Digital Media Ethics For student producers

Module Overview

Advances in digital technology are changing the processes by which our students communicate and share information. Mobile devices, digital tools, and wireless technology have created a democratization of media that allow our students an immediate online presence and voice. This seamless convergence of point, shoot, edit and share provides new avenues for creating and delivering content, but also presents unique ethical challenges for the student producer.

Ethical issues are an inevitable part of the digital media production workflow. What responsibility should a producer assume to ensure the accuracy and transparency of program content? How does a producer balance impartiality with partisan viewpoints when selecting sound bites from a contributor? How does a producer draw the line between respect for privacy and the use of spy cam glasses, webcams, and drones to capture events in progress? How does a producer decide whether to post or pull online media that could potentially cause distress for or inflame a section of the population? When is digital enhancement of visual elements acceptable as a production practice?

Module Objectives

Through a web-based interface that employs interactive apps, readings, case scenario exercises, and discussions, this module will increase student producers’ understanding of the complex issues that surround digital media ethics, and help students develop a decision-making process to resolve ethical challenges that arise during the research, production, and publishing phases of their digital media scholarship. The objectives of the module are as follows:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the philosophical principles and terms associated with digital media ethics by completing the Digital Media Ethics interactive app exercises and readings, and reviewing the ethical decision-making model examples.
  • Demonstrate how to implement a decision-making process that addresses various ethical issues in digital media production by completing the case scenario exercises and participating in the discussion forums.

Ethical Approaches

Study the scenario shown below and use five different approaches to ethical decision making (utilitarian, rights, fairness, common good, and virtue) to analyze how you might resolve this issue.

Step One: You are an undergraduate student double-majoring in Philosophy and Music at a four-year liberal arts college. You are a DJ for a 2-hour radio show for the college station, and you also produce an online podcast series highlighting local musicians and bands. A popular rock group comprised of students from a nearby university has just cut and released a song with inflammatory lyrics directed toward a minority population. Although you do not agree with sentiment of the song, you have a professional relationship with the members of this band and are curious about the driving force behind this particular song. You are unsure about whether you should interview this group and play their song in your next podcast episode. You use college hardware and software to produce your podcast, but stream the show using a personal paid subscription to PodOmatic.

Step Two: Use this interactive app to help guide you through your initial thought processes. Making an Ethical Decision: A Practical Tool for Thinking Through Tough Choices

Step Three: Share the results of your initial analysis with your classmates by posting your responses to these questions on Padlet.

  • Were facts missing from the scenario that might have helped you arrive at a different conclusion?
  • Of the five ethical perspectives (utility, rights, justice, common good, virtue), which one do you think weighed most heavily in your final decision?
  • What single question was the most difficult for you to answer? Why?

Readings and Resources

Complete these readings and flash card exercise which provide information on ethics in education and philosophical principles upon which ethical decision making is based.

Article One: A Framework for Making Ethical Decisions

  • Link:
  • Citation: Bonde, Sheila, and Paul Firenze. "A Framework for Making Ethical Decisions" Brown University Science and Technology Studies, May 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
  • Annotation: In this article, the authors provide a summary of the primary principles for ethical thinking, and then present a framework for decision-making that includes a recognition of ethical issues, a consideration of all the parties involved, and a collection of all relevant information.

Article Two: Ethics in a Nutshell: The Nature of Ethics

  • Link:
  • Citation: Ward, Stephen J.A. “Ethics in a Nutshell: The Nature of Ethics.” Center for Journalism Ethics, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
  • Annotation: In this article, the author explores ethical theories and their application in the decision-making process through the use of balance and modification.

Models of Ethical Decision Making

Review these five models for ethical decision making. Think about how you might apply the steps in each model to resolve the student DJ scenario introduced earlier in the Ethical Approaches exercise.

Aristotle's Golden Mean is the ideal moderate position between two extremes. It states that balance in ethical decisions leads to success and happiness, and imbalance, whether due to excess or deficiency, leads to discord and prevents self-actualization.
Developed by Sissella Bok, Swedish-born American philosopher and ethicist, this model has two primary foci - social trust and empathy. Bok's model requires you to consult your conscience, experts, and those individuals and groups affected by the decision making process.
The Potter Box model, developed by Ralph B. Potter, professor of social ethics emeritus at Harvard Divinity School, has four quadrants that are completed sequentially. The conflict is defined, personal values are identified, then philosophical or ethical principles, and finally, loyalties. If any of these conflict, the process repeats until an ethical solution is found.
The TARES test is an ethical public relations and advertising tool that helps determine if an ad should be broadcast.
Developed by Rushworth M. Kidder, founder of the Institute for Global Ethics, Kidder's Checklist is a nine-step tool that deals with moral dilemma as well as temptation-based conflict. In his book, Moral Courage, Kidder states that decision making is driven by values, morals and integrity.

Case Study Exercise

In this exercise, review the three scenarios shown below. Use one worksheet per scenario to analyze and resolve each ethical dilemma with a different model - the Bok model, the Potter Box, and Kidder's Checklist. You may choose which model to use for each scenario.

Scenario One: You are a student at a four-year liberal arts college, majoring in government and political science. Recently, you attended a campus rally for environmental protection where a young woman spoke passionately about the importance of speaking up and being heard. Using your iPhone, you recorded a 30 second clip of her speech which you believe is legal to do during public events. Upon reviewing the clip, you think it might be an excellent sound bite for a documentary you are producing on women's rights activism. Although the context in which the speech was made is different from the intent of your production, the content could support the message of civic involvement. While your documentary is primarily academic scholarship, it may eventually be shared via film festivals to a larger, public audience. Should you include the clip in your production?

Scenario Two: You are a student at a four-year liberal arts college, taking an introductory course in photography. You decide to re-create a replica of a famous New England photographer's landscape photo, Clouds and Ripples, taken in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. After carefully studying the photograph and researching the location, tides, and weather, you capture a beautiful facsimile of the original work. You turn in the work as part of your course portfolio and you also post the photo to a public online sharing site. But after reading an article about the importance of ethics in photography, you wonder if your re-creation is a form of photography plagiarism. What should you do?

Scenario Three: You are a senior at a four-year liberal arts college, double-majoring in English Language and Literature and Studio Art. You are currently serving as an intern (college credit) for a digital media strategist in Washington, D.C. Your job is to write and produce media programming that aligns with the positions and policies of the new administration. During the orientation process, you are paired with another new employee and tasked with creating ads that use A/B testing data (positive vs. negative) to target a specific target audience and run all negative content. You are concerned about the impact that this emotional manipulation may have on viewers predisposed to mental illness. Your director says that emotion is an important part of successful political mobilization; digital strategists need to run ads with different emotional content to discover which messages lead to more viewer engagement - a message infused with hope or a message filled with anger. What should you do?


Duplicate each worksheet, title it with your name and ethical model, and fill in your responses. Save each PDF file.

Discussion and Reflection Forum

Share the results of your case scenario analyses with your classmates by posting your completed PDF worksheets and responses to these questions to Padlet.

  • Do you think certain ethical decision-making models may be more effective for resolving specific situations? Provide an example.
  • Of the three models you worked with (Bok, Potter Box, Kidder’s Checklist), which one helped you the most in analyzing an ethical decision?
  • What ethical framework resonates the most with you - duty, virtue, or consequentialist?
  • How has this exercise changed the way you might approach an ethical dilemma in the future?
  • Respond to any comments to your posts.
Created By
Kate Lee

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.