Communication Ethics – Spring ’15


Mike Lyons
Office: Merion Hall 16
Office hours: MW – 2:15-3:15; T – 10-12, or by appointment (book an appointment here).
e-mail: (Please allow at least 24 hours for a response. If you don’t get one by then, e-mail me again.)

Media and technology seem to shape so much of our behavior and culture today that sometimes we feel like we’re under its spell – that media and mediamakers control us. We are also told that there has never been a time in history when we have been so in control of the mediated world around us. We have cameras in our pockets, we can pick and choose the music we listen to and we can tweet the President. This course explores the impact of these changes on our public discourse, our relationships with powerful institutions and with each other.

We will examine issues such as  free speech, copyright, digital divides, privacy and the impact of technology on our legal rights. Along the way we will discuss photography, journalism and music among other topics. This course will serve as an introduction to the complicated issues raised by the spread of digital media and help lay a foundation for future coursework.

Course objectives

• Develop a critical understanding of how issues of power and technology influence the way we communicate as individuals and as a society.
• Outline some of the ethical challenges in our roles as media producers and members of online communities.
• Convey an understanding of issues related to digital media ethics through extensive writing assignments, oral and multimedia presentations.
• Map the contours of the digital media landscape with particular emphasis on the ethical, social and cultural dilemmas that emerge at the intersection of digital technologies and diverse communities of practice.

Required Books/Readings/Viewing

These should be available at the Bookstore or through Amazon. Two of the books, Blown to Bits and The Social Media Reader are available as free downloads.

• Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death
• Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis, Blown to Bits. 3rd Edition. (Available as a free download)

Other “texts” for the course include three documentaries. I will supply these:

RIP: A Remix Manifesto
We Live in Public
We Are Legion

Other readings/multimedia pieces will be available as pdfs or links on the course website.


Students will be asked to demonstrate engagement with the course concepts in a variety of ways. Since this is a writing intensive source, much of it will be demonstrated through various types of written assignments, ranging from short responses to a longer essay-type stuff. As in all Digital Media and Communications courses, hands-on production assignments will also be part of the class.

These assignments are meant to build skills in close reading, persuasive writing, engaged speaking, active listening, and digital literacy.

Reading Notes

This course requires a lot of reading. I am asking each of you to take notes on each reading that we do for class and share those notes with me in a Google doc. The intention here is to help you express what you did and didn’t understand about the reading, identify some key concepts and terms that are important to know in a discussion of digital media ethics and pose some discussion questions about the readings. Your reading notes are due by 9 a.m. on the day of class.

Ethical issue timeline

Ethical issues are typically far more complicated than they appear. This assignment will require you to map the unfolding of an ethical issue using a timeline production app (Dipity or something similar).

Norms breaching experiment and reflective essay

There are rules about how we use technology. These social norms are often hidden and we take them for granted until they are broken. This project requires you to purposely break social norms on social media, document how people respond and then reflect on the experience.

I will provide a guide that explains the assignment in detail.


A 3- to 5-minute mash-up and process/reflective essay.


Your grade will be determined through a combination of the following:

• Ethical issue timeline (15 percent)
• Norms breaching experiment and reflective essay(20 percent)
• Reading notes (25 percent)
• Midterm (10 percent)
• Mashup (20 percent)
• Final (10 percent)

Participation and Attendance

Our success as a class requires that everyone attend prepared to talk. That means having done the readings and required reading notes.

I take attendance. You get three unexcused absences – a week. After that, each absence will result in the loss of half a letter grade. More than five absences will result in a failing grade.


Projects are due on the date listed on the schedule. Each day late will result in a letter grade deduction. Reading notes are due two hours before class. They will not be accepted after that.

Academic Integrity

No form of academic misconduct will be tolerated in this course. Cheating and plagiarism will result in an immediate fail and you will be reported to the appropriate official in your college. Plagiarism is defined in the Student Code of Conduct as follows:

1. Submitting another’s published or unpublished work in whole, in part or in paraphrase, as one’s own without fully and properly crediting the author with footnotes, quotation marks, citations, or bibliographical reference.

2. Submitting as one’s own original work, material obtained from an individual or agency without reference to the person or agency as the source of the material.

3. Submitting as one’s own original work material that has been produced through unacknowledged collaboration with others without release in writing from collaborators.

Special Needs

For those who have or think that you may have a disability (learning, physical or psychological), you are encouraged to contact Services for Students with Disabilities, Room G10, Bellarmine, 610-660-1774 or 610-660-1620 as early as possible in the semester. Reasonable accommodations can only be offered to students with current (within 3 years) documentation of the disability and to the extent that such accommodation does not interfere with the essential requirements of a particular course or program.



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