Contact info

Ethics and Media
Tuesdays and Thursdays 2:00-3:15 PM
Spring 2013
Helen Nissenbaum, Department of Media, Culture, and Communication

About the Course

Media plays a significant and growing role not only in the ways in which people in society communicate with and inform one another, but as importantly in the manner in which societies reproduce social mores and reflect reality. Students who plan on pursuing careers in the media (professional and academic) will be faced with difficult choices that carry with them potent ethical repercussions, choices with which technical training alone does not properly equip them to approach in a critical and informed manner.

The purpose of this course is therefore twofold: 1) to equip future media professionals and scholars with sensitivity to moral values under challenge as well as fundamentals in critical thinking and decision making for navigating their roles and responsibilities in relation to them; and 2) honing those same skills and sensitivities for consumers of media and citizens in media saturated societies. The course will focus on core areas of media and communications covered in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication, including, news media, visual media, entertainment, and advertising/PR, with attention to ways that digital media has affected their scope and boundaries and there through has affected the ethical issues they may raise. These topics and concurrent cases will be discussed with reference to fundamental ethical texts.

Course Materials

Readings and other content will be provided on the course site as downloadable documents or web links.

Movies and videos will either be viewed in class or will be available for loan at the Library Reserve Desk.

Strongly recommended: Weston, A, A Rulebook for Arguments. 3rd. edition (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000)


This course assumes active participation on the part of all students. Absences without prior instructor approval may have a negative impact on students' final grades. Students are expected to complete readings and other assignments prior to class meetings and come prepared with written questions. These should also be posted to the Classroom discussion board.

Throughout the semester, ad hoc groups will be formed for the analysis and presentation of case studies along with write-ups based on these presentations (approximately 800 words.) A short paper (1000-1250 words) discussing a case in relation to ethical theory will be due at the mid-term.

TA final project will be due in the examination period. It will involve a term paper of 10-12 pages and a "product." The product can be a short movie, a game, a polished op ed, a collage of images, or an original case study. The paper accompanying the product will discuss broader questions surrounding it, and will demonstrate an ability to straddle the concrete and the theoretical using the assigned course readings and, if necessary, beyond. In order to discourage "last minute" panics, there will be graded milestones along the way. Students will work with professor and TA developing ideas; time will be allocated during class periods to invite feedback from classmates.

Normally, assignments will be due at the beginning of the class period on the given due date. If this is not possible, other arrangements are to be made with the instructor prior to that time. Assignments turned in late will be subjected to a grade penalty of the instructor's choosing.

Grading Elements:

Attendance and participation: 10%
Short paper (1K-1.25K words): 20%
In class presentation of case study: 10%
Final project: 60%

1 page summary of ideas for product and paper: 5%
Draft of term paper: 5%
Term paper: 20%
Product: 20%

Note: In order to pass the class passing grades are necessary in ALL elements


Papers should be typed, double spaced with default margins and a legible font, and a recognized citation style. We recommend reference programs such as RefWorks (free through the library), EndNote, or Zotero (a free Firefox add-on.) Or, refer to style manuals such as The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, or online at www.internet-resources.com/writers/wrlinks-wordstuff.htm#top.


Jan 29 Introduction to the Course

Jan 31 Truth

Cases: Advertising,Fabrication in the news

Federal Trade Commission. "Ads for Various Diet Supplements and Topical Gels Don't Cut the Fat, Says the FTC." Federal Trade Commission. 16 June 2004. Web. 28 January 2013.
Rolbillard, K. "10 Journos Caught Fabricating." Politico. 31 July 2012. Web. 28 January 2013.
Bok, S. Lying: Moral Choices in Public and Private Life. New York: Parthenon Books, 32-46, 267-272. 1978.
Davs, N.A. (1991) "Contemporary Deontology," A Companion to Ethics. Ed. P. Singer. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, Inc., 2050-218.
Spence, E. and B. van Heekeren (2005) "Truth in Advertising." In Advertising Ethics, Saddle River, NJ: Pearson prentice Hall, 41-53.

Feb 5-7 Means and Ends

Cases: Starving Child; Newton, CT

Shafer, J. "Newtown Teaches Us, Once Again, To Discount Early Reports." Reuters. 17 December 2012. Web. 24 January 2013.
Bentham, J. (1993) "Classical Hedonism," Moral Philosophy: A Reader. Ed. L. P. Pojman. Indianapolis: Hackeg Publishing Company, Inc., 94-96.
Mill, J. S., (1993) "Utilitarianism," Moral Philosophy: A Reader. Ed. L. P. Pojman. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 114-119.
Peht, P. (1991) "Consequentialism," A Companion to Ethics. Ed. P. Singer. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, Inc., 230-240.
Kant, I. "The Foundations of Ethics," Moral Philosophy: A Reader. Ed. L.P. Pojman. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 156-175. 1993.
O’Neill, O. "Kantian Ethics." A Companion to Ethics. Ed. P. Singer. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, Inc., 175-184. 1991.

