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.
Why should there be limited availability and high prices for broadband in rural and indigenous communities which restrict opportunities for their residents to participate in the digital economy? Should not allocation of the spectrum for new services such as 5G be governed by a framework that enables small, rural, and regional operators to invest in networks that support rural broadband? Why not make certain that new entrants and small providers be eligible to use spectrum for 5G services through spectrum sharing, micro licenses, or other means?
These were among the ethical issues raised by Professor Heather Hudson (University of Alaska) along with many similar questions posed and debated at the 41th annual Pacific Telecommunications Council conference (PTC, ’19) entitled “From Pipes to Platforms” held from January 20-23, 2019 in the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel in Honolulu. Over 2,250 professional communicators, lawyers, regulators, academics, and others from over 75 countries and territories participated to discuss topics regarding the economics, engineering, impact, policies, laws, and infrastructure of the information technology industries within the countries of the Pacific Rim. Most topics (cf. issues) were discussed within the context of what was called “multiple concurrent technological and social revolutions” epitomized by the new multi-cloud environment during the conference.
In the panel moderated by Professor Hudson, panelist Brandie Nonnecke, Director of the CITRIS Policy Lab at UC Berkeley, raised questions about the second phase of a fund regulated by the FCC called Mobility Fund II because such funding could increase the digital divide between the “haves” and “have nots.” Mobility Fund II supports 4G distribution to rural areas while urban areas are adopting 5G technology which is much faster and more effective. The lower speed benchmark proposed by Mobility Fund II can barely support streaming video service and is insufficient to constitute meaningful connectivity.
Whatever the beneficent intentions of some providers, challenges exist for island, remote, impoverished, and marginalized communities to keep up with the ongoing digital revolution. Ethically, questions arise about fairness, equal access, racial and gender discrimination, cultural imperialism, and justice in the increasingly digitally divided world.
Ayushi Tandon, a Ph.D. student at the Indian institute of Management, contributed other significant research to the discussion including issues surrounding Internet use by Indian students and the role of online use by teens in their ability to be fully educated and prepare for careers. Related discussion within the panel questioned 1) whether rural communities would have sufficient skills and education to employ newer digital technologies and 2) who is accountable to provide such training and proper resources?
An arresting ethics discussion included issues about security, privacy, and data protection. Featured panelists were moderator Joe Weinman (author, Cloudonomics and Digital Disciplines), panelist Peter Coffee (VP for Strategic Research, Salesforce) and Panelist Richard Whitt, president of Net’s Edge. Coffee’s company, Salesforce, now employs a dedicated ethicist to ensure the company’s compliance and high standards, an idea and role that every company should consider.
The Wienman/Coffee/Whitt panel brought to the audience’s attention this concern: “Networks can unwittingly create issues, as we’ve seen recently with data breaches, invasion of privacy, and political machinations.” For example, in an age of endless software and intelligent devices, who is accountable for fatalities if the software of an autonomous vehicle is hacked, corrupted, or incorrectly applied?
Another panel focused upon the shifting legal and ethical landscape shaped by emerging and evolving technologies worldwide. Moderated by Sherrese Smith at Paul Hastings, the panel focused upon ethical questions surrounding cybersecurity, mergers and acquisitions, national security, and convergence. Fresh attention was given to ethical issues related to the newly expanded jurisdiction of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and its many implications. Two key panelists were Professor Rob Frieden from Pennsylvania State University and Tara Giunta, a partner at Paul Hastings, LLP. Frieden and Giunta raised concerns about the increasing complexity and paranoia associated with national security.
A new group at PTC entitled “Women of Subsea” included ethical issues of gender. It is important to note that in the developing world, 30% fewer women have access to the Internet than men whereas in the rest of the online world only 3% fewer women have access.
Another group considering aspects of telehealth technology and research presented the challenges faced by patients and health professionals in remote locations whose medical services are introduced and transformed by 1) evolving, not-yet-perfected technologies and 2) by distant and unseen professionals from different cultures.
All of these issues have become far more complicated within an international context given the multitude of policies, cultural traditions, governments, and the degree and scope of “consumer rights” in each country. Security and privacy have become huge concerns as witnessed by the recent scandals surrounding Facebook, Google, Equifax, and the hacking of the U.S. presidential elections.
