Ethical Considerations Of Media Influence

Using media to promote social change has always been a question mark in society.  However, the the massive influx of media in modern times, the question is almost being put by the wayside as each individual has become their own media broadcaster thanks to the use of blogging and social media.  However, the question still remains; is it like propaganda?  I quite like this excerpt from an article from the Journal of Popular Film and Television:

The systematic use of the media to promote social change has been an ethical concern since the early studies of media propaganda in the 1920s and 1930s. The United States, Britain, Germany, and Japan used film and television to support their respective military objectives during World War II. History indicates that the media can be misused to control public opinion. If all films and television programs with persuasive influence were eliminated, however, there would not be much left for people to see. The idea that entertainment culture is value-free is not plausible given the overwhelming evidence that films and television programs have measurable effects on people, regardless of whether such effects were intentional. Social science research indicates that the media already influence social change, and that we should be more concerned about how the entertainment media affect beliefs and behaviors (Thoman 8-9).

Despite the abundance of research on the negative effects of television, research also shows the popular media can have important prosocial effects on the public. The use of persuasive communication strategies to promote such effects is not unethical. Persuasion is a necessary part of a free and democratic society (Bettinghaus and Cody 14). The popular media should be regarded as being capable of promoting both constructive and destructive beliefs and behaviors. Therefore, we consider it is ethical to use popular media to persuade audiences to adopt prosocial beliefs and behaviors or to change beliefs and behaviors that are destructive to people and society.

Distinguishing Prosocial and Antisocial Messages

A second important ethical issue concerns who is best qualified to make decisions about prosocial and antisocial messages in the popular media. Previously, we defined prosocial messages as any communication that depicts cognitive, affective, and behavioral activities considered to be socially desirable or preferable by most members of a society. There are many important social issues that should be openly discussed by the popular media, but determining how to ethically present issues is a difficult task. The pressure on producers to make popular films and television programs that will attract the largest audiences possible impedes the entertainment industry’s commitment to produce popular cultural products that promote prosocial change.

Distinguishing between prosocial and antisocial content is also problematic without a common core of moral and ethical values. Defining the fundamental values of Americans has been rigorously debated since Dan Quayle raised the issue in the 1992 presidential election. We cite two examples of how a lack of consensus about values makes it impossible to evaluate media. There is a strong consensus in American society that child abuse is wrong, but some people think media portrayals of children being spanked is unethical, whereas others feel media portrayals of sexual relationships between adults and young teenagers are ethically acceptable.

A second example addresses the strong consensus that every American has an inherent and Constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Some Americans use this right to support the promotion of media that argue for the protection of unborn children from abortion, whereas others extend this right to support messages that protect a women’s ability to legally terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

Because there is no consensus in the United States on the value of an unborn child versus the value of a pregnant woman’s choice to bear a child, addressing the abortion issue in popular film and television is controversial. A 1972 episode of Maude that promoted abortion was considered prosocial by some and highly offensive by others. In 1985, an episode of Cagney and Lacey showed a right-to-life group picketing an abortion clinic. Opponents of abortion regarded the episode as prosocial, whereas supporters of abortion rights complained about it.

The primary ethical issue here is determining who will decide for whom what is prosocial. In most developing countries, the national government usually decides what is prosocial and what is antisocial. Government control of the popular media is alarming to most people concerned about unethical practices such as “brainwashing” and “political propaganda,” and is strongly resisted in the United States. The recent public and Congressional debates of the harmful effects of television violence in the United States indicate that despite the overwhelming evidence that television violence is harmful to children, most Americans resist legal restrictions against television producers.

When the responsibility for media content is left to producers of popular media, however, ethical problems are still apparent. For example, a study of daytime television soap operas in the United States indicates that most of the sexual relationships depicted on the soaps are between people not married to each other, and there are almost no portrayals of people becoming pregnant or infected with a sexually transmitted disease (Lowry and Towles 77-83). Thus, daytime soap operas promote the idea that sexual irresponsibility and infidelity have no negative consequences and that sex is primarily for unmarried people. Such research exemplifies how producers of popular media are not necessarily more responsible than governments in promoting socially beneficial beliefs and behaviors.

