over a ten-year period.

“Jury Sends Message” Article
Image Credit: https://www.caoc.org?pg=facts

Juror, Marjorie Getman stood behind her decision as she stated, “The only way you can get the attention of a big company (is) to make punitive damages against them.”
(Simmons 1)

While it is the press’s obligation to print the truth, it is also part of a journalist’s code of ethics to seek the truth. Editors who desire credibility have a duty to tell the truth under all conditions. So why did the coverage on the case of Stella Liebeck vs. McDonald’s go array? Was McDonald’s accountable for the injuries? Was the media not searching for the truth?  Both. A jury believed McDonald’s was liable. They awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million punitive damages, later reduced to $500.000. The public’s perception was that Liebeck won a lottery, yet the story had more complexities, more truths. The award by the jury was to send a clear message to McDonald’s they needed to reduce the temperature of the coffee to ensure others did not experience the injuries sustained by Liebeck.

The size of the award got the media’s attention, but this attention overshadowed the rest of the story. Many of the details of the case and how the jury made its decision were omitted and went unreported. An Albuquerque newspaper was the first to run the story. As it got picked up by the Associated Press, dozens of newspapers worldwide, along with local and national news stations began reporting it. As the story’s reach got larger, the story itself got smaller. In print that is…the number of words used to describe the story went from six hundred words to three hundred to just under fifty words. This limited the details of the case, creating a condensed version of the story from its original content. Titles and articles were missing critical pieces of the story allowing for misconstrued accounts of what happened and accusations of greed.

Rapid transmission made it difficult for time-consuming verification. Bullied by the media, with an incorrect account of Liebeck’s story told by politicians to professors, or Famous Network News Correspondents to Late Night Talk Show Hosts. In the eyes of the public, Stella Liebeck was the villain of the story. In this viewer’s eyes, Stella is a hero. She successfully won a suit over the largest fast-food restaurant business on the globe enforcing them to change the temperature of their coffee. Shame on McDonald’s for continuing unethical and unsafe practices by not taking an action as there were already over seven hundred complaints received related to burns.

Do I think if this story would be different today if given the opportunity for it to run via the digital media world? Yes. There would be viral sensationalism, but as credit worthy practitioners did more research, they would gain access to images. During this period people did not have access to the images of Liebeck’s burns nor would they be shared via with television. The use of imagery today would be powerful and influence the viewers, especially through social media platforms. This reviewer believes public relation practitioners got caught up in the challenges of the case allowing them to stage the truth.

Those who believe this case, and many other lawsuits, are frivolous, obviously do not have knowledge about the case. The verdict and settlement of this case forced the McDonald’s Corporation to change the temperature of the coffee they serve. This will ensure the safety for their patrons, so they do not sustain the horrific injuries Stella Liebeck received. The truth is common for those who seek to practice ethical communication.

Behind the Screens: Social Media’s Negative Effect

Just like technology, social media platforms have faced rapid expansion. It is amazing to be able to be in constant connection with so many people at such a fast pace. As a current communication and media graduate student, I have learned the importance of keeping up with the latest trends and understanding the needs of targeted audiences. Currently, one of the best ways to communicate with our society today is through social media. We know the pros of social media and all of the stories of success, but do we know the harms? Is social media as ethical as users believe it is? Social media seems to not be fading away anytime soon but it is never too late to educate ourselves and be aware of what is going on behind the screen. 

Generation Z has grown up with technology at their disposal. According to Western Governors University, Gen Z knows what technology is from the moment they are self aware. Growing up with instant access to answers and strong presence on social media has its downfalls. Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd states, “just because it is accessible does not mean using it is ethical.” According to Boyd, social media has created new social dynamics, especially for Gen Z. Rumors, “stalking” and drama is increased with visible gossip spreading on social media networks.

Frances Haugen delivering her testimony to Senate

In the recent news, Facebook Whistleblower, Frances Haugen, expresses how harmful Facebook has become to young individuals. Olivia Solon and Teaganne Finn of NBC News received a statement from Senator Roger Wicker, “The recent revelations about Facebook’s mental health effects on children and its plan to target younger audiences are indeed disturbing.” Children and mental health cannot be ignored.

