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Robots, Algorithms, and Digital Ethics

The Media Ethics Initiative Presents:

How to Survive the Robot Apocalypse


Photo: Media Ethics Initiative


Dr. David J. Gunkel

Distinguished Teaching Professor
Department of Communication
Northern Illinois University

April 3 — 2:00-3:30PM — BMC 5.208

[Video of talk here]


Whether we recognize it or not, we are in the midst of a robot invasion. The machines are now everywhere and doing virtually everything. We chat with them online. We play with them in digital games. We collaborate with them at work. And we rely on their capabilities to help us manage all aspects of our increasingly data-rich, digital lives.  As these increasingly capable devices come to occupy influential positions in contemporary culture—positions where they are not just tools or instruments of human action but social actors in their own right—we will need to ask ourselves some intriguing but rather difficult questions: At what point might a robot, an algorithm, or other autonomous system be held responsible for the decisions it makes or the actions it deploys? When, in other words, would it make sense to say “It’s the computer’s fault?” Likewise, at what point might we have to seriously consider extending something like rights—civil, moral or legal standing—to these socially active devices? When, in other words, when would it no longer be considered non-sense to suggest something like “the rights of robots?” In this engaging talk, David Gunkel will demonstrate why it not only makes sense to talk about these things but also why avoiding this subject could have significant social consequences.

1ladETpkDr. David J. Gunkel is an award-winning educator, scholar and author, specializing in the study of information and communication technology with a focus on ethics. Formally educated in philosophy and media studies, his teaching and research synthesize the hype of high-technology with the rigor and insight of contemporary critical analysis. He is the author of over 50 scholarly journal articles and book chapters and has published 7 books. He is the managing editor and co-founder of the International Journal of Žižek Studies and co-editor of the Indiana University Press series in Digital Game Studies. He currently holds the position of Professor in the Department of Communication at Northern Illinois University, and his teaching has been recognized with numerous awards.

Free and open to the UT community and general public –  Follow us on Facebook

Hacking Big Data

The Media Ethics Initiative Presents:

Hacking Big Data: Discovering Vulnerabilities in a Sociotechnical Society

Dr. danah boyd

Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the Founder of Data & Society

March 6, 2018 —  5:00-6:30PM —  BMC 1.202 — [Video of talk here]


Data-driven and algorithmic systems increasingly underpin many decision-making systems, shaping where law enforcement are stationed and what news you are shown on social media. The design of these systems is inscribed with organizational and cultural values. Often, these systems depend on the behavior of everyday people, who may not act as expected. Meanwhile, adversarial actors also seek to manipulate the data upon which these systems are built for personal, political, and economic reasons. In this talk, danah will unpack some of the unique cultural challenges presented by “big data” and machine learning, raising critical questions about fairness and accountability. She will describe how those who are manipulating media for lulz are discovering the attack surfaces of new technical systems and how their exploits may undermine many aspects of society that we hold dear. Above all, she will argue that we need to develop more sophisticated ways of thinking about technology before jumping to hype and fear.

Dr. danah boyd is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, the founder and president of Data & Society, and a Visiting Professor at New York University. Her research is focused on addressing social and cultural inequities by understanding the relationship between technology and society. Her most recent books – “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens” and “Participatory Culture in a Networked Age” – examine the intersection of everyday practices and social media. She is a 2011 Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Director of both Crisis Text Line and Social Science Research Council, and a Trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian. She received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Brown University, a master’s degree from the MIT Media Lab, and a Ph.D in Information from the University of California, Berkeley.

Co-sponsored by the Global Media Industry Speaker Series

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The Real Ethics of Fake News

The Media Ethics Initiative and Center for Media Engagement Present:

The Real Ethics of Fake News

Dr. Scott R. Stroud

Associate Professor of Communication Studies, University of Texas at Austin

February  27 — 2-3:30PM — BMC 5.208

[Video of talk here]

fake news

Photo: GDJ / CC0

Is fighting fake news as simple as it seems to be? What ethical challenges will our efforts to stomp out fake news create? More and more attention is being directed at the impact of fake news on American democracy. Scholars in a range of fields are attempting to determine who is behind fake news propaganda efforts, what its effects are, and how to combat it using technological means. This study looks at the ethical issues raised in the fight against fake news. By developing an outline of a pragmatist media ethics, this article examines the complex ethical terrain of the seemingly simple problem of fake news. Additionally, the pragmatist approach to fake news also allows us to highlight the conflicting values and outcomes at stake in our attempts to conceptualize and eradicate this new ethical challenge in our social media environments. Such an imaginative engagement with the phenomenon of fake news on its own terms is an essential first step in diagnosing its ethical challenges and potential solutions.

Dr. Scott Stroud is the Director of the Media Ethics Initiative and an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His research covers a range of topics in communication and philosophy. He is the author of John Dewey and the Artful Life (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011), Kant and the Promise of Rhetoric (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014), and A Practical Guide to Ethics: Living and Leading with Integrity (co-authored with Rita Manning, Westview Press, 2007). He has published work on a variety of topics in media ethics, including blogging ethics, revenge porn, and the online activism of Anonymous.

Free and open to the UT community and general public

For further information, contact Dr. Scott Stroud

Idealized Images of Women in the Media

The Media Ethics Initiative Presents:

The Preference for Idealized Imagery in the Media and Detrimental Self-Perceptions Among Women – When does it Begin?


Dr. Kate Pounders

Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations

University of Texas at Austin

February 6 (Tuesday) –  3:30-4:30PM – CMA 5.136


A large body of work has documented exposure to idealized and unattainable imagery in the media in the form of body size has a negative impact on young women. Previous research has primarily used social comparison as the theoretical framework to examine these effects. This talk will highlight a study that examined the impact of idealized imagery on both ad and self-outcomes with college women, as well as an ongoing study that examines these effects in girls 8-10 years old.

Dr. Kate Pounders is a consumer psychologist who investigates emotions, goals, and the self. Her research focuses on the role of emotion and identity in the contexts of communication strategy effectiveness and health communication. Dr. Pounders is especially interested in the role that emotion and gender identity play in understanding women’s reactions to persuasion strategy and health issues. Other areas of interest include motivation and information processing. She has published work in the Journal of Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Advertising, Journal of Advertising Research, Journal of Health Psychology, Psychology and Marketing, Journal of Current Issues in Advertising, European Journal of Marketing, Journal of Medical Internet Research, and the Journal of Communications in Healthcare. She is also a member of the Association for Consumer Research, the Academy of Marketing Science, and the American Academy of Advertising.

Free and open to the UT community and general public

For further information, contact Dr. Scott Stroud

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[Video here]


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