Discerning which values and beliefs promoted by popular media are good for society and which ones hurt society should be based on socially accepted community norms. The prosocial and antisocial effects of popular media are both individual and corporate, and therefore dealing with this issue involves more than a personal ethical decision regarding what movies to see and what television programs to watch. The corporate nature of evaluating the ethics of popular media is best illustrated in the debate over pornography. Some communities have decided that pornographic films do not benefit their community and thus should not be allowed at public theaters. Other civic leaders feel that the moral and ethical nature of films is for each person to evaluate, and thus pornography should be available to the public. Without public discussion and debate about what constitutes socially accepted norms and shared values, it is impossible to resolve the ethical issues regarding prosocial and antisocial messages.

Brown, William J., and Arvind Singhal. “Ethical considerations of promoting prosocial messages through the popular media.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 21.3 (1993): 92+.

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Software Advances

It’s amazing in this day and age that you can successfully use a computer to do most of your daily chores – shopping, banking, and staying in touch with family and friends.

Technology has also improved to the point where we can use software to fix other software.  Of course, this has probably always been the case, but the fact is that you can never be too careful with your stuff.  And that means being too careful with your personal information that might get transmitted via the internet.

There are many malicious programs out there on the internet called spyware.  Spyware can take the form of a keylogger or other malicious program that can track your data and send it along to a remove third party – who may then go on to use it in a malicious way.

I suggest that if you’re looking to really get a handle on this then you’re going to have to install an antispyware software program.  Programs like Spyhunter 4 (written about in this Spyhunter 4 review) can really help to ensure that your computer is safe and properly maintained.

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Textual Poachers And TV Culture

When I was in college I took a class on “fan cultures” and how the subculture of pop fandom could be incredibly complex and intricate.  The class brought new light to these very niche cultural divisions and brought a new definition to a “fan” of something.  These people were really serious!  One book that we used as a text in the class was “Textual Poachers” by Henry Jenkins.  Here is a review of the book:

When most people think of o Star Trek fan, they imagine a young man with glasses and a polyester uniform stretched tight over his paunch. In this book Henry Jenkins explodes that myth. The typical television fan — of Star Trek or any other show — is female, educated, and often caught in a job that doesn’t make full use of her abilities. In media fandom, she finds a social and intellectual world that is a rich complement to her mundane existence. Jenkins also discredits a more pervasive myth — that of the tv viewer as an addicted idiot passively receiving broadcasters’ ideology of consumerism. In truth, fans appropriate material from tv shows, making new meaning. They write stories and folk songs, and even make videos from re-edited programs. Not all viewers are as active and creative as fans, but it’s clear that we need to rethink basic ideas about the viewing process.

For readers like myself who are involved with modern interactive technologies such as The Well, Internet multimedia, and virtual reality, this book is an important reminder not to view more traditional media forms as “passive.” –Amy Bruckman

The colorful term “slash” refers to the convention of employing a stroke or “slash” to signify a same-sex relationship between two characters (Kirk/Spock or K/S) and specifies a genre of fan stories positing homoerotic affairs between series protagonists. Slash originated as a genre of writing within Star Trek fandom in the early 1970s, as writers began to suggest, however timidly, that Kirk and Spock cared more deeply for each other than for any of the many female secondary characters who brush past them in the original episodes.

Fan interpretive practice differs from that fostered by the educational system and preferred by bourgeois culture not simply in its object choices or in the degree of its intensity, but often in the types of reading skills it employs, in the ways that fans approach texts. From the perspective of dominant taste, fans appear to be frighteningly out of control, undisciplined and unrepentant, rogue readers. Rejecting the aesthetic distance Bourdieu suggests is a cornerstone of bourgeois aesthetics, fans enthusiastically embrace favored texts and attempt to integrate media representations into their own social experience. Unimpressed by institutional authority and expertise, fans assert their own right to form interpretations, to offer evaluations, and to construct cultural canons. Undaunted by traditional conceptions of literary and intellectual property, fans raid mass culture, claiming its materials for their own use, reworking them as the basis for their own cultural creations and social interactions.

Bruckman, Amy. “Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Callers.” Whole Earth Review 81 (1993): 99.

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Changing Content For New Technologies

It’s true that technology is exploding at a rapid pace.  I just learned that my old school district is giving iPads to the kids to use.  IPADS!  If I had an iPad for school when I was a kid I would flip out.  I’m jealous actually.  However, are the teachers and educational institutions simply putting old textbooks in a new package?  Or are they making new material that suits the advantages of this new technology?

