Yesterday I nearly killed a million people. It was a close call.
It all started as I sat in front of my drawing workstation and wondered how to finish a comic. The best solution I could come up with involved mocking Microsoft's Vista operating system. While I have no personal gripe with Vista, I know that many of my readers do, so it would have been a popular strip. After years of cartooning, I have a good sense of which comics will end up on cubicle walls and be passed around the Internet. This one would have been huge.
I wrote the line and leaned back, admiring my work. Then I had the "Holy crap!" moment. If I mock Vista, and it has an impact on Microsoft stock value, then Bill Gates will have a few billion dollars less to spend on humanitarian projects. Therefore, the comic could end up killing a million people. Those people are all strangers, but still.
I deleted the reference to Vista and went another direction.
I know what you're thinking. You think that a Dilbert comic isn't going to influence Microsoft's earnings. But what you don't know is that Dilbert has been used in several court cases where an attorney tried to demonstrate the date when obscure technical issues became "common knowledge" and therefore something that a reasonable person should know. The importance in the court cases is that a defendant couldn't claim ignorance about something that is so widely known it can be included in a Dilbert comic without explanation. If a Dilbert comic mocks Vista, the criticism transforms into "common knowledge" and could influence Mac versus Windows buying decisions.
Okay, granted, it is unlikely a Dilbert comic would have any impact on Microsoft. But given the non-zero risk that I could end up killing a million people, I decided to go another direction with the comic.
When those people I saved yesterday solve their malaria issue and get some food, I hope they chip in to buy me a card to say thanks.