3 Blowing Whistles on Transnational Social Media: From Micro-to-Mass Scales, Privately and Publicly

Shalin Hai-Jew


Internal whistleblowing against perceived wrongdoing has long had a place in both public and private sectors; this activity is seen as enabling more effective business and governance by bring law-breaking, fraud, waste, theft, and other issues to administration attention. With the popularization of transnational social media, additional channels have opened that enable both private and public outreaches to external others. The low cost of entry and potential for wide reach may lead some to imagine that public attention is a net positive and will lead to its solution. However, such outreaches may have major downsides: intended and unintended audiences (attracting allies and detractors), the lack of hard power in public opinion and public pressure (in many cases), and “blowback.” This work explores some roles of social media in the whistleblower phenomenon and defines the “social whistleblower” phenomenon.



Key Words

Whistleblowing, Social Media, Social Whistleblowing, Online Whistleblowing, Global Whistleblowing, Transnational Whistleblowing




“If it’s possible not to tell the truth, why tell the truth? The truth is a dangerous thing.”

— Amnon Shamosh in Matti Friedman’s The Aleppo Codex (2012, p. 201)


A “whistleblower,” by definition, is an insider, a former insider, or a witness (at varying levels of distance) to wrong-doing, who shares this information with an authority in order to lead to some positive change (and pursuit of justice). Those who witnessed acts of wrongdoing but remain silent are known as “inactive observers” (or “silent observers” or “non-reporter observers”).

Defining “wrongdoing” may be something written into policy in workplaces. In many contexts, it may not be defined, or the actions are so egregious that there was not prior anticipation of such actions. What is seen as corrupt in the public sector is “diverse” and “difficult…to define” and may partially impact reportage actions (Gorta & Forell, 1995, p. 315). There are three general types of corruptions: legal, public interest, and public opinion (Gorta & Forell, 1995, p. 316).

The act of “whistleblowing” has been defined as “the disclosure by organizational members (former or current) of illegal, immoral, or illegitimate practices under the control of their employers, to persons or organizations that may be able to effect action” (Near & Miceli, 1985, p. 4, as cited in Gundlach, Douglas, & Martinko, Jan. 2003, p. 108). This act of “whistleblowing” has been compared with “fire alarms” (Beim, Hirsch, & Kastellec, 2014, p. 904). Another reference suggests a tie with refereeing (Eby, 1994, pp. 56 – 84, as cited in Peternelj-Taylor, 2003, p. 528). Another definition of whistleblowing is the following:

the voluntary release of non-public information, as a moral protest, by a member or former member of an organization outside the normal channels of communication to an appropriate audience about illegal and/or immoral conduct in the organization or conduct in the organization that is opposed in some significant way to the public interest (Boatright, 2000, p. 109, as cited in (Chiu, 2003, p. 65)

This work provides some early research on the intersection between whistleblowing and social media. This work introduces the term “social whistleblowing” to address this interface. Here, “social whistleblowing” refers to the reporting of wrongdoing in various realms to protect the general public and enable change. Perhaps there is a sense that going public may offer some protection against harms. There is the idea that blowing whistles across boundaries, transnationally, may not only activate others of like mind elsewhere but provide some public pressure on the whistleblower’s own country and context from outside—and provide a measure of safety. [In many cases, the sense of safety is illusory, and digital righteousness (0s and 1s) is thin cover and thin protections against government law enforcement actions—justified and unjustified, bolstered by various laws, politics, and monopolies on violence.]

Review of the Literature

Based on synthesized research, the act of “whistleblowing” is conceptualized as involving eight elements:

(1) the actor, i.e. a (former) member of the organization concerned; (2) the target, i.e. the organization or member(s) of its management which/who conduct unethical or immoral act(s); (3) the disclosure recipient, i.e. the person or organization to whom/which the whistle is blown; (4) the subject, i.e. the form and nature of the unethical or immoral conduct; (5) the information, i.e. a document that is generally evidence of some significant kind of misconduct or immoral practice; (6) the act, i.e. the information that is released outside normal channels of communication, which can be external or internal; (7) the motive, i.e. the release of such information must be undertaken as a voluntary moral protest; and (8) the outcome, i.e. as a result of releasing such information, the unethical or immoral conduct is stopped and the public interest is again protected (Boatright, 2000; Jubb, 1999, as cited in Chiu, 2003, p. 65).

In terms of the behavior, some researchers suggest that the “four stages of ethical decisions and behaviors” may apply: recognition (predicated on “ethical sensitivity”), attitude (“ethical judgment”), intention (“ethical intention”), and behavior (“ethical character”) (Chen & Lai, July 2014, p. 329). Said another way, an individual or group must identify wrongdoing, judge that action, form an intention to report, and then follow through on that intention with the reporting action. If the whistleblowing is about “perceived immorality,” the whistleblowing act is conceptualized as comprising three parts: the “initial moral judgement” in a prima facie sense, the appropriateness of denouncing the action to “a higher authority,” and whether “the denunciation should be made internally to higher authority within the organisation itself; or if it should be made to an outside authority such as the state or any other watchdog such as a non-governmental organization (NGO) or even the press/mass media” (O’Sullivan & Ngau, Oct. 2014, pp. 402-403). In the reporting of wrongdoing in workplaces, the type of morality is “professional morality” (Bouville, 2007, p. 579).

Some foundational thinkers on whistleblowing suggest this involves “four parties” and is a social process: the wrongdoer(s), the whistleblower(s), the recipients of the complaint, and the organization (from which the whistleblowing emerged or about which the whistleblowing is) (Near & Miceli, Sept. 2008, p. 267). As such, power relationships are core. In social systems, political whistleblowing is often addressed politically, based on the extant power structures in the society and their various levers. Some researchers consider people as “motivated tacticians” (Flake & Taylor, 1991) in a social information context to inform whether or not they whistleblow and how (Gundlach, Douglas, & Martinko, Jan. 2003, p. 109); in particular, they couch this behavior in a social space redolent with “power, justice, and prosocial” perspectives (p. 108). The accused may engage in various types of management tactics, including excuses and justifications and apologies (as defensive) and intimidation (as offensive) (Gundlach, Douglas, & Martinko, Jan. 2003, p. 110). Whistleblowing may be seen as an exercise in power and “voice,” which may explain a sense that “older employees with greater tenure at a higher level are more likely to have the commitment and power to employ voice rather than exist mechanisms” (Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005, p. 285).

