HUDSON SUNSET: Photo by Bruce Weinstein

The Royal Hoax & the Ethics of Prank Calls

Posted on December 11, 2012 by Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D.

When, if ever, can prank phone calls be ethically intelligent?  Read my new CNN blog post on this timely topic.

What Others Are Saying

  1. Jack Sweeney December 11, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Sadly sir, i believe you missed the point with the post regarding the prank phone call around regarding the Dutchess of Cambridge. That a prank phone call can be done and no harm come to the target by simply announcing at some point that it was a prank is way too simplistic. Whether the perpetrator announces the ruse or not, it is completely foreseeable that someone would have a poor reaction to such behavior – friendships end over stunts such as this all the time. Compound it with the size of the audience of any radio station and the potential loss of standing in the community, however irrational it might be, something like this is completely foreseeable. How else do you explain that this was the first conclusion drawn in the media rather than some bizarre coincidence???

    As for the Do No Harm principle, drawing parallels between entertainment and health care only adds to the bizarreness of this post. Doctors making risk assessments around life threatening ailments and the treatement threreof are comparable to the lengths entertainers go for a laugh?? I might be alone, but i’d suggest this was not well thought out in terms of comparability.

  2. Bruce Weinstein December 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Mr. Sweeney,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to my post. I particularly appreciate your respectful tone and the fact that you focused on my argument, which isn’t the case for many of the people who are responding directly on

    Regarding the substance of your remarks: I agree that there is a morally relevant difference between making a prank call to a fast-food restaurant and making one to a health care institution. The Do No Harm principle would, in most cases, require not doing the latter at all. But in some–and I emphasize *some*–limited circumstances (for example, if the caller knows that a nurse is on break), I can envision that such a call might avoid causing harm and could even bring a bit of levity to a stressful job. But you’re right in that the better course of action would be to avoid making such calls altogether.

    The point of my article was simply to introduce the Do No Harm principle to an area where we don’t normally think of it as relevant, namely the media. Perhaps I buried the lead by waiting until the end of the piece to call for a formal adoption of this principle.

    In any case, I wish there were more interlocutors with your ethical intelligence. Thanks again.

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