I don’t recall anyone I know who didn’t want a safer and healthier community and work environment—the kind of a place that is fair, devoid of bias and prejudice. However, not too often can we find everyone in synchrony committed to maintaining a healthy commune. That is either because they don’t feel responsible, have alternate motives, or are ignorant.
Every workplace sets up policies and procedures and expects everyone to observe to avoid pitfalls down the line. Then again, the intricacy comes forth when enforcing the set ordinances.
To enforce policies, we must first establish transparency, then based on that, we hold people accountable.
But how do we implement transparency?
Ideally, we can create transparency through honesty, sharing the results of our work, breaking down the barriers of communication, hiring people who uphold transparency, and finally implementing tools that support transparency.
There is another theory to establish transparency that shortcuts those mentioned earlier.
Whistleblowing: the shortcut to Transparency
When a person decides to expose information or activity within a private, public, or government organization that they believe is illegal, illicit, unsafe, wasteful, fraud, they are carrying out an action called Whistleblowing on the person or entity. Those who become whistleblowers can choose to make information or allegations transparent.
Some people believe that Whistleblowing is the key to ensuring transparency. Although there is some truth to that state of opinion, it is the shortcut to reach something that we should fundamentally establish at the grass-root; that is, the five steps we touched above.
Psychology of Whistleblowing and its historical Evolution
Reporting another person’s unethical or illegal behavior embodies an ethical dilemma. When fairness becomes valuable, the whistleblowing parallel that becomes prevalent. But on the contradictory end of the spectrum, when loyalty and allegiance within a system increase in importance, Whistleblowing, in that case, will be less inclined.
According to research, blowing the whistle rests on the tradeoff between partaker fairness and loyalty. Systematic personal, situational, and cultural factors stem from the fairness-loyalty tradeoff that drives whistleblowing. And minimizing that tradeoff and prioritizing constructive dissent can encourage Whistleblowing and strengthen collectives.
The concept of Whistleblowing dates back to 7th century England. It was referred to as the “term qui tam,” which means False Claims Act cases. The latter is the abbreviation of the Latin phrase “qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur.”
That means, “He who prosecutes for himself as well as for the King.”
Modern legislators embraced the synonymous phrase of whistleblowers who sue corrupt companies on behalf of their government.
Today, Whistleblowing has become a commonly encountered intuition.
Whistleblowing is about broadcasting unfavorable circumstances revealed to a particular authority in the organization.
There are myriads of motives as to why people blow whistles. Among all Organizational reasons, including business ethics, social grounds encompass social benefits, social justice, and religious belief. Reasons for avoiding Whistleblowing vary based on retribution and fear.
We also need to acknowledge that Whistleblowing can have a personal explanation, but whether the justification is legit or fit personal vendetta is controversial.
A virtuous whistleblower acts ethically only if they genuinely believe a wrongful coming on behalf of another entity or person. However, if the person intends to inflict harm to the other person or entity, sometimes that would be even more harmful and long-lasting for the victim.
Once a person is the subject of Whistleblowing often, they remain under the radar for a long time, if not forever. Our bureaucratic system is a heavy burden for someone who has done nothing wrong. Thus, even though Whistleblowers fight against corruption and establish transparency, it fails to address its corruption inviting scheme, especially when most laws offer protection for whistleblowers.
How can we consider Whistleblowing for transparency when we are hiding the whistleblower?
The downside of Whistleblowing: what goes around comes around.
No doubt, Whistleblowing has its value when it comes to enforcing fairness. However, that would only stand if the whistleblower has faith in their good deed and not just a secondary gain. In other words, it will come down to one thing; its good deed outweighs its risk. Whistleblowers often intimidate the subject of Whistleblowing. Hence there is always someone in the process who gains more than the other. That person may be different than those on both sides of the Whistleblowing, such as an attorney.
The deceptions of facilitating Whistleblowing comprise the possibility of reputational damage. Whistleblowing can also amass financial impacts in pricey court cases, fines levied by regulators, or reimbursement charges, contingent on the nature of the activity exposed. In some cases, it will even predispose staff to criminal reports. All of this is likely to damage the company’s reputation and employee morale seriously. Those, as mentioned earlier, can affect the subject of Whistleblowing irrespective of if they are guilty or innocent.
Hypocrisy of Whistleblowing
Whistleblowing supporters are not generally transparent even though they force another person, persons, or entity to fine. Governments who support Whistleblowing seem to act on it hypocritically. If they are willing to protect whistleblowers, they should do so not when it is convenient or politically expedient but when it challenges our leaders to behave unethically. For instance, in 2019, a whistleblower complaint surfaced alleging President Trump asked Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, to investigate Hunter Biden (Former-Vice President Joe Biden’s son). Hunter Biden, at the time, was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company collecting $50,000 a month. That coincided with when Vice President Biden led a 2014 anti-corruption effort in Ukraine. The whistleblower was recognized as a “hero” by Democrats during the Trump administration.
But ironically, the democrat government refused to do the same when for Edward Snowden, who exposed the government’s mass surveillance program. Likewise, Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, leaked classified documents to Wikileaks in 2010, telling the U.S.'s war crimes at the peak of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
One of the most notorious exposures was a video of a U.S. helicopter indiscriminately slaying a dozen people, including two Reuters employees.
The leaks were condemned across the political line. The Obama Administration swiftly charged Manning under the Espionage Act of 1917. Obama later reduced her sentence, freeing her for seven years into her sentence.
Transparency is a virtue but in a Truthful and unprejudiced Atmosphere
Honesty, sharing, dissolving communication barriers, hiring people who care, and supporting implementation tools that help transparency are essential in a genuinely transparent institution.
It is great to be responsible and surface potentially harmful intentions of others before they happen, and it is also essential to protect those who blow the whistle. But where do we draw the line, and how do we prevent hypocrisy and partiality around Whistleblowing; that is the central issue.
Accountability is a must, yet transparency is the virtue only through ensuring end-to-end transparency. Imitation of transparency by selective exposure only leaks behavior moments that may or may not have happened. Or to begin with, it may or may not be a reminiscence of foul play!