The social sense may be seen in terms of persons with competing and cooperating roles and interests:

Whistleblowing poses ethical dilemmas for both the employee and the employer. For the employee, there are questions of motive, fairness, loyalty, cooperativeness, and moral obligation, among others (Elliston, 1982a; Elliston, 1982b; Jensen, 1987; Loeb and Cory, 1989). But whistleblowing is also a difficult ethical issue for employers. They must ensure that the rights of all employees are protected, including those who may be charged with wrongdoing by whistleblowers. They must ensure that the work environment does not degenerate into an atmosphere of mistrust. (Barnett, Cochran, & Taylor, Feb. 1993, p. 128)

The social aspect may also be seen in close-in studies of how people make decisions about whether or not to whistleblow in a social context, including whether “the wrongdoer is aware that the potential whistleblower has knowledge of the fraud” and “when others in addition to the wrongdoer are not aware of the fraud” (Robinson, Robertson, & Curtis, 2012, p. 213). What others know and think affect a person’s decision making.

Characteristics of issues may come with “moral intensity” and affect ethical decision making. This concept include six components: “social consensus” about the goodness or evilness of the act, “proximity” to the people affected by the act, “magnitude of consequences” or the harms or benefits from the act, “concentration of effect” or the magnitude of the effects on people, the “probability of effect” (the likelihood of a forthcoming follow-on event and its potential harm or benefit, and “temporal immediacy” (defined as “the length of time between the present and the onset of consequences of the act” (Jones, 1991, as cited in Bowes-Sperry & Powell, 1999, p. 780). The higher the moral intensity, the more salient the issue becomes and the more likely actions may be taken.

Another study found that while moral intensity was correlated with whistleblowing intention, “only the potential harm is positively correlated with such intention” (of the component factors making up “moral intensity”) (Chen & Lai, July 2014, p. 327).

For either condition of blowing whistles or staying silent, there are possible related “regret effects” that may be anticipated by individuals, based on affective forecasting. Based on “affect-as-information” models, people may use their feelings as if it was information for decision-making (Forgas, 2001; Schwarz & Clore, 1983, 1988, as cited in Fredin, 2011, p. 407). Some anticipated regrets may be anticipated “harm to others” or “retaliation to self,” for example (Fredin, 2011, p. 421). The moral intensity of the scenarios informed the framework of reference for the research respondents. If the focus was on low-intensity nonfinancial situations, the main focus went to the threat of retaliation to the self. In financial situations with high moral intensity, then the fear of “harm to others” was triggered along with the risks of inaction (Fredin, 2011, p. 422).

Such reportage is not costless. One study found that 90% of whistleblowers “lose their jobs or are demoted” (Chiu, 2003, pp. 65 – 66). Other whistleblowers were “blacklisted, treated as insane, and / or lost their life savings from lawsuits, their marriage or even lives” (Green & Latting, 2004, as cited in Zhang, Chiu, & Wei, 2009, p. 25). When reportage is about misconduct that is “systematic and significant,” retaliation tends to be “most certain and severe” (Rothschild & Miethe, 1999, as cited in Chiu, 2003, p. 66). In a later work, another team found that “blowing the whistle on serious transgressions or those that frequently occur in the organization, are more likely to be met with retaliation, than are infrequent or less severe wrongdoings…” (Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005, p. 288). Going broadly public with whistleblower complaints can incur “considerable loss of company resources,” based on “negative company image, poor business relationships, and disrupted work routines (Laczniak & Murphy, 1991; Miceli & Near, 1994; Vanderkerckhove, 2006, as cited in Zhang, Chiu, & Wei, 2009, p. 26).

While “wrongdoing” is negative by definition, reportage on it is “not an unqualified good” unless there is knowledge about how to follow on with other endeavors to improve the status quo and to right wrongs (Near & Miceli, July 1995, p. 679). How the work is done matters. Whistleblowing is not a priori “always morally right (a good act) or morally wrong (a bad act),” and this sense is especially sharp between various cultures (O’Sullivan & Ngau, Oct. 2014, p. 401).

Across the literature, the act of whistleblowing is often “high-risk low-personal-reward,” with a high percentage of whistleblowers experiencing blacklisting, defamation, reprisals and retribution, workplace demotions and termination, social hostility and ostracism, high legal costs, threats of violence, actual personal harm, and worse, including deaths. People do not challenge power or the status quo with impunity, in many (all?) parts of the world.

Whistleblowing, however, is seen as critical for organizations to be aware of wrongdoing in order to maintain high professional standards (such as rigor in healthcare systems, security in engineering, preservation of shareholder value in corporations, and others) and run with efficiency. Hierarchical organizations require information from their subordinate agents to help them provide oversight; in this context, “whistleblowing or fire alarms” enable the smoother transmission of information (Beim, Hirsch, & Kastellec, 2014, p. 904). Likewise, societies benefit from effective private and public sectors, with resulting policies to encourage responsible whistleblowing. Whistleblowers who anticipate a fair and just organizational process (“organizational whistleblowing procedures, outcomes, and related exchanges with superiors” and “procedural justice, distributive justice, and interactional justice”) may be more willing to engage (Seifert, Sweeney, Joireman, & Thornton, 2010, p. 707). In other words, employees have to trust the social interactions, the processes and outcomes. The importance of perceived fairness has been echoed in an earlier work on whistleblowing (Singer, Mitchell, & Turner, 1998, p. 538).

Researchers vary on how prevalent misdeeds are in respective verticals. “Unethical behavior in research” is considered fairly prevalent (Mecca, et al., 2014, p. 159). In some contexts, business enterprises are seen as generally “honest and ethical” (Chiu, 2003, p. 65); in others, a global survey found widespread “corporate fraud,” with “one in three organizations, both worldwide and in the United States, had experienced fraud in the previous 24 months, prevalently in the form of asset misappropriation, cybercrime, corruption, and procurement and accounting fraud” (Butler, Serra, & Spagnolo, 2019, p. 1) and “organizational wrongdoing…wide spread throughout the whole business world” (Nayir & Herzig, 2012, p. 197). Another team writes: “Law-breaking activities within firms are widespread but difficult to uncover, making whistleblowing by employees desirable” (Butler, Serra, & Spagnolo, 2019, p. 1). It is thought that there is under-reporting of wrongdoing in the various contexts, particularly about “corruption, as a form of ‘victimless’ white-collar crime” (Gorta & Forell, 1995, p. 335).

