Why Reflect on the Media?

The Media Ethics Initiative was founded in 2015 as a way to promote and publicize scholarly reflection on issues of media and communication ethics. One may ask, however, why do we need such an organization? Why do we need to reflect on the media at all? The answer to these questions lies in the importance we place on ethics, or the study of what makes actions, agents, and sets of consequences desirable or the right things to aim for with our actions. Ethics is undoubtedly an important endeavor, and our media use has only increased the chances for choices that matter. In a real sense, we use media and media uses–or shapes–us. We ought to think and reflect about what kind of people we are becoming and shaping with our engagement with the media, whether that is traditional news media or the latest in digital technology. Questions that will assume prominence in our reflections on the media, communication, and the sort of self we create through our actions are:

  • What role does journalism play in our democracy?
  • Does our privacy matter online?
  • Should we “pirate” online content instead of buying it?
  • How does our news media operate once it enters the online world of almost instantaneous news sharing?
  • Should we encourage or allow “hacktivism,” or the use of hacking for socially-desirable ends?
  • Is online anonymity a good thing, or does it enable incivility, hostility, and harmful actions?
  • How much freedom of speech ought we to allow in a democracy?
  • Are there topics that are off limits as too harmful to others we should care about in our communities?
  • How do we deal with disagreement in our interactions with others?

All of these and more are the sorts of issues that the Media Ethics Initiative will tackle in its activities. Some of these will consist of research presentations at the University of Texas at Austin, but other items will be addressed in the public sphere of the Internet on this website. In all of these activities, the Media Ethics Initiative aims to provoke more thought and reflection on how we use the media, and how our communicative media uses and shapes us.