Doctor Joe: Agony Uncle, You know you want to*
Dear Doctor Joe,
I love your input from my previous questions, so I’m back! The gist is, I wrote a lifestyle article for a client. The products that I featured in the article are my favourites and I’ve been using them for some time now. Once it’s published, I emailed and notified the product companies about the article, hoping that they’ll share it on their social media channels. Because you know, working in the media industry, gaining traction is fundamental. The great news is that they love it! Two companies emailed back asking for my address so they can mail a gift to show their appreciation. The bad (or not?) news is that I don’t know if this is against the policy. I work freelance for my client. Doctor Joe, is this ethical?
Why it is that people insist on coming to me, me of all people, me, a man who has been excommunicated by three separate religions for “Gross Indecency against the universe”, to answer their ethical conundrums is always something of a mystery to me. But; if the internet is any guide, some people insist that stuffing live batteries up their own arse is fun. Who am I to judge? Just remember; you’re reading this at your own risk.
Anyway; where was I? Confused; you seem to have a good old fashioned case of conflict of interest, something with which I have some previous experience. Not something as simple and harmless as writing a lifestyle article, I got into a bit of a tangle with the Russian mob, three crooked cops and a blind beggar named Hillary, I can’t go into much details, some of the other antagonists managed to survive the fight in the bear pit, but needless to say, I managed to make it out with the majority of my fingers intact.
You mention two details which I think stands out most clearly, the first being that you do not know that what you did is against the “policy”. If there is in fact a policy, read it, read through every detail, look for anything that pertains to what you may be up to. But this is the most important detail; what you find has to forbid what you do exactly and unquestionably. Don’t bother with wishy washy, if you look at things that way it may just say such and such, thinking. You don’t want to think about different meanings, if they wanted you thinking about things they never would have invented contracts in the first place. You just want the exact wording, only what it says. And more importantly what it doesn’t say, what contracts don’t say can be really important. Take for example what an unscrupulous surgeon said to me some years ago “I never said I wouldn’t take one of your kidneys now did I? Don’t be a cry baby, you still have one left.”
The second detail is not so much said but implied and that is you have not yet told your clients anything about this. That is good, very good, because the number one lesson you can learn from the Doctor Joe school of ethics is “You are only guilty if you get caught” If no one every finds out, what is the harm? What is the problem? Nothing I would wager. There have been times when certain overzealous constables have taken me in on charges I am never going to say I did or didn’t do and with my lips sealed, my compatriots, all mysteriously vanished and no sign of the missing Golden Arse on my person, they have had no choice whatsoever than to let me go.
I would counsel what countless lawyers have counselled to my criminal fraternity over the generations and that is “Shut the hell up. And nope no evidence comes up.” The social media sharing may be a little suspicious but that can be put down to simple media interest. After all, people share things on social media all the time, most of which people never see, ever, this column being one fine example, so I wouldn’t sweat too much about that. If you want to continue these exploits I would recommend using a fake alias online. Just don’t use Doctor Joe, that is already taken.
If that is not what you want to hear, forgive me. Ethics is often like that, a tangled mess of possibility that can give an octopus a wet dream. There are so many twists and turns that it is often hard to figure out what way is up. But one thing is very clear. Why break a rule, when it is so much more fun just to bend it a little?
The very best of luck,
*Editor’s note: But you shouldn’t. You really, really, shouldn’t.
If you want to read more of Doctor Joe: Agony Uncle or even ask him a question, just click on the link here.