A moral discussion on when to 'snitch'

When confronting an ethical dilemma, what are the limits of loyalty?

Largely unmonitored and unregulated, the Internet strikes some as akin to the Wild West. Ethically, it’s dragging us into unexplored territory.

Twitter, Facebook, and other online teen hangouts pose serious challenges for Scouts that adult leaders never imagined in their youth. Acting anonymously, young people feel bolder about tossing out hurtful and unfair comments into cyberspace. But the Internet isn’t always as anonymous as it seems.

Take the hypothetical case of David, a student in a school district where his mother serves on the school board. Three of his classmates create a Web site openly attacking some of the teachers and students. The language is offensive and explicit, the graphics disgusting. Remarks about several students and teachers predict that a gay student would die of AIDS and suggest that a married teacher is having an affair.

Several weeks before, by way of an offhand remark in a conversation, David had discovered the identities of the students who created the Web site. The three immediately pressured David not to reveal their names, and he agreed. At one time, David was close to one of the three students. But that friendship had faded.

Now, the principal discovers a program that enables him to identify each person visiting the Web site. He is asking students to come forward with the names of the creators of the site. If no one does, the principal plans to question each student who visited it.

David might be the only student who knows the names of the three boys who created the site. He can lie and say he doesn’t know, or he can break his promise not to tell. Either choice, he believes, will result in disaster. What should David do?

For Discussion

In discussing this dilemma, Scouts will observe that David faces a tough decision either way. Remind them that although an ethical choice sometimes can involve a choice between two “rights,” it also can be a choice between two “wrongs.”

Start by asking:

  • How might David make sense of this situation? What’s his responsibility here?
  • Invite Scouts to list the reasons why each choice is problematic. If David turns in his friends, he’s snitching and breaking a promise. If he doesn’t, David is allowing them to get away with a serious offense.
  • Try taking a poll: Who would snitch? Who wouldn’t? What’s wrong with snitching? What’s wrong with lying? Ask each Scout to briefly defend his choice; then, ask each to switch sides and defend the other choice.
  • Talk about how each choice might affect the others in this case. Ask: How might your decision be affected by whether or not you were close with one of the teachers or students who was humiliated on the site? Given the former friendship with one of the culprits, how bound would you feel to the promise you made?
  • As a conversation-starter on the subject of peer loyalty, ask if snitching is a form of disloyalty. Consider that David’s definition of  “loyalty” might even include his loyalty to his peers who were victimized by the site. Does loyalty to the larger group of peers—all of the students in the school—demand turning in the three students and telling the truth?
  • Invite the Scouts to share if they, or someone they know, have ever been in a situation where they were expected to turn someone in. What was that like?
  • Finally, ask the guys to discuss this question: What’s more important, the good of the community or the good of the individual?

If you’re looking for additional scenarios for future discussions, try one of these:

  • What’s the difference between cheating on a math test and lying about your age in order to save money on a movie ticket?
  • Larry knows his parents won’t let him go to Jeff’s big party if they find out Jeff’s parents are out of town. Should he lie about it?
  • Paul, an honor student, plagiarized a big paper and has been reported to the school’s honor council. Paul is pleading the council not to report the violation to the Ivy League school he is applying to. What should the honor council do?

For more information and discussion questions on this ethical dilemma, visitgoodcharacter.com/dilemma/dilemma15.html.

Copyright Elkind+Sweet Communications/Live Wire Media. Reprinted with permission. Copied fromgoodcharacter.com.


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