Some researchers turn to common mass media journalistic accounts of “illegal, fraudulent, or unethical behavior” “almost on a daily basis” as an indicator of how commonplace such actions are (Keenan, Mar. 2002, p. 17). In the research realm, unethical behavior may be seen in rising retraction rates of published works (Mecca, et al., 2014, p. 160). Information technology projects may suffer failure based on non-reportage (Park & Keil, 2009, p. 901), so it is important for learners to train into “bad news reporting” instead of indulging in “organizational silence.” In education, there is a need to be aware of efforts towards maintaining educational standards (Vinten, 1999).

Research into faculty member viewpoints about whistleblowing found some disturbing results. In a text analysis, some common themes were (in descending order): “get worse,” “none of your business,” “none of my business,” “repercussions,” “fiasco,” and others. There are some themes that may be perceived as more positive (in descending order), such as “go on,” “can’t ignore,” “handle it,” “legal,” “intervene,” “responsibility,” and “consequence.” (Mecca, et al., 2014, p. 167)

While it is the stated professional responsibility of many to report on wrongdoing, “non-reporting observation” (Cassematis & Wortley, 2013, p. 615) is not unusual. There are Stanley Milgram’s (1973) observed “perils of obedience.” If various unethical behaviors are fairly widespread, there seems to be severe underreporting. In various workplace and other social contexts, there are “norms against peer reporting” (King & Hermodson, 2009, p. 311). Others suggest that whistleblowing is becoming “increasingly prevalent” in terms of issues of organizational wrongdoing (Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005, p. 277). An earlier work suggests that “consumerist attitudes” of employees will lead to more reporting of wrongdoing (Ewing, 1983, as cited in Near & Miceli, July 1995, p. 703).

Some ways to “police” professions involves training people to be ethically sensitive and full of character. There are individuals assigned to guard against employee misdeeds, in various offices. There are policies set up in organizations to incentivize responsible whistleblowing internally. Professional ethics, moral reasoning, and reportage of wrongdoing are built into some curricula, such as for auditing class in accounting (Liyanarachchi & Newdick, 2008).

There are external motivations as well, such as the offering of moneys by regulatory agencies to those who would report the wrongdoing they see. Some approaches include providing financial incentives to whistle-blow (beyond covering lost wages and benefits and lost jobs) (Callahan & Dworkin, 1992), raising questions of whether financial rewards may shift motivations from intrinsic ones to extrinsic. Certainly, some whistleblowing investigations—such as for the Securities and Exchange Commission—may involve high levels of professional sophistication and even years of work to be effective; such endeavors can be highly expensive to the whistleblowing team (Melloy & Rooney, Aug. 15, 2019) and potentially quite risky.

Creating organizational policies for whistleblowing that properly balances the various considerations requires setting financial rewards at a rate that does not turn “heroes to greedy snitches” (Butler, Serra, & Spagnolo, 2019, p. 2). The activation of people to blow whistles on wrongdoing enables a kind of “human sensor network” to better understand organizational (and societal) functioning and work towards prosocial outcomes. Here each person can provide a kind of surveillance (close observation) of the organization’s functioning in order to raise accountability. The prosocial argument suggests that whistleblowing “is not an act of pure altruism” but rather is “both selfish (egoistic) and unselfish (altruistic)” in terms of the actor (Dozier & Miceli, Oct. 1985, p. 823). Whistleblowing external to an organization can “have serious consequences both for the whistleblower and the company involved” (Barnett, Dec. 1992, p. 949). Another study found that those who “utilize an external reporting channel are more likely to be retaliated against” (Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005, p. 288). There is mixed research on how much of a motivation monetary rewards are on whistleblowing (Miceli & Near, Aug. 1994, p. 71).

Concomitant with the incentives are many laws and policies which somewhat constrain what may be legally done in the work of whistle-blowing. In some ways, whistle-blowing may be a mere filing of a report, with the rest of the responsibility for investigation going to professionals; in other ways, it may require some ongoing work for helping to build a case because there is not a formal structure for enabling such reportage.

Workplaces strive to enable problem-solving within the workplace without spillage to external measures. For example, a complaint about a supervisor may go to an ombudsman to “circumvent the chain of command” (Miceli & Near, Aug. 1994, p. 68). Anonymous “alternate reporting mechanisms” may be used to capture employee feedback, or arbitration systems may be used to arrive at resolution (Miceli & Near, Aug. 1994, p. 69). The balance in creating policies for promoting whistleblowing to benefit from transparency requires discouraging “the ‘gadfly’ who threatens to file complaints when no reasonable basis exists and who is disruptive in attempting to assert or challenge authority indiscriminately” (Miceli & Near, Aug. 1994, p. 65). There are practical aspects where tilting at windmills or going after imaginary issues makes no sense, and in cases of real issues, if corrective action is not possible, some may decide to remain in silence. Others may take principled stands to try to correct systems and empower them to improved oversight. Ethical cultures may be shaped for desirable whistleblowing outcomes, to enable corrective actions (Kaptein, 2011, p. 513). A general concept is if there is a way to release tensions and resolve issues within the organization, there is a lessened sense of need for external whistleblowing. Most who report wrongdoing start internally (Miceli & Near, 1992, 2002, as cited in Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005, p. 278).

What does whistleblowing generally involve, as a sequence? A basic version is offered in Figure 1. In a sense, whistleblowing is one from among a range of options. If people take on this role to head off a potential undesirable future, there are projections made about that.



A Generic Whistleblowing Scenario Sequence
This diagram suggests various options for whistleblowing.

Figure 1A Generic Whistleblowing Scenario Sequence


In many cases, the public itself may not be aware of such whistleblower reports because organizational policies require that such issues be kept closely held. In some cases, the events may leak, often along with audio or video evidence, given the openness of a free press and open social media. In many ways, taking issues to the court of public opinion is part of the zeitgeist of the age, with the wide proliferation of smart phones and recording devices…and the fomenting of human tensions with news bubbles and social media filter bubbles (which restrict the way people see the world). Going widely public does provide some leverage and a spike in short attention in some cases (and not even much attention in many others).

The advent of social media in the whistleblowing space (as social practice) is a double-edged sword. Taking a whistleblowing story public requires some level of sophistication. There is a need to simplify a story for mass consumption without changing facts. Then, a whistleblower has to know how to create attention, argue for the public interest related to the issue, self-present telegenically and charismatically, with social mass-mediated decorum, interact with others through the social media, and make a solid and compelling case. Successful engagement will also require not causing reputational harms or falling into defamation or libel. It may require various alliances and moneys. There may be avenues for legal recourses, and for those who have lost their jobs based on whistleblowing, potential “reinstatement and lost compensation” (Callahan & Dworkin, 1992, p. 273).