Here’s a speculative article snippet that I found:

When are we going to finally accept the idea that the future of education should not be just an extrapolation of the past? Educational practice needs to be completely redefined, and if it is not, all of our enthusiasm surrounding technology will be meaningless.

There was no more telling–and depressing–example of this than one of the popular full-page ad for a particular distance learning system. This ad shows a teacher standing in front of a blackboard filled with tim tables! Get a grip, folks. We’re supposed to waste bandwidth by broadcasting video images of multiplication tables int classrooms around country? Hold me please–I may pass out here.

And yet, I’m sure this kind of drivel sells products because it says to educators, “Hey, don’t change a thing. just use our technology to keep on giving the same tired, top-do Lures you’ve always given.” Worried about what to do with all those old mimeo handouts? No problem, scan them in and ship them over the Net.

I think I want to throw up.

The fact of the matter is that old ideas are comfortable and we give them up with reluctance. This has to do with human nature, and the propensity is not limited to education–not by a long shot. From LPs to CDs. The reality is that new technologies are displacing old ones at an unprecedented speed, a speed that is only accelerating. In my lifetime, as an electronics hobbyist, I made the transition from vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits. It took less than 20 years for the microwave oven to move from oddity to an essential kitchen appliance. On the audio front, CDs have become so pervasive that I have a teen-age cousin who doesn’t even know what a phonograph record is.

Obviously, high-speed changes like these are sharply affecting employment. When I was in school, a job in a Fortune 500 company was deemed a ticket to secure success. Since that time, the Fortune 500 has permanently cut 25 per cent of its workforce. But for every job lost in the Fortune 500, 2.5 jobs were created by small entrepreneurial companies.

What are our schools doing to prepare children for this rapidly changing world? If you don’t know what I am talking about, answer this question: How many required courses do your students have to take on entrepreneurship or on starting their own company?

Our system of education is largely unchanged from the system established during the Middle Ages. Yes, certain practices have changed, but the system has not. Schools are still largely built around the concept of information as a scarce resource that must be metered out by teachers, primarily through lectures. Has the technological revolution changed this? Not by a long shot. It is not enough to just bring in some new flashy, interactive multimedia. We need to spend some time thinking about what we are trying to accomplish and in the process we may have to grapple with what we have to change to get different results. Unless we have the guts to abandon instructional practices that don’t meet our needs, we’ll never have the time to create the educational system needed to prepare kids for their future.

Can you spell r-o-t-e? Let’s look at one example. Someone came up to me after a workshop and asked how I felt about weekly spelling lists. This person pointed out that if we teach 20 spelling words a week for 40 weeks a year over 12 years, this amounts to a written vocabulary of 9,600 words (assuming none of these words is ever forgotten). Whoopee. Since kids by that age have a working vocabulary of over 20,000 words, most of which they can spell, we might ask just where it was they learned how to spell the other 10,000 words we never got around to teaching? (Yes, I can feel your hackles rising.

For the record, I am a fan of knowing how to spell words correctly–or at least knowing how to spell them well enough that my spell-checker can find the mistakes and recommend the correct replacement.

The question is–where does all this rote learning lead? in math, we spend about a decade trying (unsuccessfully) to turn our youth into replicas of $3 pocket calculators, and then wonder why they have a hard time with word problems. This decontextualization of learning is one of the core reasons why so many of our students come out of schools so ill-equipped to function in the work world.

We present material linearly, even though our children think in a broad mosaic of interconnected patterns. True interactive media–the best commercial software and very often the projects created by young people themselves–reflect this reality, but much of traditional classroom teaching does not. We persist in operating in the Gutenbergian world of left-right, top-down presentations from the printed page. The time has come to stop preparing our kids for a world that no longer exists. How long are we going to put the same old vinegary wine in new bottles?

David Thornburg runs the Thornburg (enter for Professional Development in San Ramon, Colif. His most recent book is Education in the Communication Age. To order, e-mail DThornburg@aolcom. pare kids for their future.

Thornburg, David. “Old wine in new bottles: new technology should not be delivering the same old goods.” Electronic Learning Mar. 1995: 18+.

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