Rob Ford's crack video: Is it unethical to watch?

To watch or not to watch. With all the controversy surrounding the release of the video showing Rob Ford smoking crack, we asked a professor from the University of Central Florida about the ethics of that choice.

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There's a video at the top of this page. If you haven't watched it already, all you have to do is click.

Why wouldn't you?

After all, it shows a man who once held the most powerful position in Toronto smoking illegal drugs.

But the man in the video is no longer mayor and no longer with us. After a scandalous mayoralty which revealed serious problems in his personal life, Rob Ford got very sick and died young.

So the video at the top of this page shows a man, who is now dead, being secretly recorded doing something he publicly admitted to.

Why would you watch that video?

Rob Ford died last March. A video of him smoking crack while he was Toronto's mayor is now publicly available. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

It's a question Professor Jonathan Beever says people thinking about watching the Ford video should ask themselves.

Beever teaches Ethics and Digital Culture at the University of Central Florida and says the Ford video presents an increasingly common moral dilemma.

"With the internet these days it's so easy to just click a button and consume, without having done so thoughtfully," Beever told CBC News.

Beever says life is too complex to reduce every decision, such as watching a video, to a choice between ethical and unethical. Instead, people who study ethical decision-making often recommend a series of steps to guide the process.

"The first step I always think about is: can we watch the video? This is a public video. You can't defame the dead so libel and slander don't apply. So there's no sort of legal problem."

But he says that first ethical hurdle is much easier to clear than others.

Beever says it's important to think about the video's consequences, good and bad.

It's difficult to say what watching the video accomplishes now that Ford is no longer mayor and no longer alive, Beever says.

"It just feels like it's a bad thing to see this man in such bad shape and not have that knowledge do any work for you. It's not as though it matters whether we convince people that he was a good man or bad man, whether he was a good mayor or a bad mayor."

"Disgusting" video hurts family, brother says

It remains to be seen whether the video will affect other members of the Ford family politically. Michael Ford recently won a landslide byelection for his uncle Rob's former Etobicoke council seat. Doug Ford has hinted at running for public office in the future.

Doug Ford has described the public release of the video as "disgusting."

Doug Ford says the video of his brother should not have been released to the public. (David Donnelly/CBC)

"All it does is hurt Rob's family, hurts Rob's kids," Ford told CBC News.

The Ford family is something to consider, according to Prof. Beever. He says the fact that Ford died so recently and has surviving family members presents an ethical challenge.

"There's a rawness to the memory, feelings and the character of the people involved now that one ought to be aware of," Beever said.

The right to be forgotten

In Europe, individuals have successfully fought in court for the "right to be forgotten," which forces online search engines to remove links to unflattering personal material.

However, such a ruling would be difficult here, according to Andrew Iliadis, a postdoctoral fellow in Digital Media, Data, and Culture at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa.

"You can make requests to companies like Google and YouTube, but until the right to be forgotten is in the law here, as it is in Europe, companies will not take down material unless it's copyright infringement or of a sexual nature," Iliadis told CBC News.

Some of Ford's former colleagues on Toronto City Council say the video only serves to embarrass Ford and his family.

"I don't know why people want to bash Rob Ford after he passes away," Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti told CBC News.

But Scarborough Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker says there's positive value in the video showing Ford in  "a moment of weakness."

Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker doesn't object to the Rob Ford crack video being released. (CBC)

"The video shows that addictions can happen to anybody. Rob worked very hard to become mayor and in his own way he helped a lot of people. Even with the prestige of that position he was addicted to a horrible drug like so many others," he said in an interview.

Whatever decision you come to about watching the Ford video, Professor Beever says it's useful, from an ethical perspective, to test it.

He says you can ask yourself: "would I want everybody to know about the choice I made? Could I defend the choice that I've made?"

Beever says as much as we want to determine whether or not an act is firmly ethical or not, the answers will vary.

As Toronto's current mayor, John Tory, said when asked for his response to the video of the city's former mayor smoking crack:

"Those who wish to look at it I'm sure will look at it; those who don't, won't."