Astroturfing to Technethics, the New Vocabulary of Ethics

Ethics bloggers and journalists spend a lot of time writing about new technology and how it impacts the world of legal ethics. All this writing has spawned a new vocabulary. 

It can get very wordy to describe something that does not have a name, particularly if you are writing a whole article on it. When new terms are coined to solve this problem, a whole new vocabulary may be born. For lawyers following the ever-changing landscape of ethics rules in the wake of new technology and social media, the new words can really be quite fun.


We have all set foot on a field of green and wondered, “Is it real? Or is it astroturf?” Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes the astroturf is so good that we actually wonder whether it’s real grass.

So too have we all read an online review that just seemed too positive to be true. We have likely also read some that were just good enough to fool us.

Hence the term for soliciting and paying for fake online reviews – astroturfing.

When the New York Attorney General’s Office decided to funnel resources into combatting fake online reviews, it dubbed the project “Operation Clean Turf.” Earlier this week it issued a press release detailing the results of the operation, including an agreement by 19 companies to cease writing fake reviews.


Ethics regulators in every jurisdiction grapple with rule making pertaining to the use of social media. As a shorthand reference to avoid repeating the full term over and over in their discussions, many have taken to using simply ESM for “electronic social media.”

“I Love Hot Moms” Case

Forget referring to “spoliation of electronic or social media evidence.” The now infamous Matthew Murray advised his client, who was a plaintiff in a wrongful death action regarding his wife’s death, to take down a Facebook post in which he was seen wearing a t-shirt that said “I Love Hot Moms.” This advice cost the lawyer and client dearly, as he was actually advising the client to destroy evidence before producing copies of his Facebook profile to the other side. The client saw his damages award reduced by half (and that means by $5 million) and was sanctioned $180,000, the attorney was ordered to pay sanctions of $542,000, and in the attorney’s disciplinary proceedings he agreed to a five-year suspension. I think we will all remember the “I Love Hot Moms” Case when a discovery request for a client’s Facebook profile comes across our desks.  See the order on sanctions in Lester v Allied Concrete 090111.

Social Media Remorse

Social Media Remorse, that terrible sinking feeling one gets after posting something on social media (mostly Facebook) and then realizing that it will likely haunt them. This is not a law-specific problem, but Findlaw recently issued its survey results on social media remorse, so it seems perfectly reasonable to include the term in this discussion. Findlaw found that 29% of social media users between the ages of 18 and 34 have posted something on social media that they now fear an employer may use to either deny them a position or fire them from one they already had. The survey also found 21% of users in this age bracket have removed a post for the same reasons. Some ethics opinions have allowed attorneys to undo their errant social media behavior, much like removing an offensive piece of attorney advertising, so perhaps “social media remorse” will be used in an upcoming ethics decision.


Perhaps the best new word to come of the evolution of ethics and technology is the simple yet effective “technethics.”  Google the term and you will find Facebook pages, seminars, articles, and service providers using it to describe some facet of the complexities of legal ethics in the digital age. So really, this is a short list of the new vocabulary of technethics.


1 Comment

  1. Avatar myshingle says:

    The term technethics is basically branding by a lecturer on the CLE circuit as a catch all for discussing ethics of social media. But the ethics of social media are no different from ethics in the real world – the same rules apply in the ethics sphere. Once we start creating categories for special use rules, we make it more difficult for lawyers to use their discretion to evaluate the rules and determine how they apply – and instead, will have them wait for the bars to issue guidance, which as I’ve blogged at MyShingle is foolhardy. As for the astro-turfing issues that arose in the Yelp case, while they do have an ethics component (because if the allegations by Yelp are true, the lawyer faces ethics consequences), astro turfing and other online conduct (such as data breach) potentially have civil consequences for lawyers which may be far more serious than the ethics part of the equation.

Leave a Reply