Sunday, December 02, 2007

SOUND OFF: `I WAS IN A GREAT STORE THE OTHER DAY ... '

John Mackey, the chief executive of Whole Foods Market, was pilloried recently when it was discovered that he had been making anonymous posts touting the strengths of his own company and the weaknesses of its competitors on an Internet discussion forum. His postings resulted in an informal inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission, since Whole Foods is a publicly held company.

Now the board of Whole Foods Market has established a policy that prohibits any of its executives or directors from posting comments about the company or about its competitors to any discussion forums except ones sponsored by Whole Foods.

Assuming that they reveal no proprietary secrets and break no laws, is it wrong for company executives to anonymously participate in Internet forums? Is it right for the company to ban such participation?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at rightthing@nytimes.com.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2007 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

4 comments:

soowee said...

Anonymous postings are ALWAYS morally questionable, except to protect someone from certain harm.

Anonymous touts of a commercial venture by an insider are reprehensible. Whether or not they might be illegal is another issue, vis-a-vis the "publicly traded" aspects of Whole Foods.

Ordinarily, anonymous comments, even by an insider, might be protected by the First Amendment. The courts have upheld the legality of anonymous poltical communications.

However, the legal aspects and the moral aspects are totally different spectra from one another.

H. Watkins Ellerson
Hadensville, Va.

soowee said...

Anonymous postings are ALWAYS morally questionable, except to protect someone from certain harm.

Anonymous touts of a commercial venture by an insider are reprehensible. Whether or not they might be illegal is another issue, vis-a-vis the "publicly traded" aspects of Whole Foods.

Ordinarily, anonymous comments, even by an insider, might be protected by the First Amendment. The courts have upheld the legality of anonymous poltical communications.

However, the legal aspects and the moral aspects are totally different spectra from one another.

H. Watkins Ellerson
Hadensville, Va.

Anonymous said...

Jeffery Seglin,

Shame on Whole Foods for anonymously blogging the strengths of the company. I believe the only place for anonymous comments is on public restroom walls along with other trashy comments. However, I don't believe there should be any restrictions on blog postings from anyone, as long as the writer and any affiliation with their company is clearly stated. Think Hillary Clinton and her staged questions from the audience! Libelous comments of course would be nearly nonexistent if this formatting was adhered to.

At least in the op-ed sections of newspapers, it is required that comments include writers' names, etc. Freedom of speech also means that if someone disagrees with one's comment or position, they may address that person directly by name. If what one blogs is truthful, then why not have a validated source of the comment(s)?

Mike Padore
Irvine, CA

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

I have a problem with execs who seem to have no ethics or principles when it comes to making money. I would not have a problem if he monitored the discussion forum and corrected misunderstandings about his company. Thank you for your column, if only Mr. Exec would read it.

New Reader,
Walt D.
Orange County,Calif

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