At the conference, companies such as Nexus Guard promised security protection, and yet many panelists expressed concerns about the increasing privacy disruptions which will accompany transformation and the explosion of platforms, products, apps, and upgrades.
Other aspects of the program featured subthemes addressing important ethical issues such as net neutrality and the consumer protection privacy legislation both already passed and yet to be introduced (the Cyber-security Bill) to congress by U.S. Senator Brian Schatz. As a primary speaker, Schatz sounded a strong alarm about the corporate use of private data of customers by obtaining “pseudo-permission” of consumers. He noted that over 99% of consumers often click on an “I agree” notice before opening a service without realizing they have signed away many of their privacy rights.
One highlight presentation hosted by Bruce Drake (former PTC president and Canadian legislator), featured Christopher Stott, CEO of Manset, which is committed to providing connection to many of the “have-nots” worldwide. A stunning example of Manset’s ability to provide strong connectivity is their outreach to refugee communities in Jordan which are now fully connected.
Hence the PTC program is still committed to providing examples of “green light” (cf. “doing well by doing good”) ethics involving the pro-social humanitarian uses of technology, not just “red light” danger ethics issues such as invasion of privacy, disruption of security, e-fraud, and conflict of interest.
Call for Contributions: Forum on Media Addiction
MEDIA ETHICS is assembling a forum section that will contain reflections from scholars of communication, mass communication, media studies, rhetoric, and beyond regarding addiction to media. Contributors may take a broad understanding of both concepts of addiction and media, and consider its values, uses, and costs.
Addiction to media is an increasingly urgent and vexing social problem. Last year the World Health Organization formally recognized video game addiction as a disorder. Recent texts like Adam Alter’s “Irresistible,” or Larry Rosen’s, “iDisorder,” explore addiction to media directly. Software engineers are coding media to be addictive by co-opting brain science. Consider the introduction to Nir Eyal’s recent book, “Hooked.” In it he says, “Face it: we’re hooked… The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions.” Eyal begins not only to outline the habit-forming techniques but also explains why it is essential for businesses to employ them. In California a company exists called Dopamine Labs, exemplary of a growing industry which builds algorithms to engineer “compulsion loops” for hijacking attention to social media applications. A key neurotransmitter of addiction is in the company’s name. Many argue that mainstream computing devices are increasingly programmed to be cigarette-like in their addictive capacity to snare attention for escape and pleasure. Given how much time is devoted to media use for work and personal use, it is no great leap to conclude that digital living is a near constant Faustian bargain of how to spend one’s time and attention. As such, we invite contributions that specifically help clarify how to think about the ethical dimensions of our collective technological circumstance, including but not limited to the following:
- The sustainability of media use in terms of human and social health and well-being.
- What, if anything, distinguishes media as a product from other addictive substances, such as food or gambling or common drugs of abuse?
- Age related issues (or, developmental issues) pertaining to marketing compulsive media to children.
- Semantic problems pertaining to the social construction of either media or addiction, or, of course, both.
- Issues pertaining to the legitimacy of media addiction as a construct.
- The perceived inevitability of technological progress as a route to better living.
- The relation of media addiction to desirable forms of media engagement (such as in digital news).
The Media Ecology Association International Conference on “ Media Ethics: Human Ecology in a Connected World”
The MEAI conference will take place at the University of Toronto, June 27-30, 2019. Bringing together leading scholars, experimentalists, and experts from all over the world and different disciplines, the conference welcomes scholarly works that entice important ethical discussions and challenges that face humanity in a connected world. The conference threads include, but not
limited to: AI; data ethics, privacy, and surveillance; cyber security and data protection; misinformation, net Neutrality, digital inclusion; digital citizenship, social and political engagement; individual expression, wellbeing sustainability and prosperity in the media environment. Papers, abstracts, and panel proposal submissions are also welcome from the broad array of disciplines focusing on the study of media as environments, technology and techniques, modes of information, and symbolic codes of communication that constitute media ecology.
More details: http://mediaethics.ca/