Ethical issues on media and the relationship to the consumption of digital media

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18 November 2015

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Ethical issues on media and the relationship to the consumption of digital media


       The past two decades came with inconceivably rapid redevelopments and transformations of the place taken by traditional media. The media moved from the traditionally secluded place it used to occupy, towards the occupation of newly developed media forms, including those that are used for the computerization of communication and the linkage of different people and entire communities. The change in the work and the place taken by the media came with unprecedented discussions over the adverse effects of the adoption of the new technologies. The developments of the field of media communication to span the newly developed digital media also came with an increase in the necessity of areas that were not necessary before, including information control, the ethical nature of communication and also the unprecedented influence of media firms and platforms. In particular, ethics and the accountability of the parties using the new media forms has become a major area of change and control, where the effectiveness of management evidenced the effectiveness of the entire system.

       The increasing attention offered to ethics and the ethical duty of the people using these media has come with a wide array of controls and limitations in the freedoms enjoyed by the users of the media. More specifically, there is a lot of attention channeled towards the relationship found between the new platforms of media communication and sharing. One of the problems created by the huge leaps in the usability of the new media has been sexting. Sexting has traditionally been defined as the transmission of snaps/ pictures to friends and members of other networks, especially when the messages transmitted showed nudity or semi-nude people. The platform can be linked to other mobile communication numbers, or send the information to the wider-reaching internet network, which has become increasingly possible. This report explores the ethical issues that come up with the use and the working of the new media platforms. In particular, it will explore people’s or society’s use and consumption of digital media (sexting) among the young generation, as an area that violates ethical standards, due to the negligence of society – from the context of California. The information developed will be valuable for authorities like educational regulators and policy makers, as an area that is sensitive among the younger generation, and one calling for cautious control.

Literature review (background) on the problem under exploration

       The definitions of sexting are wide reaching, but the overarching areas of coverage include that it entails the capturing of nude or close to nude images of the users, and then transmitting it over a phone network or the wider-spanning internet framework (Chalfen, 2009). More recently, the phenomena of sexting has been featured as a critical young generation’s problem-area, and one that has attracted a lot of media attention (Mitchell et al. 2012). The phenomenon of sexting has also found its way into the spheres of legal forums, policy formulation and educational research, as a problem that has violated all the ethical standards that were regarded solemn before now. More recent studies have highlighted that the problem is a common phenomenon among adults, as it was manifested through the sexting scandals that affected public figures during the 2010s. The common scandals included those of Anthony Weiner, which was heavily publicized in 2011. The expansion of the problem area to encompass the adult population has increased its presence in the literature intended for the adult population, and it is not necessarily communicated as a risky phenomenon (Sweet, 2012). However, following the publication of the legal tussles related to the young-generation’s subjection to criminal prosecution for the transmission of child-pornography, it has become an ethics hot spot. The ethical value of controlling and addressing the new problem area includes that it has become a new platform where the behavior of users can be highly criminal, especially due to the problem of exploitation.

       By putting the problem into the social context of developed societies, like the US, it became apparent that there has been little or no discourse on the engagement of the young generation in developing the solutions. In particular, the voice of the young generation has remained absent in the discourse made and maintained about the problems that affect them directly, despite the apparent necessity of seeking their side on such issues. In particular, the literature related to similar problem areas have little to do with its integration into the day-to-day media use of different groups. The problem area and the ethics related to it have also been impaired by its treatment in educational and media-use debates, because it has been branded like an aspect of cyber bullying (Cox Communications, 2009). Through the study of the problem area of sexting, and more importantly, the ethical concerns that arise from it, it is hoped that new knowledge will be created about the phenomena in the US. The area has received little attention in the past, because it has been secluded from the sensitive areas that are classified as forms of victimization, personal abuse and harassment. More importantly, it has not received a lot of attention because it is an every-day activity that has been closely compared to the use of mobile telephony as a communication platform.

       The major problem leading to the sensitivity of the ethical issues surrounding it revolve around its centrality as a day-to-day cultural practice performed by the members of society and adjusted to suit the cultural needs of different groups. The solution to the ethical problems arising from the phenomenon of sexting is one that can be addressed through a reliable partnership between the young generations, which is heavily affected by the problem. It is important to engage other authorities in society (Tallon eta al., 2012). Through adopting the outlook of exploring the problem from the cultural lens of the media, it is hoped that this study will develop information that can be used to contain the ethical crisis. In particular, by focusing on the information that will be gathered about the media utilization of the young generation, newer ways of estimating the problem and controlling it will be found and tried in the future (Chalfen, 2009).

Research Methodology

Context of study from published information

       Prior to the study, the researchers catalogued available information on Sexting in America, during the late 2000s. In particular, the attention of study was after the field became a major publicly debated area. During the comparative exploration, the investigators took account of important themes from new media. After compiling the information, a comparison was developed, using the information that has been published in the past, about the study area of sexting. The study of the phenomenon was done across a variety of settings, including bouncing the discussion off, a focus group panel of youths aged between 15 and 18. The second framework for the study took the form of a practice-based workshop that gathered information from the adult groups that are ordinarily involved in discussions on the social phenomenon (Albury & Crawford, 2012). The groups featured included the panels involved in policy formulation and the influence and place of sexting in educational spheres.

