Restitution (A Long Scenario)
Hello, all.

I would like to have a traditional Catholic answer to a particular question I have about restitution. Any help is appreciated.

Here is a scenario:

Person A is a young man who happens to be a member of an educational website. The website in question focuses on a musical skill, let's say the piano. It has professional teachers that communicate via webcam and chat room with students.

Person A also happens to decide to lie about their sex: they pretend to be a female. They don't do this for any reason that breaks the Sixth or Ninth Commandments. Rather, they find that more people talk to them because of their online persona, and they like the attention, it makes them "feel" like they "fit in." Obviously, there's sin involved here, but bear with me.

Now, let's say one of the instructors looks at Person A's profile, looks at the fake pictures they have, and decides to send them a private message. Suppose this instructor and Person A speak for several days on a platform like Skype, and suppose that the instructor makes flirtatious comments, even inviting Person A out to visit with them. Let's also assume that this particular instructor has a reputation for finding female students to talk to, and has stirred up a bit of a problem as a result.

Suppose Person A finds out that this instructor does this sort of thing all the time, and decides (in pride, in malice, or just because they think this instructor is being a bit ridiculous) to inform the instructor's boss of what happened. They don't mention they're really a male pretending to be a female, they just reveal what happened, exaggerating very little. Let's say, finally, that the instructor either gets fired, or decides he's had enough of the website, and goes his separate way.

Here's my question:

Would Person A be obligated to provide restitution to this instructor in return for potentially lost wages? What if the instructor's wages from the website made up something like one-seventh or one-fifth of their income? How would that affect things? Finally, how would Person A determine the amount owed, if any?

My understanding/opinion is that the instructor in this scenario gets fired because they engage in a particular behavior, and the fact that Person A is lying about their identity does not imply they are entirely to blame for the instructor's termination, who freely chose to flirt with them. But Person A clearly has some guilt, and if they weren't pretending to be a female, or if they told the instructor the truth, or if they never "blew the whistle" on them, the instructor may never have been fired in the first place.

So how can we understand this situation, and how can we apply moral theology to it, so as to make a conclusion about what Person A should do?

I am not a theologian but this is an interesting predicament. Firstly person A's sustained lying and person B's inappropriate flirting are seperate matters. While person A should not have lied he did no immediate harm to person B. Person B had apparently done this in the past without much repremand and thus he should probably have been fired prior. I don't think that person A owes person B any monetary restitution but should perhaps offer some prayers, and if feasable, an apology as a penance and reparation.

This is just my oppinion but I hope I helped.
No restitution is owed for the simple fact that the instructor made serious breaches both morally and ethically that deserved not only termination but most likely further punishment if certain laws have been broken by his behavior and Person A's personal deceptive behavior only coincidentally had anything to do with the instructor.

It would be a different case if Person A, who was pretending to be female, did so with the deliberate intention of deceiving the instructor in order to reveal his behavior, as some groups of people have done with Planned Parenthood, which perhaps here illustrates the distinction well. Planned Parenthood does unspeakable evil that should be stopped and revealed. But it is always wrong to make use of evil means to accomplish a good end, i.e. using deceptive/manipulative (covert) means to reveal its actions, even if the revelation of Planned Parenthood's actions is still a good thing in itself.

But since Person A seems not to have had such a manipulative intention in this specific way (that is, to set up the instructor and lead to the termination of his job), there is no relationship except the unusual coincidence that the instructor revealed his behavior to a person who was pretending to be something else for separate reasons. So I don't think Person A owes the instructor anything; if anything, the instructor owes Person A thanks for getting the instructor caught and allowing justice to be done, for it offers the instructor the opportunity for conversion and penance.

I don't know of any Catholic moral theologian who has dealt extensively or compellingly about online persona since it is such a recent phenomenon. I would just offer a few comments:

1. Creating a persona in itself (all things being equal) seems not to be a sin. All of us do so whenever we sign up for a forum like this. The reason for this moral neutrality is simply that all activity over a virtual reality (the internet) will be dictated by the same basic laws that guide any in-person interaction: firstly, a presumption of honesty until proven otherwise; secondly, the fact that we can never know more than what our senses reveal to us about another person even in direct communication. The injustice of gossip and other sins against reputation are just as applicable here as they are online, for just as the sins against reputation work on the intentional order (as all sins do, but some also affect the physical, such as sins of the flesh, murder, or theft), so too do sins that occur over virtual reality exist principally in the intentional order (because electronic virtual reality excludes the physical).

2. It is ambiguous whether creating an online persona that depicts oneself in a different gender is sinful. For example, a good number of role-playing online communities have users who sign up as the opposite sex, not with the intention of deceiving anyone, but simply to role-play as a different sex. Sometimes in these circumstances the user explicitly reveals that he/she is the opposite gender; sometimes not. There is not yet any reason to think that any willful manipulation is in play yet aside from the convenience of role-playing as a certain character.

The main difference between online role-playing and doing so in person is that the actual users who control their characters are not immediately seen and that there is no reliable way to see their real-life appearance (for anyone can just provide stock photos from a Google search). Aside from this possibility of deception due to this third-order objectification, there is no reason to think that such an action is immoral unless one wants to condemn all forms of role-playing, both in person and online, as immoral, but then we would also have to condemn all acting.

Another example for why it is ambiguous: there is the simple fact of legitimate gender confusion among enough people to allow for the possibility that a person may depict themselves in a different gender without the immediate consequence of sin. There is no intention to deceive or hurt anyone; there is actually simply the intention of honesty meeting the constraints of a profile that demands that the user pick one gender: male or female. Well, if a person is still struggling with that identification, yet they have to pick one, they are not intending to deceive anyone but are simply submitting to the constraints of creating an online profile.

3. If Person A owes anything to anyone, it will be as a matter of acting in a generally deceptive way without a sufficient reason (e.g. role-playing where it is understood that the users are not necessarily accurately representing themselves). There seems to me no reason why a person should create a false persona over an educational website since such a website, like a real-life school, demands the honest communication of its students as well as an accurate portrayal of themselves for the normal functioning of the school. It seems incumbent on Person A to create a more accurate online persona despite the consequences that may follow in order to live the honest life demanded of any Christian. What would be owed is the simple life of honesty and straightforwardness demanded of all Christians, and not only Christians, but human, for all societies depend on such honesty in order to function. It is a human virtue before it is a Christian one.

Reparation for such dishonesty depends on circumstances, and it seems to me the only reparation possible here would be the general penances and prayers of Person A that accompany the daily struggles of an honest life.
Thank you both for your replies.  :)

(11-14-2015, 07:16 PM)richgr Wrote: It would be a different case if Person A, who was pretending to be female, did so with the deliberate intention of deceiving the instructor in order to reveal his behavior...

If Person A did such a thing, what would be their guilt insofar as restitution is concerned?
If it was intentional, probably just an apology if possible as well as general prayers and penances.

In my view, there is no monetary restitution owed because the instructor's own immoral behavior should have led to the immediate termination of his job anyway; the instructor was bound to get caught eventually. The instructor should have understood that his behavior would lead to his being fired and possibly even worse, so if he really had need for that job for a significant portion of his income, he would have done what was right and asked God for strength to continue in it. Person A has no responsibilities towards him in that respect.

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