Difference Between ‘Don’t Do Evil’ and ‘Don’t Be Evil’

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Those of you who follow all things Google because of your work or involvement in the Web will no doubt know the name of Matt Cutts, who has become the ubiquitous spokesperson for the search giant, especially in matters of SEO (search engine optimization).

I’d always heard that Google had an official policy on avoiding evil, that is, on not doing evil. In a recent online discussion, however, the same Matt Cutts corrected someone who cited the Googlian policy as "Don’t do evil."

Wrong, said Cutts. The official policy is "Don’t be evil."

This struck me as a bit curious because, in my reasoning anyway, one could follow the dictum of "Don’t be evil" but still "do evil."

You know, one could justify an action that resulted in harm, perhaps even deliberate harm, by using the "white lie" logic that parents use when they don’t tell their kids the unvarnished truth. Or one could even live in denial about one’s action while still claiming one is not evil, like those who throw coworkers under the bus to save their jobs while justifying it as "he had it coming," or whatever the excuse du jour might be.

My sentences are getting a little convoluted here from using one too often, but I hope my point gets across. Most of us live by situational ethics and we’ll do whatever is necessary, even if it’s wrong or evil, to further ourselves or to protect our lives, livelihoods and loved ones. In short, we’re totally capable of doing evil and convincing ourselves that we’re not being evil.

That’s why I find Google’s choice of words peculiar–and full of wiggle room to actually do evil.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

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