Michelle, from Arizona, noticed her daughters spending more time than usual scrolling on Instagram during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their social media presence started with a “health challenge” and slowly spiraled to her eldest daughter developing “severe anorexia”. The mother of two teens stresses that social media had a large influence on the girls’ decision. In support of proving the negative effects of social media, Kari Paul, author from the Guardian, spoke with Michelle on behalf of her daughters to share their family’s traumatic experience. “Of course Instagram does not cause eating disorders…But it helps to trigger them and keeps teens trapped in this completely toxic culture,” Michelle told the Guardian. Social media platforms have been proven to send young girls into a spiral. Where does this all come from? Facebook of course disagrees but it is truthfully in the algorithms. The more you look up something, hashtag, or follow, the more likely you will see content of that nature.

Is there a solution? It is evident that social media platforms have gotten so big and so out of control however there is still a chance to make a change in the digital world for future generations. Frances Haugen, Michelle, and parents all over the world coming forward and speaking up on behalf of the billions of social media users. This is a step in the right direction. If we continue to advocate for protection of children on social media platforms, there is a better opportunity for a more concrete list of social media ethical standards.

phone with apps
Facebook and Instagram App Icons
Photo: Yui Mok/ PA

With regulation there is potential to stop the harm platforms have on children’s mental health. The biggest impact for change will come directly from these big name companies, like Facebook. Instead of having loyalty to the company and profit, platforms should start focusing on the best interest of both their users and society as a whole for a better, healthier virtual future. 

Written by Sabella Fabiano

Adaptive Fashion and Marketing Ethics

Meghan Barrasso

Adaptive fashion is on the rise and by 2026, it’s expected to be valued at $400 billion. This industry is exploding in current fashion and since the need for these types of products are so high, so is the need to market them.

Adaptive fashion is clothing, accessories or footwear specially designed around the needs and abilities of people with varying degrees of disabilities. Disabled people are one of the largest minority groups in the world, yet in fashion, they are extremely underrepresented. This may be because of what we are used to seeing in the media – which is often a small sized model who is usually white. However, with current trends changing and diversity “selling” more and more in the media, brands are learning to shift their marketing strategies and join this inclusive revolution in fashion.

Inclusivity gives the opportunity for marginalized groups to have an opportunity to be represented. This inclusive revolution in fashion marketing can be seen in the works of Victoria’s Secret and their new line of diverse Angels, Tommy Hilfiger’s inclusive fashion line created in 2016, and Nike’s newer inclusive sneakers. 

Now that inclusive fashion is growing, what happens when a brand smaller than Victoria’s Secret, Tommy Hilfiger and Nike can’t market their inclusive products?

This is exactly what happened with inclusive clothing brand, Mighty Well – as well as many smaller businesses like them.

Mighty Well’s sweatshirt in question.

In early 2021, Mighty Well tried placing an ad on Facebook for a gray hooded sweatshirt with the text “I am immunocompromised – please give me space”. Immediately, Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that accepts or denies the advertisement requests, denied Mighty Well’s ad. Facebook’s reasoning was because the ad went against their policy of advertising “medical and healthcare products and services including medical devices”. Unfortunately, Facebook’s AI system missed the mark on what Mighty Well was actually advertising, which was an inclusive sweatshirt. 

Another company called Yarrow, ran into the same issues as Mighty Well with Facebook advertising. Yarrow was trying to advertise pants and used an inclusive model who uses a wheelchair in their ad. Facebook’s AI denied the ad because of the wheelchair, not because of the actual product. 

Yarrow’s denied advertisement

After both Mighty Well and Yarrow resubmitted their advertisement requests, Facebook eventually accepted the ad and apologized for their AI system not catching the product being advertised and focusing on the medical device instead.

Although both companies were able to advertise their products, the problem in these two cases is the lengths that it took to get the advertisement out there. Some may argue that this was not a human error, but an AI error – however, humans make the codes for Facebook’s AI advertisements. Smaller companies should have the same ease and access that larger companies, like Nike and Tommy Hilfiger, have when it comes to marketing these inclusive products. 

Mighty Well, Yarrow, and other smaller inclusive fashion companies may start to stray away from using Facebook advertising if problems like this continue. All inclusive fashion companies, big and small, should have the ease of marketing just like regular fashion brands so underrepresented groups can finally feel represented in fashion.