Research into whistleblowing has covered a range of approaches: Who are the whistleblowers? How are they motivated or demotivated? How do they differ in motivations and related actions across cultures? Across verticals? How does whistleblowing manifest in different domains? How do work places deal with whistleblowing through policies and practices? What are ways various domains have set policies to essentially encourage internal whistleblowing and to discourage external whistleblowing? How do the internal standards that organizations hold themselves to differ from either external regulatory agency standards, and then the standards of the general public?

Who are the whistleblowers?

There is not apparently a particular predictable pattern of a whistleblower or even particular characteristics that may indicate a whistleblower-in-the-making. [If “whistleblowers” can be compared to those who break loyalties through “espionage,” then perhaps the “MICE” construct about people’s motivations may apply; the “MICE” acronym represents “money, ideology, compromise, and ego”. This is not a conflation made here between “whistleblowing” and “espionage,” but there is overlap in some cases, with the first act used as cover for the second, and the second used as a way to discredit the first. The idea of whistleblowing as showing disloyalty to an organization is implied when associated with a “loyalty component” to the workplace (Somers & Casal, Sept. 1994, pp. 270 – 271), for example.] A whistleblower has been referred to, generically, as a “loyal heretic” in multiple works (Ray, 2006, p. 441).

Being in possession of “convincing evidence of (serious) wrongdoing” and being directly affected by that wrongdoing was seen as important elements in whistleblowing (Miceli & Near, 1985, p. 525). The individual’s sense of “locus of control” (their sense of power over their own lives) is a mediating factor to the reportage of wrongdoing (Chiu, 2003, p. 65). A later work found that the individual’s sense of self-efficacy is also a factor in the internal whistleblowing decision (MacNab & Worthley, 2007, p. 407).

Besides predictivity of who may become whistleblowers in particular contexts, researchers have created typographies of conceptual types of whistleblowers based on psychological factors and levels of commitment to the organization (namely “indifferent, rebel, mature, and spoil”) (Chen & Lai, July 2014, p. 327).

In terms of the gender of whistleblowers, the research is mixed, with some studies showing one or the other as more likely to report wrongdoing (Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005; Keil, et al., 2010, Seiferet, et al., 2010; Miethe, 1999, as cited in Miceli, Near, Rehg, & Scotter, 2012, p. 945).

Cross-cultural studies

Culture-based studies around whistleblowing have shown different cultural attitudes (based on different philosophies, values, orientations towards society and others, and differing contexts) towards whistleblowing and different rates (Chiu, 2003, p. 70). For example, American managers were found to be more likely to whistleblow than their Chinese counterparts, even though both experienced similar levels of fear of retaliation (Keenan, 2007, p. 92).

A study of university students from S. Korea, Turkey, and the U.K. found preferences for “formal, anonymous, and internal modes of whistleblowing” but even fine-grained differences among these preferences (Park, Blenkinsopp, Oktem, & Omurgonulsen, 2008, p. 929). Some research in this space has involved the uses of scenarios and the interpretation of those scenarios (Gorta & Forell, 1995), for more detailed understandings. The co-researchers observed: “It is important to be aware that just because some public sector employees did not label a behaviour as corrupt, does not mean that they believed the activity to be desirable…For each of the twelve scenarios, those who considered the behaviour to be corrupt also considered it, on average, to be more undesirable, more harmful and less justified than did those who considered that the behaviour was not corrupt” (Gorta & Forell, 1995, p. 329).

Research in a different socio-cultural context suggests that “younger and less experienced respondents tended to have higher potential to blow the whistle if the cause is just; it is not so of older counterparts” who are seen as more conservative (Zhang, Chiu, & Wei, 2009, pp. 35 – 36). There are assertions of differences between individualistic vs. collectivistic cultures, with the idea that the first tends to be more supportive of whistleblowing than the latter (Zhang, Chiu, & Wei, 2009, p. 38).

While much of the literature posits a “whistleblowing/silence dichotomy,” others note that there are other alternatives to address issues of potential wrongdoing (Teo & Caspersz,. 2011, p. 237), and more should be studied in terms of alternatives. There are “hidden, everyday forms of regulation within work groups” that may broaden the research on how wrongdoing may be effectively addressed (Teo & Caspersz,.2011, p. 247).

External whistleblowing

Larger organizations tend to be associated with “higher levels of whistleblowing” to external agencies on issues like workplace safety and equal employment opportunities to regulatory agencies…and unionized companies also experience more “external whistleblowing” (Barnett, Dec. 1992, pp. 956-957). External whistleblowing is affected by organizational factors (particularly “supervisor support and informal policies which support external whistleblowing behavior”) as well as “intrapersonal characteristics” (“gender” and “personal ideal values”) of whistleblowers (Sims & Keenan, 1998, p. 418). Interestingly, “formal policies which support external whistleblowing behavior were not found to be a significant predictor of external whistleblowing” (Sims & Keenan, 1998, p. 417). The more “extreme and recurring the wrongdoing, the more likely than the whistle-blower will inform authorities outside the organization” (Miceli & Near, 1985, p. 540).

Whistleblowing may be understood as actions to defend primary goals, such as “ensuring life against violence, ensuring that promises once made are kept, and ensuring the possession of things” (Bull, 1977, as cited in Fritzsche, Nov. 1995, pp. 3 – 4). Values may be instrumental ones (as a means to an end) or terminal ones (such as intrinsically desirable end states), what people strive towards. Those with various values may have positive or negative associations with whistleblowing (positive association: “independent,” “a world at peace,” “polite,” and others; and negative association: “an exciting life,” “freedom,” “logical,” “salvation,” “equality,” and “cheerful”); ultimately, the researcher found that there was no support or limited support for the hypotheses (Barnett, Cochran, & Taylor, Feb. 1993, p. 128). In terms of whistleblower “judgments and intensions,” some moral intensity components were more critical than others, with some nuanced results (Henik, 2005, p. 20). The “potential harm” factor was consistently predictive of intended follow-on whistleblowing behaviors (Henik, 2005, p. 22).

Workplaces are conceptualized as those that should be free from sexual harassment, and “social-sexual behavior at work” are transgressive. A study of such behaviors found that “both the moral intensity of the behavior and the ethical ideology of the observer on recognition of the behavior as an ethical issue and intentions to intervene in the behavior” were important factors in combatting sexualized work environments (Bowes-Sperry & Powell, 1999, p. 779). The moral intensity aspects in this research are conceptualized as “social consensus, magnitude of consequences, and proximity”) (Bowes-Sperry & Powell, 1999, p. 781), with impacts on the ethical decision making process by the first two variables but not the third (proximity) (p. 795).

