Did the NYT Ethicist get this right?

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The bad pun heading was not a good sign, but maybe Randy Cohen’s answer was correct:

I recognized a friend in a short video clip on an amateur pornography Web site. She is now a medical professional, wife and mother, and I doubt that she posted it. (Perhaps a former boyfriend did.) I think she would want to know it’s there, but I fear the effect on our friendship if I tell her. Maybe she’s better off not knowing: it is probably tough to get such a thing removed. Should I tell? NAME WITHHELD, NEW YORK

Your coming forward could embarrass you, upset your friend and threaten your friendship. Do it anyway. You yourself believe she would want to know about the video clip. The longer it is online, the greater the chances of its being seen by someone else who knows her. She can’t protect herself unless she knows the clip is out there. Sometimes you must imperil a friendship to help a friend.

It may well be tough to compel the site to remove this video clip, but your friend is entitled to try. Or she might want to take legal action against a treacherous ex or at least try to learn who posted the clip. Even if she has few alternatives, she has the right to act on them, something she can do only if she knows her situation. By speaking up, you give her a measure of autonomy, a chance to do what she thinks best. And there is the off chance that she already knows about this video because she posted it (and no reason she should not). The intimate lives of even our closest friends can be a mystery.

A caution: Resist the temptation to alert her anonymously, an approach that may shield you but can leave her anxious and uncertain, fretting over who knows about this and the motives of her informant.

ETA: Randy Cohen e-mailed as follows:

I wanted to mention that I did not write the bad pun heading. Writing bad heds is a privilege reserved for editors. I did write the column, of course, and was pleased to see that you posted it on Feminist Law Professors.

E-mail quoted with permission.

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