Feb 12-14 Freedom of Expression
Cases: We are Legion

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists. Dir. Brian Knappenberger. Luminant Media, 2012. Film
Super Columbine Massacre RPG!. Danny Ledonne. Windows. 2005.
JFK Reloaded. Traffic Software. Windows. 2004
Baby Shaker. Sikalosoft. iPhone. 2009.
KZ Manager. The Missonoaris. C64, Amiga, DOS, Windows. 1990-2000.

Mill, J. S. "Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion," Utilitarianism, Liberty and Representative Government. London: J.M. Dent & Sons LTD., 1971, 78-113.
Greenawalt, K. (1995) "Rationales for Freedom of Speech," Computers, Ethics, and Social Values. Ed. D.G. Johnson and H. Nissenbaum. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 664-675.

Feb 19-21 Limits on Freedom of Expression

Cases: Pornography; Google on Anti-Semitic Sites; Danish Cartoons; Innocence of Muslims; Rap

The People vs. Larry Flynt. Dir. Milos Forman. Perf. Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, Edward Norton. Phoenix Pictures, 1996. Film.
RapeLay. Illusion Soft. Windows. 2006.
Custer's Revenge. Mystique. Atari 2600. 1982.
Virtually Jenna. xStream3D Multimedia. Windows. 2006.
The Mohammed Films. "Innocence of Muslims Full Movie HD 1080P Trailer." YouTube. 16 September 2012. Web. 28 January 2013.

MacAskill, E., S. Leville, L. Harding. "Cartoon Controversy Spreads Throughout Muslim World." Berlin Guardian. 4 February 2006. Web. January 28 2013.
Hopkins, D. "Google: We Won’t Censor Anti-Semitism." Mashable. 12 November 2007. Web. 28 January 2013.
West, C. "Ponrography and Censorship." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 5 May 2004. Web. 28 January 2013.

Feb 26-28 Moral Relativism in a Time of Global Media

Cases: Yahoo! in China

Garger, I. "Yahoo China is Under Fire Again: Rights Groups Says It Helps Authorities Convict Dissidents." The Wall Street Journal: Market Watch. 28 April 2006. Web. 28 January 2013.
Gunther, M. "Yahoo's China Problem." Fortune. 22 February 2006. Web. 28 January 2013.
Benedict, R. "In Defense of Moral Relativism." Moral Philosophy: A Reader. Ed. L. P. Pojman. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 21-25. 1993.
Gowans, C. "Moral Relativism." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2008. Web. 24 January 2013.
Herodotus. "Custom Is King." Moral Philosophy: A Reader. Ed. L. P. Pojman. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 20. 1993.
Stace, W. "Ethical Relativism." Reason and Responsibility: Readings in Some Basic Problems of Philosophy, 5th ed. Ed. J. Feinberg. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 492-497. 1981.
Wong, D. "Relativism." A Companion to Ethics. Ed. P. Singer. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, Inc., 442-450. 1991.

Mar 5-7 Expression and Private Life

Cases: Mosley; Patraeus; TMZ; Perez Hilton; Paparazzi

Halbfinger, D. and A. Hope Weiner. "As Paparazzi Push Harder, Stars Try To Push Back." The New York Times. 9 June 2005. Web. 27 January 2013.
Shane, S. "Online Privacy Issue Is Also in Play in Petraeus Scandal." The New York Times. 13 November 2012. Web. 28 January 2013.
Feinberg, J. "Limits to the Free Expression of Opinion." Freedom and Fulfillment: Philosophical Essays. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 124-151. 1994.

Mar 12-14 The Whole Truth

Cases: Wikileaks; Bin Laden tapes; Science journalism embargo; Newton, CT

Fahrenheit 9/11. Dir. Michael Moore. Lions Gate Films, IFC Films, Dog Eat Dog Films. 2004. Film.

Deggens, E. "Understanding Newtown: When Does Shielding Victims Trump the Press' Push to Know?" Tampa Bay Times. 19 December 2012. Web. 27 January 2013.
Ohlheiser, A. "Newtown Bee: "Please Stay Away From the Victims"" Slate. 17 December 2012. Web. 24 Jan 2013.
Shirky, Clay. Wikileaks and the Long Haul. Clay Shirky. 6 December 2010. Web. 28 January 2013.
Zimmer, Michael. "Wikileaks and Information Ethics." SlideShare. 14 April 2011. Web. 28 January 2013.
Marlin, R. "Propaganda and the Ethics of Wikileaks." Global Media Journal Austrailian Edition. 2011. Web. 28 January 2013.
Keller, Bill. "Dealing With Assange and the WikiLeaks Secrets." The New York Times. 26 January 2011. Web. 28 January 2013.
Huffington Post Staff. "New York Times' Bill Keller Target of WikiLeaks Op-Ed, Twitter Hoax." Huffington Post. 29 July 2012. Web. 28 January 2013.

