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The Dark Side of Social Media

Did you miss the exciting Media Ethics Initiative panel discussion on the issues raised by our social media technologies and practices? Watch the video to see what the editor and contributors to the new book, The Dark Side of Social Media, have to say about pressing ethical issues online.


Panel Shines Light on the Dark Issues of Social Media

By Angela Whiteley / Photos: Kyla Canavan

AUSTIN, Texas- The Media Ethics Initiative hosted a speaker panel featuring professor Angeline Close on Monday, November 6, at the Belo Center for New Media. Close discussed her new book, “The Dark Side of Social Media,” which explores the misuses and consequences of online social platforms.

Angeline Close, professor at the University of Texas at Austin, explains how the use of social media has several unintended consequences (photo Angela Whiteley).

Close began the conversation by explaining that the use of social media has many unintended consequences, which she calls digital drama, defined as “the occurrence of and reactions to negative online consumer behavior.”

“Social media has transcended the way that we think,” said Close. “It’s tainted our perception of reality.”

Other members of the panel included Allye Doorey from The Richards Group, Jonathan Henson, a doctoral student in the Department of Communication Studies, and Scott R. Stroud, the founding director of the Media Ethics Initiative.

Henson and Stroud discussed revenge pornography as an example of the digital drama Close writes about in her book.

Revenge porn involves the exchange of sexually explicit images between two individuals in a relations

hip. The images are then uploaded to the internet often by one of the parties after the relationship has ended without consent. The result is an irreversible invasion of privacy and the publication of sensitive material.

“There are over 3,000 websites that host this activity,” Henson said. “They’re set up like social media sites, where they post these pictures and then ask for identifying characteristics.”

The issues surrounding revenge porn include its increasing frequency, as well as existing legislation established to address it. Stroud explained that these laws are insufficient and do not speak to the complete scope of the problem.

“Part of the challenge to law is keeping up with technology,” said Stroud. The circumstantial dimensions of consent and intent make this topic “a complex online phenomenon.”

A panel including professor Angeline Close, Allye Doorey from The Richards Group, doctoral student Jonathan Henson and Scott Stroud, director of the Media Ethics Initiative, discussed di

Stroud described how these elements vary on a case by case basis, which complicates the creation of law. Not every case of revenge porn is entirely nonconsensual and the uploader’s intent is not always to cause harm.

To combat the rise of revenge porn and other unintended consequences of digital drama, the panel advised the audience to build awareness by continuing the conversation regarding media ethics and responsible online behavior.

“As a communication major, I’m more aware of the downsides of social media than most people,” said Kyla Canavan, a third year public relations student who attended the event. “I feel like those of us with this awareness have a duty to teach others about the importance of maintaining an ethical online presence.”

Media Ethics Citizen Scholars Program

Media Ethics Citizen Scholars are part of the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Pre-Graduate School Internship program at the University of Texas at Austin. This internship is open to students in all UT colleges, schools, and departments. Students can earn 1, 2, or 3 credits (CMS 164M/264M/364M) by participating in the internship program. Citizen Scholars will help the Media Ethics Initiative promote reflection on media ethics at the cropped-14877540258_37b2855b94.jpgUniversity of Texas at Austin and beyond (

What activities do Media Ethics Citizen Scholars take part in?

  • Scholars attend at least three exciting events on campus discussing media ethics during the semester.
  • Scholars work with a graduate student or faculty mentor to design a project connected to issues in communication or media ethics. Examples might include: writing blog posts on pressing topics in media ethics, preparing a research paper, constructing case studies in an area of media ethics, doing original research, and more.

What do Media Ethics Citizen Scholars get from this program?

  • Scholars earn the title of “Media Ethics Citizen Scholars,” and will be recognized on the Media Ethics Initiative website.
  • Scholars will learn more about the ethical dilemmas and media ethics in an industry of interest.
  • Scholars may also be eligible for a Kuhn Intellectual Entrepreneurship Award. This award is designed to encourage first generation and economically disadvantaged undergraduate students to pursue their academic passions and to consider graduate study (funding may be used for: traveling to conferences, potential graduate school visits, research endeavors, supplies, books).
  • Scholars from Moody College of Communication and other participating colleges at UT are eligible for travel funds to attend an academic conference with their mentor.

Applications for the Media Ethics Citizen Scholars Program can be submitted at any time in the fall and up the fourth class session in the spring. Submit your internship application:

For more information on the Media Ethics Citizen Scholars Program, contact: Dr. Scott Stroud, Director of the Media Ethics Initiative

Share our Media Ethics Citizen Scholars Program Poster


The Ethics of Climate Communication

An Interview with Dr. Jean Goodwin

In less than a week, Dr. Jean Goodwin (North Carolina State University) will deliver a public lecture for the Media Ethics Initiative on the ethical issues in our communication and argument about climate change. Dr. Scott Stroud, MEI Director, sat down with Dr. Goodwin (virtually, of course, since we live the future at MEI) and found out more about her approach to rhetoric, communication, and ethics.JG pic

Stroud: Can you tell me a bit about your training and interests in communication? What got you into this line of work, and what are you interested in?

