The Ethics of Emerging Media: Information, Social Norms and New Media Technology

By Bullard, Sue Burzynski | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, September 2012 | Go to article overview

The Ethics of Emerging Media: Information, Social Norms and New Media Technology


Bullard, Sue Burzynski, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


The Ethics of Emerging Media: Information, Social Norms and New Media Technology. Bruce E. Drushel and Kathleen German, eds. New York, NY: Continuum, 2011. 288 pp. $120.00 hbk. $34.95 pbk.

Discussions of new media and ethics sometimes include the notion that "ethics are ethics"-that doing the right thing is, and has been, a constant over time and across media.

The idea has a certain appeal. But it gets new twists in The Ethics of Emerging Media, by Bruce E. Drushel and Kathleen German, assistant professors of communication at Miami University. New media create new ethical questions and opportunities to cross ethical lines, as the thirteen contributors to this collection examine.

Take American Idol, the popular TV "reality" show that launches successful contestants on lucrative careers. It's interactive. Fans vote for their favorite singers, and the weekly tally is said to be strictly legitimate, in conformance with federal law. But in the early shows of each season, Idol producers allot unequal airtime to contestants based, no doubt, on legitimate entertainment values and other concerns connected with television production and profit. "[T]he preponderance of evidence appears to point to a clear correlation between screen time during the audition episodes and continued success in the competition," concludes Christopher Bell, author of the chapter "Idol Concerns: The Ethics of Parasociality." "Just because they [corporate entities] evidently can influence who the audience votes for through the parasocial contract, does it mean that they should?"

New media also have outpaced law enforcement. Some children have "sexted" suggestive photographs of themselves to friends, the electronic version of "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours." Is it ethical to charge them with a crime for using new technology to do what teens have done for eons-explore their sexuality? In Pennsylvania, a zealous district attorney threatened prosecution of a girl who was photographed wearing a bathing suit. In New Jersey, a fourteen-year-old girl was charged with child pornography for posting explicit photographs of herself on MySpace. Such charges can result in long jail terms and being tagged as a sex offender for life. In effect, a law designed to protect children from pornographers was used to charge a child with pornography. The New Jersey teen was given probation after a public outcry.

But the ethical questions remain. Even if it was legal to charge the girl, is it the right thing to do? In "The New Pornographers," chapter author Brett Lunceford says such cases reveal a need for greater nuance in legal and ethical considerations, not only concerning pornography, but regarding adolescent sexuality in general.

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