Workplace policies and practices

If “fraud involves concealment” and communication enables openness, increased “upstream” communication may reduce fraud (Hooks, Kaplan, Schultz, & Ponemon, Fall 1994, p. 86). Other features of the organization, its internal controls, its leadership and management ethical attitudes may affect fraud levels within (Hooks, Kaplan, Schultz, & Ponemon, Fall 1994, p. 88). Toleration of wrongdoing “has negative effects for the organization itself” but further “correcting wrongdoing may be nearly as positive as preventing it” (Miceli, Near, Rehg, & Scotter, 2012, p. 923).

Ethical leadership is seen to have effects on others’ whistleblowing behavior in a positive way (Bhal & Dadhich, 2011). Open communications channels are also important for an organization to elicit the perceptions of the employees (Gundlach, Martinko, & Douglas, Autumn, 2008, p. 46). If positive mood affects prosocial behaviors, does such a mood affect whistleblowing intention? Co-researchers suggest that positive mood does when the individual’s sense of the organization’s ethical culture is “unethical” (Zhang, Chiu, & Wei, 2009, p. 630).

Intention to actions?

Factors found to affect whistleblowing intentions may not spill over to actual actions. Intentions may be experienced, but these may not translate to actual communications with regulators or trusted administrators. In the meta-analysis, the co-researchers found the following: …”that ethical judgment, approval of whistleblowing, and a perception that blowing the whistle is in one’s best interests were related to whistleblowing intent but not to actual whistleblowing” (Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005, p. 289).

The individual and the organization…and whistleblowing

One study suggests that the organizational structure (“centralized, matrix, horizontal, hybrid, and divisional”) may affect whistleblowing (King, 1999, p. 315). For example, organizations with too many “structural levels within the hierarchy” may inadvertently encourage external reporting over internal (King, 1999, p. 324).

Are there “reformers” who are more willing to whistleblow to make changes vs. “organizational” persons who are too ingrained and loyal to report wrongdoing? In terms of a relationship between “organizational commitment and whistleblower,” some empirical data suggest that it is a curvilinear one, as an inverted U, or that “relatively high and relatively low levels of commitment inhibit whistle-blowing, whereas moderate levels lead to an increased propensity to report wrongdoing” (Somers & Casal, Sept. 1994, p. 281). The level of organizational commitment is related to the individual’s “socialization” into the organization (Somers & Casal, Sept. 1994, pp. 271 – 272) and is thought to affect acculturated employee worldviews. Or, perhaps if corruption is rampant, those who are participants or near it may become inured to it, and it becomes invisible. A later study suggests that “organizational commitment does not appear to be related to either whistleblowing intentions or actual whistleblowing” (Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005, p. 286).

In a sense, the default setting is to remain “inactive observers” (or “silent” or “non-reporter” observers) for many, because it is the path of least resistance. The “doing nothing” expectation is an observed “standard or norm which authorities expect from members and by which discontented members are judged” (Kolarska & Aldrich, 1980, as cited in Miceli & Near, 1985, p. 538). Research shows “that most employees who believe they have observed wrongdoing in their organizations do not report it to parties who can take corrective action” (Brown, 2 008; Mazerolle & Cassimatis, 2009; Miceli & Near, 1992; Miceli, et al., 2008; Miethe, 1999, as cited in Miceli, Near, Rehg, & Scotter, 2012, p. 924). In a study of Australian public sector employees, based on individual and situational predictors, to differentiate between whistleblowers and non-reporter observers, the co-researchers did not find a difference. The co-researchers suggest that a whistleblower is likely to be an “ordinary employee making a good faith attempt to stop what they perceived to be a serious wrongdoing that was initially identified through personal victimisation” (Cassematis & Wortley, 2013, p. 615).

Research into potential cultural precursors of whistleblowing vs. silent observing is particularly relevant given the potential high impacts of wrongdoing in “multi-national enterprises” (Park, Blenkinsopp, Oktem, & Omurgonulsen, 2008, p. 938). Some organizations have interest in identifying potential whistle-blowers during the recruitment and hiring process. One research has found that there is “no path-dependent course toward whistle-blowing or inactive observation exists, nor does an a priori profile of whistle-blowers whom organizations can attempt to screen out during recruitment” (Henik, 2015, p. 442). While people may have stereotypes of who will whistleblow, those impressions are not backed up by empirical research.

Professional hierarchy may play a role for within-organization whistleblowing. One researcher observes:

Individual and organizational propensity for whistleblowing is higher for upper-level followed by middle-level and then first-level managers. Similarly, upper-level managers are more likely to blow the whistle on serious, minor, and harm to others forms of wrongdoing, followed by middle-level and then first-level managers. As expected, fear of retaliation is stronger for first-level, then middle-level and upper-level managers. A significant difference exists between managerial levels on supportive communication climate, with greater perceived supportiveness for first-level, followed by middle-level and then upper-level managers. Lastly, no apparent difference exists between managerial levels with respect to moral perception variables. (Keenan, Mar. 2002, p. 25)

Newcomers to organizations were found to be “less likely to report a wrongdoing” based on a “fear of being incorrect” (Near & Miceli, 1985, as cited in King & Hermodson, 2009, p. 320) and lack of knowledge with “proper disclosure channels within the organization” (Barnett, Cochran, & Taylor, 1993; Stewart, 1990, as cited in King & Hermodson, 2009, p. 320). Those who whistleblow externally tend to be those who “have less tenure with the organization than internal whistleblowers” (Dworkin & Baucus, 1998, as cited in Chiu, 2003, p. 66). External whistleblowing is not seen as career-enhancing or risk-free, so there are preferences for anonymous ways to share information (Nayir & Herzig, 2012, p. 208).

The respective cultures of organizations may affect whistleblowing behavior. Seven dimensions of organizational culture have been identified, including the following: “1) vigilance, 2) engagement, 3) credibility, 4) accountability, 5) empowerment, 6) courage, and 7) options” (Berry, 2004, p. 1). These dimensions may be used to inform policies and practices for desired outcomes.

Individuals registering higher on Machiavellianism tend to be “less likely to report wrongdoing” (Dalton & Radtke, 2013, p. 153). This psychological tendency is not wholly determinative, however. The researchers found that “a strong ethical environment, relative to a weak ethical environment, increases whistle-blowing intentions incrementally more for individuals who are higher in Machiavellianism” (Dalton & Radtke, 2013, p. 153). Persons who tend to be “proactive” are associated with whistleblowing and “positive outcomes” like increased sales (Crant, 1995, as cited in Miceli, Near, Rehg, & Scotter, 2012, p. 947).