Goodwin: I was enjoying legal practice, but couldn’t figure out an institutional setting I was willing to put up with—staying with the bureaucracy at legal aid, working for a big firm, or hanging up my own shingle and spending half my time trying to squeeze money out of clients. I had had some courses in rhetoric as an undergrad, and had learned that rhetoric was creative, systematic, and argumentative. Cool! I was happy to find that there were actually PhD programs where you could study it.

Stroud: I see you’ve done some past work on classical rhetoric, including important figures such as Cicero. How did you get interested in that area? Why do you think classical rhetoric still matters to us today?

Goodwin: I fell into classical rhetoric partially by accident: when it was time for me to choose a dissertation topic, I had had at least one seminar a year on Cicero, so he was the rhetorician I knew the most much about! But this turned out to be a piece of good luck, since the highly agonistic politics of the Roman Republic provides useful perspectives on our own. Cicero had neither armies, high birth or exceptional wealth; to survive in political combat, he had only words. How did he make them work?

Stroud: What are some of your present research projects? What else are you involved in right now that may be of interest to those thinking about the intersection between ethics and communication?

Goodwin: There’s a fundamental question underlying all communication: Why does it work at all?  Why should we pay attention to others’ messages, much less credit them? After all, junk mail gets tossed into the bin by the door. I have been collaborating with other colleagues in argumentation studies to examine precisely this question, focusing on civic controversies–situations where we expect disagreement and distrust to be widespread. Our research suggests that speakers establish themselves as trustworthy by making and living up to ethical commitments. In this sense, communication can only be effective if it is ethical.

Stroud: Some of your recent work focuses on science communication. What are some of the pressing ethical issues that those studying science communication should think more about?

Goodwin: Scientists often voice concern about the poor state of science communication. But being scientists, what they think they need are social scientific studies that document the effectiveness of specific communication techniques. In my view, communicators who set out to meddle with others’ minds are likely to be perceived as manipulative, and their messages rejected. (In fact, this is an ancient lesson, going back to Plato’s Gorgias.) Instead, I believe that scientists should be thinking much more about their ethical responsibilities–what they need to do to earn the trust of their fellow citizens.

Stroud: Specifically, I see that you’re thinking more about the choices that scientists may make in public deliberation over climate change’s causes and possible solutions. What are some of those ethical choices in the communication over climate change?

Goodwin: Scientists tend to be very aware of disagreement within their own fields. But when communicating with broader publics, they sometimes become less tolerant of differing views. While is is entirely appropriate for scientists to use their rights as citizens and advocate strongly for the single, correct answer, there are other roles that they can usefully play in public deliberations. Selecting among roles–advocate, advisor, reporter, educator–is the key ethical choice a scientist can make in climate communication.

Find out more about Dr. Goodwin’s take on science communication and the ethics of the climate change debate at her talk on November 14, 2:00-3:30PM, BMC 5.208. More details here.

Philosopher Discusses New Media’s Threat to Democracy

By Sarah BallardFig 2- Professor Gregory Pappas explains two different types of democracy, what he calls thin democracy and thick democracy (Photo-Sarah Ballard)

AUSTIN, Texas – In a lecture on Oct. 25, Gregory F. Pappas, a distinguished fellow for the Latino Research Initiative at The University of Texas at Austin and professor of philosophy at Texas A&M, discussed how new media technologies inhibit deeper learning and threaten the health of democracy.

Pappas is well known for his work in pragmatism, which understands philosophical thought as a means of solving problems. He is the author of “Pragmatism in the Americas” and “John Dewey’s Ethics: Democracy as Experience.”

During his lecture, Pappas explained how the internet and social media allow people to avoid critical thinking and social interaction. He said that the instant gratification new media provides interferes with learning at a deeper level.

“With such a dependence on computers, students technically do not even need to go to class, and technically there isn’t a need for universities at all,” said Pappas. “However, this type of learning is lacking quality. It is not a meaningful learning experience as the students are missing out on the process of learning.”

Pappas went on to discuss how democracy is affected by this, explaining that most people think of democracy as “thin,” which refers to the simple act of voting in elections. However, he explained how democracy needs to be more in order to become “thick” democracy.

“Thick democracy is so important, yet it is hard to achieve with the Internet grabbing our attention constantly,” said Pappas. “With thick democracy, you develop citizens who think critically, think on their own and challenge authority.”

Pappas explained that, in contrast to thin democracy, thick democracy involves fraternity, which includes both communication and community. As our society has become incredibly dependent on the web, the Internet has polarized people and taken away the community aspect.

“I thought Dr. Pappas was very enthusiastic about the issues technology has created, specifically with education and democracy,” said Morgan Malouf, a senior public relations major. “He called to the audience to become more aware of the negative impacts [of] our everyday technology.”

Pappas’ research includes Latin American traditions of philosophy. His current project is called “An Inter-American Approach to the Problems of Injustice.” He is vice president of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy and the editor-in-chief of the online scholarly journal The Inter-American Journal of Philosophy.

This lecture, which took place in the Jesse H. Jones Building, was a part of the Media Ethics Initiative lectures series. The Media Ethics Initiative supports research that explores topics relating to communication and the media.

New Media, Education, and Democracy

Watch Dr. Gregory Pappas (Texas A&M) discuss the implications and meaning of new media technology on education and democracy.

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