ProPublica investigated a secret Border Control Facebook group that posted graphic, demeaning, doctored images of Latina congresswomen. How was it possible that Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan did not know about this? That’s an important ethical question.
At the 3:40 mark of the above video, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questions DHS Secretary McAleenan about the employment status of Border Patrol agents who posted racist and demeaning messages and memes in a secret Facebook group.
The group, which boasted more than 9,500 members, viewed lurid posts directed at Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Veronica Escobar related to a planned visit to a Texas detention facility.
According to ProPublica, the online publication received images of Facebook discussions “and was able to link the participants … to apparently legitimate Facebook profiles belonging to Border Patrol agents,” including a supervisor. (WARNING: ProPublica link contains doctored images of graphic sexual violence.)
McAleenan condemned the posts, subject of an ongoing investigation, when appearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee of which Ocasio-Cortez is a member.
“Did you see the posts planning physical harm to myself and Congresswoman Escobar?” Ocasio-Cortez asked.
McAleenan responded that he did and immediately launched an investigation “within minutes of reading the article.”
“Did you see the images of officers circulating PhotoShopped images of my violent rape?” Ocasio-Cortez asked. McAleenan said that he did.
She asked if those officers are on the job still. McAleenan didn’t immediately know.
Ocasio-Cortez pressed him about whether racist rape memes indicated “a dehumanized culture” at U.S. Border and Customs Protection.
“We do not have a dehumanizing culture at CBP. This is an entity that rescues 4,000 people a year,” he replied, “committed to the well-being of everyone that they interact with.” He added that it is unfair to apply these posts “to the entire organization or that even the members of that group believed or supported those posts.”
Ocasio-Cortez continued to press him. How did 10,000 members belong to a secret group without the leadership knowing, she asked?
Again, McAleenan referenced the ongoing investigation.
No matter how you feel about Ocasio-Cortez or the situation at the Mexican-US border, the secret group does reflect poorly on McAleenan and his agency because no one reported it to the leadership. While failure to report the group may not indicate a dehumanized culture, it does indicate a lapse of ethics. In sum, employees of any workplace are beholden to report unacceptable behavior, especially in a “secret” online group.
In this case, ProPublica did. That’s the role of investigative journalism.
Living Media Ethics makes this point repeatedly throughout the text in sections on racism, sexism and conflicts of interest. A person may not be racist or sexist. That is not the ethical challenge at the workplace. The real question is what an employee should do if he or she witnesses such infractions?
The answer is obvious: report it.
Typical workplace policy mandate reporting of unacceptable behavior. In many venues, those who do not report such behavior may themselves be fired or held legally responsible.