In terms of reporting peers for wrongdoing, a variety of factors of the observer, the situation, and the organization affected the decision making in a healthcare context (King & Hermodson, 2009, p. 309). Risks of wrongdoing in a healthcare environment include “negligence, abuse or danger” (Ray, 2006, p. 438), among others. In this context, having the support of “an interdependent moral community to address ethical concerns” in an organization may be constructive (Ray, 2006, p. 438).

While emplaced workplace policies may share similarities, not all agree that whistleblowing policies are a net positive. There is the sense that workplace policies may increase responsibilities and risks for employees by making them “liable for ethics at work” (Tsahuridu & Vandekerckhove, 2008, p. 107) and “fails to safeguard the integration of organisation and society, the integration of the economic and social concerns” (Tsahuridu & Vandekerckhove, 2008, p. 115). Some whistleblowing policies involve both a “carrot” and a “stick”, with money offered for important information but also the punishment of “sanctions” for not speaking up (Callahan & Dworkin, 1992, p. 331). Another work suggests that policies “hide the obvious fact that whether to blow the whistle is indeed a choice, not a matter of objective duty” (Bouville, 2007, p. 579). [Some government positions in national security and intelligence require oath-based compellence to whistleblow in the face of observed wrongdoing.] Finally, policies “on the books may be loosely coupled with what the organization actually does” (Martin, 2000, as cited in Miceli, Near, Rehg, & Scotter, 2012, p. 928).

Blowing Whistles Privately and Publicly on Small-to-Mass Scales on Social Media

In this present moment, “whistleblowing” is an activity du jour, with plenty of global attention and professions of truth and virtue, and responding acclaim in some quarters. Social media are harnessed for this outreach, with one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, and many-to-many types of communications and intercommunications. The narrowcast outreaches include the uses of email, microblogging (to private accounts), direct calls, and others. The broadcast outreaches include the uses of social networking sites, microblogging publicly, broadscale email campaigns, and others. Generally, the messaging may be strategic and targeted to others who may share similar ideologies and / or interests. In other cases, the idea is that the audiences are so big that certainly other like-minded individuals will come forth and contribute messaging or resources.

In some cases, where an issue is resonant (and an audience “read-in” to the issue and receptive), one whistleblower is joined by others. In other cases, a whistleblower stands alone. In some cases, they remain anonymous; in others, they are revealed to the public. Where there is a confluence of interests, and alignments with public meta-narratives, such actions are acclamations of speaking truth to power. There are temporary strategic and tactical alignments to support particular issues. In other cases, there is insufficient understanding of an issue (a lack of base knowledge), a lack of sense of relevance of the issue, and resulting apathy and non-response. Or there may be those who disagree with the individual’s stance, and among this group, there may be some who are sufficiently inspired to disagree loudly or even take other actions (including violence).

In terms of going broadly public, in some cases, an individual may be sharing privy information that may be used in unintended ways by others, including potentially harmful ones. For example, a disgruntled employee may be sufficiently vulnerable to a stranger’s commiseration and may compromise themselves or the company by sharing private closely-held information (protected under non-disclosure agreements or “NDAs”) or by complaining about other staff, who may then be compromised or engaging in some harmful shenanigan or even sabotage against the company. Those who go public open themselves up to a wide number of opportunists of all stripes.

Many workplaces have policies for internal whistleblowing in order to head off various problems as soon as possible. There are defined paths for recognizing unethical behavior (noncompliance with policies), and these are found to partially inform the decision to whistleblow or not (King & Hermodson, 2009, p. 309). Whistleblowers may choose to escalate beyond the organization or workplace and into the profession, to law enforcement, to society, and the world (Figure 2). For some, instead of escalating in a step-by-step method, they may bypass other whistleblower bureaucratic structures altogether and go straight to the broad public, straight from an internal environment to an external and broadscale one. For some, they may find the issue sufficiently familiar to a broad audience and some timely alignment with the present. Perhaps they see the publicity as positive to advancing the issue, to promoting their public identity, to recruiting followers, and to raising social funding and resource donations. In many cases, renown may be converted into cash or other material and non-material resources. The “social whistleblower” phenomenon has emerged in an age of elicited leaks, with many who have created a meta-narrative of the benefits of grievance-seeking and the relief of that grievance by leaking privy data. This is the value proposition of some leak site that promise that a portion of the world’s attention may be applied to the grievance or “telling on” others—as both catharsis (relief of the tension) and reinforcement (affirmation, the potential of enacting some revenge). In some cases, government agencies have set up such “storefronts” in order to identify criminal behaviors and conduct counter-intelligence. [A common colloquial sense of this is the question, “Who wants to know?”] Another challenge to this model is that understanding the minutiae of a particular grievance requires local and contextualized and specialized knowledge. The general sense of “Google-knowing” (the ability to find information via the Google Search engine) as a “digital human” in the modern “digital form of life” has severe limits and stands in for actual knowledge (Lynch, 2016, pp. 21 – 40). The value proposition behind the leak model is about being self-righteous on a particular issue, with a concept in the mind of the leaker about what is being achieved vs. that of the site owner vs. that of the general public (and specific publics therein). In general, however, the centripetal forces pulling towards the center are fairly powerful, and there has to be a lot of centrifugal effort and will to push out past escape velocity to the peripheral rings (to the broad publics) through the concentric circles. On a small scale, a whistleblower may use social media to reach out to another, in privacy; on a large scale, a whistleblower may go one-to-many…to try to attain as much attention as possible.


Escalating ‘Whistleblowing’ Reportage Beyond the Organization to the World (via formal and informal channels)
This diagram of concentric circles shows an escalation of whistleblowing from a core center and outwards towards the world.

Figure 2: Escalating ‘Whistleblowing’ Reportage Beyond the Organization to the World (via formal and informal channels)


Various aspects of social media shed light on the sense of whistleblowing. For example, in Google Scholar (an index of academic publications), the autocomplete for the search term <whistleblowing> includes the following (in descending order): “whistleblowing…cases, in nursing, ethics, in organizations, in healthcare, policy, law, nhs, system, protection.” When the search term “whistleblowing” is in quotation marks in Google Scholar, the autocomplete includes the following: “decision tree, decision, cases, in nursing, ethics, in organizations, in healthcare, policy, law, nhs.”

In the general Google text search, the autocomplete includes the following: “definition, policy, law, meaning, cases, examples, in nursing, cases in the healthcare field, protection.” When “whistleblowing” is placed in quotation marks in the search box for Google Search, the autocomplete includes the following: “definition, policy, law, meaning, cases, examples, in nursing, cases in the healthcare field, protection, in business.”

