Whistleblowers are individuals who witness a moral infraction committed within their organization and report this infraction publicly to hold the group accountable. Whistleblowers often face ridicule, vilification, and exclusion both within their group and sometimes within broader society. Thus, whistleblowers put themselves at personal risk to adhere to their moral code and protect others; these criteria commonly classify someone as a hero. We argue diverse reactions to whistleblowers are influenced by numerous situational factors that influence perceptions of a whistleblower’s intentions as well as the expected consequences of their whistleblowing. Whether a whistleblower is viewed as a virtuous reformer (i.e., hero) or a harmful dissident may depend partly on the degree to which individuals believe that there is a discrepancy between an organization’s lived values and their stated values. While whistleblowers ostensibly provide evidence that this discrepancy exists, cognitive dissonance processes may forestall acceptance of this evidence in many cases. Believing that one is affiliated with a corrupt organization—while one also believes that they are a good, moral and adequate person—may lead to uncomfortable experiences of dissonance. It may be easier for many to reduce this dissonance by disparaging or discounting whistleblowers, rather than altering their own actions (which may involve becoming a whistleblower themselves) to reflect their personal values.
Atkinson, Christopher D. E.; Wesselmann, Eric D.; and Lannin, Daniel G.
"Understanding Why Some Whistleblowers are Venerated and Others Vilified,"
Heroism Science: Vol. 7:
2, Article 3.
Available at: https://scholarship.richmond.edu/heroism-science/vol7/iss2/3