Table of Contents, Fall 2019


Josh Kahen / Unsplash / ModifiedJosh Kahen / Unsplash / ModifiedThis article is a slightly revised version of a keynote address delivered during the 20th Annual Media Ecology Association Convention hosted by the University of Toronto on June 27-30, 2019. An expanded version will be published in Explorations in Media Ecology in 2020.


CooperCooperTom Cooper responds to Lance Strate's keynote address delivered during the 20th Annual Media Ecology Association Convention, 2019.


BrummettBrummettBarry Brummett argues that our experience of both events and unfocused passages are socially constructed and organized—that dimensions of boundedness and power are foundational for those constructions—and that the ways we organize and construct events and the unstructured passages have a great deal to do with human communication. He concludes that the history of rhetorical theory shows a marked preference for understanding rhetoric as event, which should change as technology and culture change.


MEMMEMMedia addiction is a growing worry among parents, practitioners, and even children. Yet there is no such thing as media addiction according to the American Medical Association. Nonetheless, research is gaining on the issue, as evidenced in this special section on media addiction, guest edited by Aaron R. Boyson.


RamgolamRamgolamOn average we look at our phones 52 times a day and spend an average of 3 hours, 10 minutes on our mobile devices. Is this media addiction, and is our fast-paced culture to blame? This essay argues that in questioning our media use, we should examine our fundamental experience of time. 


AddictionAddictionFans have unprecedented access to their favorite actors as a direct result of Twitter and can interact with like-minded individuals to talk about live events unfolding within their favorite shows. Is consumption of real-time content while flaunting fandom on Twitter the new norm? And what are the effects when these behaviors become compulsive?


HarrisonHarrisonThis commentary introduces the possibility that media devices supply gratifications to children not previously specified in media research. Within built environments normed for adults, sustained media use might help children maintain sensory regulation, while taking away screens without supplying alternative means of sensory regulation could make family media conflict worse.


BoysonBoysonUniversity students enrolled in a media class submitted letters they would write to a young child with advice about using media technology. Their instructor, Dr. Boyson, took sentences from those letters and rearranged them into a new composition. The new letter represents a class-wide remorse that relationships with technology had not met expectations. 


BollywoodBollywoodThis case study examines the film PM Narendra Modi, a Bollywood-produced biopic of the sitting prime minister of India slated to premiere on April 5, 2019 just days before the six-week voting period began. Is this entertainment or propaganda that could possibly alter elections? Do governments have the duty to protect their citizens from potential misinformation during elections or is it the duty of citizens to judge fact and fiction for themselves? Is it ethical—in the name of electoral fairness—to curb Bollywood’s political and artistic speech? 


Fake NewsFake NewsThis case study examines the 2019 Indo-Pakistani conflict and how both national governments, news media in both countries, and social media accounts operated by citizens and trolls alike engaged in widespread misinformation. And yet this fake news may arguably be advantageous in preventing the two nations from going to all-out war. Creating such information bubbles” means that “both sides can declare victory to their people and go home.” And so the question becomes: is it ever ethically acceptable to spread misinformation?


PropagandaPropagandaA review of This Is Not Propaganda by Peter Pomerantsev, PublicAffairs, New York, 2019, ISBN 9781541762114 (hardcover) 236 pp.


It is easy for inhabitants of this digital age to say that the world has no hold on truth. We look to politics and often see lies without repercussions, at least not real ones. We look at the abundance of “fake news” and even the use of the term itself—which is so varied in context and intention that it is effectively stripped of real meaning—and it is clear that in many cases, the truth does not matter.

Misinformation and disinformation are real. This is not a difficult conclusion to reach, nor support, given the multitude of evidence supporting it. It does, however, take significant thought and research to delve into this phenomenon below its surface, to consider it as a whole rather than characterize it by its most visible traits.

Enter Peter Pomerantsev with his 2019 (Aug. 6) book This Is Not Propaganda. Pomerantsev explores the state of information in a digital age, analyzing different forms that disinformation and misinformation can take as well as their impact. Pomerantsev’s lens is not limited to the surface: While the information issues that dominate the headlines—Donald Trump’s tweets, Russian interference abroad, “fake news” in media and politics—are discussed, Pomerantsev digs far deeper into the problem to uncover the typically hidden ways falsehoods shape modern lives.

In its first five chapters, This Is Not Propaganda explores the use of information to control, manipulate, define, or fight individuals and groups. Its sixth and final chapter considers potential realities of the future given the tendencies of information in a tech-driven world, as discussed in previous chapters.

Throughout the book, Pomerantsev supplements his research and interviews about the modern day with anecdotal evidence from his family’s history; Pomerantsev’s Russian parents experienced KGB information control firsthand before they moved to the United Kingdom. The sections relating to his family history are in italics, separate from the other information within the chapters. These sections effectively serve three purposes: add color to the book, demonstrate the contrast between modern information manipulation and that used prior to modern technology, and highlight the concepts and motivations that have remained the same throughout those changes. Readers are not fed these connections either: they are for the most part left to determine the connections between the present and the past on their own.

Pomerantsev’s depth is partly owed to his wide range of sources. His global outlook on information is a welcome change from works that exclusively consider Western culture (more specifically the United States, occasionally including the United Kingdom). As outlined in his preface, his source materials range from the Philippines to Latin America to China. Different parts of the information economy are considered, rather than just those parts experienced by people in more developed countries. This is essential to painting an accurate picture of the problem.

Many people view modern information issues as black and white, with information manipulation being seen as inherently and exclusively corrupt and evil. Pomerantsev shatters this view in his astonishingly three-dimensional analysis of these issues. While he discusses the victims of misinformation and disinformation, as well as those who fight against it, Pomerantsev also interviews people involved in its production. His portraits of these individuals capture them not as heartless villains, but as people with complex motivations and ideas. Insight into these motivations not only provides readers a better comprehension of the problem and how to counter it, but also understanding of gray areas and points of controversy related to information in the modern age.

What is the morality of information manipulation when it is used in support of a righteous cause? How should information attacks against members of the media or protest groups be handled, and are there people who are “fair game” for this type of attack? To what extent is disinformation an exercise in freedom? These ethical questions are among those considered by Pomerantsev throughout his book, all supplemented with specific scenarios.

The identities of those impacted by misinformation/disinformation are not blurred or ignored, but are considered and included, rendering it difficult for readers to separate them from the rest of the equation. Pomerantsev’s person-based approach is effective not just in increasing audience interest but also in forcing them to see beyond the statistics, which are easy to become blind to.

This is Not Propaganda succeeds at capturing audience attention and maintaining it, being an enjoyable read whilst being genuinely insightful and useful. Everyone is impacted by information manipulation, whether they are actively aware of it or not. Pomerantsev develops this idea expertly and manages to answer the question tucked in the back of many readers’ heads: “Why should I care?”


  • Cat Bixler studies journalism at Emerson College.


PropagandaPropagandaA review of This Is Not Propaganda by Peter Pomerantsev.

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Resources for Teaching Ethics

A growing list of case studies suitable for use in media and communication ethics courses can be found at the Media Ethics Initiative website. The Media Ethics Initiative is based in the Center for Media Engagement in the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas Austin.

Arthur W. Page Center research examines digital media ethics in ‘PR Journal’ special issue

The September "Public Relations Journal" is a special issue presented by the Page Center that examines a variety of digital media ethics topics. Research includes studies on CSR, social media, CEO communications, fake news and the engagement of low-income publics. Details here.