On the English Wikipedia, a global scale crowd-sourced encyclopedia on the Web, the “whistleblower” article is outlinked to a number of other Wikipedia articles related to locations, government organizations, individuals, historical events, and related technologies. This article-article visualization shows something of the word sense of “whistleblower.” (Figure 3)


“Whistleblower” Article-Article Network on Wikipedia (1 deg.)
This article-article network graph shows outlinks from the “Whistleblower” article in Wikipedia to other article pages in Wikipedia (on the Mediawiki platform).

Figure 3: “Whistleblower” Article-Article Network on Wikipedia (1 deg.)


On the Flickr social image sharing site, the related tags network to “whistleblower” is almost singularly about a whistleblower on a train, whose job is to warn of approach. The tags in all three interrelated groups are suggestive of something of “conscience” (Figure 4).


“Whistleblower” Related Tags Network on Flickr (1.5 deg.)
This visual shows a related tags network at 1.5 degrees to “whistleblower” on the Flickr social image sharing site.

Figure 4: “Whistleblower” Related Tags Network on Flickr (1.5 deg.)


In many cases, various elements militate against whistleblowing:

  • social pressures
  • official policies
  • legal costs
  • time costs
  • incomplete information
  • historical cautionary tales
  • a lack of knowhow
  • the sense of risk and anticipated regret, and other factors

based on the research literature. In a collection of 1,348 social images from “Google Images” in a search of “whistleblower,” some insights may be captured about a public sensibility of this phenomenon. (Figure 5) At a meta level, auto-created tags (used as filters) that came with this set of imagery include the following:

cartoon, poster, protection, anonymous, rachel weisz, famous, government, retaliation, clipart, nigeria, enron, snowden, american, hotline, employee, nurse, definition, movie, wikileaks, internal, sec, business, illustration, ethics, whistleblower act, infographic, graph, facebook, workplace, osha

(The tags are in lower case per usual handling of tags.) These images are likely part of news stories, web sites, blogs, and other contextualized data contents. Here, however, they are disconnected and stand-alone. The messaging is in the visuals and the text (and the metadata).

A majority of the images show public figures engaged in various whistleblower issues of the moment, including the U.S. president under an impeachment inquiry, for example. There are images of people testifying before the U.S. Congress, over one matter or another. There are photos of famous and infamous whistleblowers, such as a young former member of the intel community who had absconded abroad with reams of secret data from the U.S. National Security Agency. (His name is synonymous with data leakage and traitorous behavior.) There are book covers directly or peripherally about this topic; one is a how-to handbook, and one is a survival guide. One is a movie poster with a subplot about whistleblowing. One is a sunburst diagram showing the percentage of various types of whistleblower complaints filed with a particular government office.

Several informational graphics describe various reward programs for whistleblowing. Various drawings read: “I support whistle blowers,” “protect whistle blowers,” “blow the whistle,” and “speak up,” alongside drawings of whistles. Another is a word cloud focused around the topic of whistleblowing. One image shows a person underneath a giant gavel with a dollar sign on it. Faces in silhouette suggest something of personal anonymity. In this social imagery set, the “organizational man” (the silent or non-reporter observer) is not a hero. Earlier research suggests that “attitudes toward it continue to be at the very least ambivalent, with many whistleblowers experiencing highly negative responses to their actions” (Alford, 2001, as cited in Park, Blenkinsopp, Oktem, & Omurgonulsen, 2008, p. 929).


“Whistleblower” Social Imagery on Google Images
This screenshot shows thumbnails of social images shared with the tag “whistleblower” on Google Images.

Figure 5: “Whistleblower” Social Imagery on Google Images

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United Kingdom
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Table 1: Correlating Search Terms for “Whistleblower” Searches Based on Weekly Time Patterns for Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and the United States


In Table 1, the searches for “whistleblower” was explored for Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, all on the same day. Based on mass search data (on Google Search) and weekly time patterns, the associations among these co-occurring search terms vary widely, according to Google Correlate. At minimum, these differences suggest different ideations related to “whistleblowing.”

So what do these details from prior academic research and social media imagery and mass search data suggest about decision-making for whistleblowing, including taking an issue broadly public via social media? If there is required due diligence, what are some of the issues that might need to be considered? Figure 6 offers some early ideas in this “social whistleblowing” space.


Going Public with Social Whistleblowing (a preliminary decision tree)
This diagram shows a decision tree for whistleblowing.

Figure 6: Going Public with Social Whistleblowing (a preliminary decision tree)


In this “decision tree,” a person considers the objectives of the whistleblowing, identifies target populations, forms a plan, acts, engages in social sharing, assesses the progress, re-plans, and re-acts in a general cycle. Similarly to “high need-for-cognition individuals in ethical decision making,” that were found to require “a greater utilization of issue-relevant information” (Singer, Mitchell, & Turner, 1998, p. 527), perhaps such individuals engage in due diligence and ensure that their position of calling out wrongdoing publicly is defensible. This work suggests forethought to the actions vs. an impulse-driven leak. This suggests consideration of first-, second-, and third-order effects. The idea is that making a decision to go public is a crossing of a Rubicon, with no take-backs and no returns to the antecedent state.

In the real, there are many other additional factors, including reading a public into a situation to explain the wrongdoing. After all, the general public is not necessarily educated about the work of particular whistleblowers and may need the logical “dots” to be connected for them. Persons must be comfortable in public space with a public persona, and they have to be able to make proper decisions in that space and under that scrutiny. They have to be able to withstand public attacks. They have to earn and maintain a public trust. This sequence may seem excessively detailed, with most whistleblowers not checking so many boxes, before taking action. For others, this may seem like a fairly coarse decision tree, with many finer details left out. The breaking of any one of the prerequisites may end the whistleblowing. Projections of others’ interests and / or participation may not materialize.

How to whistleblow effectively requires knowledge about how to do so effectively. Capturing mass and/or social media attention alone may not bring about the necessary changes (Near & Miceli, July 1995, p. 679). For example, dissents may “increase the likelihood of discretionary review, but review is far from guaranteed” in the U.S. judicial system (Beim, Hirsch, & Kastellec, 2014, p. 916). Others observe that “first reports of unethical or illegal activities are often ineffective” (Van Scotter, et al., 2005, as cited in Taylor & Curtis, 2010, p. 22). To be effective, there has to be “persistence in reporting” (Taylor & Curtis, 2010, p. 23), given its importance for ultimate success.