Mar 19-21 Spring recess

Mar 26-28 Sex, Violence and Responsibility

Cases: Violent games, TV, movies; Rap

Battle Raper. Illusion. Windows. 2002.
Beat 'Em and Eat 'Em. Mystique. Atari 2600. 1982.
Death Race. Exidy. Arcade. 1976.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Rockstar North. Playstation 2, Windows, Xbox, Xbox 360, Mac OS X, PlayStation 3. 2004.
Manhunt 2. Rockstar Londom, Rockstar Toronto. Windows, PlayStation 2, Wii. 2007-2009.
Chiller. Exidy. Arcade. 1986.
Mortak Kombat. Midway. Arcade. 1992.
Madworld. Platinum Games. Wii. 2009

Cifaldi, F. "Vice President Biden's Warning to the Video Game Industry." Gamasutra. 15 January 2013. Web. 24 January 2013.
Aristotle. "Virtue Ethics." Moral Philosophy: A Reader. Ed. L.P. Pojman. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co, Inc., 201-211. 1993. [FOCUS on pp 205-209]
Pence, G. 1991 "Virtue Theory." A Companion to Ethics. Ed. P. Singer. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, Inc., 249-258. 1991.
(optional) Eshleman, A. "Moral Responsibility." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 6 January 2001. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.

Apr 2-18 Just and Fair Representaton

Cases: Advertising, TV, Digital Games; Rap

Loneliness. Jordan Magnuson. Flash. 2011.
Resident Evil 5. Capcom. PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows. 2009.
Ethnic Cleansing. Resistance Records. Windows. 2002.
Ms. Pac-Man. Bally, Midway, General Computer Corporation, Namco. Arcade.1982.
Super Mario Bros. 2. Nintendo EAD. NES. 1988.
Super Smash Bros. Melee. HAL Laboratory, Nintendo. Nintendo Gamecube. 2001.

Geena Davis Institute. "See Jane PSA Video." Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media. 2012. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.
Smith, S. and C. Cook. "Gender Stereotypes: An Analysis of Popular Films and TV." Conference 2008, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. 2008. Web. 28 January 2013.
Williams, D, N. Martins, M. Consalvo and J. D. Ivory. "The Virtual Census: Representations of Gender, Race and Age in Video Games." New Media & Society. 11: 815. 2009.
Bogost, I. "The Rhetoric of Video Games." The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by K. Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 117–140.
Mulvey, L. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Screen. 16.3 Autumn, 1975. 6-18.
Rawls, J. "A Theory of Justice (excerpts)." Introduction to Ethics. Ed. Gary Percesepe. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 58-64. 1995.
Frankfurt, H. "Equality and Respect." Social Research. 64(1), 3-15. 1997.
Kymlicka, W. "The Social Contract Tradition." A Companion to Ethics. Ed. P. Singer. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, Inc., 186-196. 1991.
O'Barr, W. "Representations of Masculinity and Femininity in Advertisements." Advertising and Society Review. 2006. Web. 29 March 2013.

Apr 23-25 Nothing But the Truth

Cases: Jonah Lehrer; Photoshop; Airbrushing Twiggy

AP Staff. "Jonah Lehrer Admits to Fake Bob Dylan Quotes, Resigns from New Yorker." CBS News. 30 July 2012. Web. 28 January 2013.
Kinney, D. "Freewheelin': Bob Dylan, Jonah Lehrer, and the Truth." The New York Times. 2 August 2012. Web. 28 January 2013.
Almond, B. (1991) "Rights," A Companion to Ethics. Ed. P. Singer. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, Inc., 259-269.

April 30 Online Behavioral Advertising

Wall Street Journal, The. What They Know. Ed. McGinty, et. al., Dow Jones & Co., 2010.
Castelluccia and Narayanan. "Privacy Considerations of Online Behavioral Tracking." ENISA: European Network and Information Security Agency, 2012.
[optional] Mayer and Mitchell. "Third-Party Web Tracking: Policy and Technology." IEEE Symposium on Secutiry and Privacy. 2012.

May 2 Just Society, Good Companies, Virtuous Professionals; Behavioral Advertising

Almond, B. (1991) "Rights," A Companion to Ethics. Ed. P. Singer. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, Inc., 259-269.
Berlin, I. The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas. Ed. H. Hardy, NY: Knopf, 1-19. 1991.

May 7 Project Presentation Studio
May 7 Project Presentations

Last Updated: October 27, 2009
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