Reading this article, I was reminded of The Milgram Experiment. It seems that people are willing to do horrific things to other people just because someone in authority — or someone they believed was in authority — told them to. Was this something that Orwell contemplated? Or Machiavelli?
If I’d been a participant in the Milgram Experiment, I would like to think that I’d stop administering the shocks very early on. I believe that I would. But I don’t know for sure, never having been in a situation even remotely like it.
Edited to add: I admit that I posted the link to this article before reading it even a third of the way through, so I didn’t know that the author had also referred to Milgram. I also agree with the FBI special agent who said that the duped restaurant managers were not necessarily stupid, they had just not been trained to use common sense. However, I also believe that this does not relieve them of the responsibility for what they’ve done.
This has gotten me thinking about False Authority Syndrome in general (Snopes.com has a good summary of FAS here), which may or may not be related to this sort of thing. When I worked at one particular department in a large public University back in 1997, I witnessed the entire division decide to shut down their e-mail servers because a vice dean had fallen for the “Good Times” hoax. I’ve fallen for this sort of thing myself; I once shut down a message board on a website I was running because I’d been duped into believing that the service that was providing it for free was going to start charging.