“Effective whistleblowing” involves “the extent to which the questionable or wrongful practice (or omission) is terminated at least partly because of whistle-blowing and within a reasonable time frame” (Near & Miceli, 1995, p. 681, as cited in Near & Miceli, Sept. 2008, p. 267), and this issue goes beyond the resolution of the local issue that may have triggered the report of wrongdoing. To ensure “wrongdoing cessation” will require more than the initial attention-getting (Near & Miceli, July 1995, p. 680). Often, going public is seen as leverage to apply pressure on the leadership of organizations to make particular changes, or to encourage a regulatory agency to take actions. Taking an issue external to the workplace or organization adds more complexity, with the whistleblower having to have a “legal basis for the complaint” (Near & Miceli, July 1995, p. 683). The characteristics of the whistleblower are a key focal point because who they are affects their sense of “credibility” and “power” to speak on the issue and will affect how public pressure incentivizes changes within the organization (Near & Miceli, July 1995, p. 682). Objectively measuring the efficacy of whistleblowing has been challenging to researchers, who need to rely on “existing legal data…or innovative approaches to the use of multiple informants for each case” potentially to support their work (Near & Miceli, July 1995, p. 704). Viewed this way, taking on whistleblowing for abstract concepts like “the right side of history” and “values” may seem somewhat flimsy.

An early “barebones” fishbone diagram is drawn to indicate some of the factors that may support “social whistleblowing” (Figure 7) and elaboration follows (Table 2).


Whistleblowing to a Broad Public through Social Media or Not (a barebones fishbone diagram)
This visual shows factors that may promote social whistleblowing (in a barebones fishbone diagram).

Figure 6: Whistleblowing to a Broad Public through Social Media or Not (a barebones fishbone diagram)


For Going Broadly Public

Against Going Broadly Public

No internal options for reportage

Running out of options for reportage and no satisfactory resolution

Audience of the global public

Potential allies

Issue relevance to the public

Social identity/reputation-making for the whistleblower

Ability to attract and make money

Ability to make change

Protections and control against blowback

Low levels of risk

Low costs

Shielding against some of the potential harms

Internal options for reportage

Options for reportage

Satisfactory resolution

Sufficient audience

Issue not particularly relevant to the public

No personal ego motivation

No direct financial motivation

No path to make change

High levels of risk

High risks for costs

Lack of protections against potential harms

Table 2: Pros and Cons For and Against Going Broadly Public with the Whistleblowing

Future Research Directions 

If a whistleblower thinks he or she has witnessed wrongdoing, how can they proceed on likely incomplete or partial information? Or can they learn more without stepping into others’ lanes or invading others’ privacy? How can they report on what they can prove vs. what they think they know? How can they avoid the “WYSIATI” (what you see is all there is) as a cognitive bias? If repercussions redound to the whistleblower, how can they mitigate the potential effects? Are there ways to advance without incurring unnecessary costs and post hoc regrets? (Is there something like the Abilene Paradox where there may be excitement to pursue a particular course of action but later unhappiness at the destination and bewilderment at taking on a particular path?)

When reporting wrong-doing, perhaps the whistleblower may have some control over the first salvo, but what follows may be beyond their control. Within an organization, perhaps the report is squelched. Or it is investigated and does not result in findings of wrongdoing? Perhaps information leaks, and others come forward, or others come forward and provide different narratives. Or an opening salvo achieved in public space…may be read as throwing out the rulebook and rejecting the existing systems that enable paths forward (to not uncharted territory but differently charted territory). In this scenario, it may be that a whistleblower tries to attain mass media interest…but may not have sufficient proof. Or the topic is not seen as sufficiently newsworthy. Certainly, acquiring formal mass media attention is challenging. How a public storyline plays out is not particularly predictable.

For would-be whistleblowers, when would it be optimal for them to go wholesale public via social media? How can they be assured that the issue that they’re engaging has public interest and public implications? How can they be assured that it is something that may affect a broad swath of the polity? How can they develop strategies and tactics even against others in the space? How can whistleblowers maintain personal security? How can they anticipate possible fallout? How can they ensure that their story has “legs” and will last over time (given the high competition for public attention)? How can they deal with counter-messaging?

Even more importantly, how can they calibrate the necessary level of blowing the whistle to control for the scope of effects and not engage in over-reach or rule-breaking or miscalculations (like libel and defamation or public offense)? With incomplete information, how can employees and ex-employees know how to proceed, with incomplete information? When does public whistle-blowing work, and to what ends, and why? What are some practical ways to understand means-ends justifications?

In some cases, posting to social media may be cathartic and deplete the impetus for the sharer. In other cases, such postings may reinforce convictions and encourage further actions. When does either catharsis or reinforcement occur, and why?


Finally, at the time of publication, there were several websites still eliciting global information for leakage, regardless of the local context or situation. This was so even as various leaders and figureheads in this movement were arrested and incarcerated. In other words, the idea of leaking information to achieve “justice” for the aggrieved still seems to have some salience to some individuals.

A number of works refer to the cultures of silence, the “mum effect,” “codes of omerta,” and other references to codes of silence. In purely rational and self-regarding considerations, people would not necessarily take on the challenges of blowing a whistle. In many ways, whistleblowers are following in an idealistic tradition, in which truth is revealed, justice is ultimately served, books are closed, and people get their due. In this universe, issues are investigated thoroughly and professionally, with all relevant leads explored. Tidy resolutions are possible. In some cases, they are right, and systems work, and some measure of justice and change occurs.

A naïve whistleblower approach might begin with the sense that one has a “story to tell” to right some wrong, to name-call, and to achieve some vengeance. The individual may believe that something subjective and idiosyncratic is actually universal and broadly relevant to the world. An egocentric point-of-view may be mistaken for full (and even “objective”) reality. Follow-on analysis might suggest that there are different points-of-view regarding the issue and perhaps a mix of motivations. Perhaps the certitude of outcomes may dissipate into complexity and a wider range of foreseeable futures. Perhaps if they step out front too soon, those others who have an interest in the issues may be able to hide some details. Or if they take too high of a profile and too big of a step, they may compromise themselves, their organization, and even their country. (A common example here is Edward Snowden.) In stepping out on the Web and Internet, people find that anything shared is broadly available, transnationally so, and many different repercussions may flow from that, with first order, second order, third order effects, and even serendipitous occurrences, come what may.



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Key Terms

Inactive Observer: An employee or other who observes wrongdoing but chooses not to report it (to anyone in authority who can investigate or address the issue)

Whistleblowing: The reporting of wrong-doing in an organization or workplace to someone in authority or others, to bring about change


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