Media ethics: Not just for strat comm majors

Xiaoxia Yin, Opinions Writer

On Friday and Saturday, the 65th Media Ethics Institute at Washington and Lee took place.

As a student taking the media ethics class this year, I was lucky enough to participate in the case study discussions offered by the fellows of the event, who are practitioners in the communications industry.

During the discussion, we applied the major theories of ethics to real-life events and imagined what we should do if we were in those scenarios. Besides the case studies, the keynote speech on the ethical issues involved in social media also provided great insight.

In my opinion, the ethics institute is a great event for all students and faculty on campus—not only those who spend their time in Reid Hall.

First, we cannot separate ourselves from media, whether reading the news, watching TV shows or listening to the radio. Now, with social media, we can directly become a part of the media by posting, commenting and even forwarding a photo or message to others.

As a result, before putting something on our social media accounts, we need to think of the ethical impact it could have on others, which takes no more than 10 seconds of our time. After all, once a post is shared with the public, it is no longer our own, private message.

However, that raises questions of its own: what is ethics? Who should decide on ethical standards? Why do we have ethics concerns?

None of these questions has an absolute answer. The debate on ethics and morality has been waged for thousands of years and people still have not discovered one all-encompassing theory.

Not having an absolute conclusion about ethical theory is not a bad thing, and that’s why we need an event like the ethics institute to discuss that. As we were listening from others as well expressing our own ideas to our fellows, we learned about and better understood ourselves and people around us. Being confused means we are thinking and exploring, which is a much better process than acting indifferently toward ethics.

Even though we may not reach an ultimate answer about ethics until the extinction of humankind itself, it is important to keep the conversation ongoing – not only for those who play a larger role in media, but also every single person in our society who has the potential to influence others.