Focus group-based data collection

       The views and the attitudes of the youths covered by the study were collected from three groups hosted at the Generation Z Institute for media studies. The informants covered by the study were selected using the arms-length model. The prequalification was done over SMS and email notifications after collecting the contacts from professional networks and peers. The notification about the study was also communicated across a variety of Facebook pages, including those belonging to the area’s youth groups and entertainment centers. The investigators received consent for incorporating participant studied, as participants and from their parents.

       The focus group discussions featured were administered through two semi-structured groups. During the discussions, the participants were supplied with a leaflet showing the definition of sexting, and a list of the items they considered as sexting. During the discussions, the researchers showed the participants five videos, including a sexting TV programming episode, social work film, and other videos that showed the behaviors classified under sexting.

Professional workshops

       The workshops were held on 2nd of December 2014. The workshop meetings took place inside the public hall of the New Castle Institute. The team was comprised of 15 professional stakeholders from various departments and organizations. All the groups represented were those that encountered sexting or dealt with it in their circles of work. The groups in attendance included youth affairs workers, law enforcement, youth advocates, criminology experts, educational experts and law makers. The involvement of different panel members was done after they consented to the participation, and all of them participated willingly.

       Apart from the experts in attendance, the participants of the focus groups studied were invited, and more were sourced through professional networks and from the networks of other organizations. Prior to the workshop, the participants recruited were supplied with a working paper that guided them on the areas that needed to be explored in the area of study. During the discussions, the participants were clustered into four groups for the discussions on sexting and ethics and the possible effects on education.

Findings from the study

       The study only engaged the young people that can give their consent, despite still being considered children under the law. Despite the reliance of the study on a small sample, it raised questions on various aspects, including the assumptions incorporated into sexting education (Crawford 2011).

Focus groups

       The participants defined sexting as the transmission of images or other media showing partially-clothed or nude people, in a manner that was suggestive. The members consented to doing it, but in almost all cases unknowingly. The participants did not refer to the sexting behaviors as sexting, but used terms like “sending pictures”. The participants, considered the practice as highly negative, although some emphasized that ethical issues come up when the images sent are offensive to the recipient. The participants expressed discontentment about the adult view that the transmission of all images showing partially-naked or nude people was unethical (Mitchell et al., 2012). Many classified the images of semi-naked people, especially those showing males as embarrassing and not shameful. The issue of consent often came up as a major aspect of sexting; many regarded offensiveness as the main determinant of whether the exchange amounted to sexting. Others viewed that sexting was only present in the cases where the communicating parties were doing it consciously. The participants expressed surprise over the legal penalties, especially the position sexting could attract a legal penalty; they regarded legal redress overdoing it.

Stakeholder workshop

       The findings gathered from the expert teams included that, sexual consent laws were not necessarily relevant, but that it was ethical to consider the cultural context surrounding the exchange of images. The teams viewed that adults were equally lacking the necessary knowledge needed to safely navigate themselves and their children around the problematic area of sexting. The experts considered the communication of sexting information an area of paramount importance, especially when delivered at schools, where the young learned the behaviors. The experts recommended that education as well as policy options need to take into account, young people’s ages and contentiousness.


       The experts as well as the youths pointed out the gendered view on sexting and the education delivered to counter the social problem. The two groups pointed out that the problem of sexting was one ingrained in the social framework and culture, and the evidence included the publication of shameful images like those of Kate Middleton. The case demonstrated adult participation in the behavior. The issue of the social networks, relations and the reference culture came up, and the teams agreed that the ethics surrounding nudity should be highlighted further, because the problem was manifest in different forms (Attwood & Smith, 2011). The teams pointed out that the non-consensual sharing and transmission of the images was negative, and one that appealed to the ethics of society. The findings and comments gathered from the youth focus groups showed that they did not have knowledge about the laws governing the ethical issue of sexting. The indication of the ignorance of the group on the laws indicated the importance of educating them in the area, so that they could know the boundaries of sexting, and where they could seek redress for violations. The education would need to explore their responsibilities, with regards to the use of consent and nature of content, so as to act legally and ethically.

       The general exclusion of the youths in talks related to sexting was demonstrably one area that needed to be corrected, because they expressed consensus in relation to the use of content. For example, some emphasized that self-portraits and selfies sent to a consenting partner was not an ethical concern. However, they highlighted the importance of checking the nature and the content of public selfies, because the audience was wider and breaching ethical values was easier. They addressed one aspect of photos and content that was not explored by the experts, and it was the emphasis of the necessity of the context of content creation. For example, the youths highlighted that a half-naked photo taken at the beach was not as private as one taken in the bedroom. The group also emphasized that some content would be offensive, but would not breach the ethical values of society. The examples they highlighted as requiring the understanding of the adult population included flirtatious content transmitted between consenting parties. In exploring the issue of consent, they highlighted the necessity of the social circle intended to receive the pictures. One example highlighted was that of an image intended for a daughter aged 17, but found by the father who is 42 years old (Mitchell et al., 2012).

       In light of the ethical issues communicated and agreed upon during the moderated talk between the experts and a wider participant group, it became evident that ethical failures demonstrated the negligence of educators, parents and also policy makers. The seclusion of the young in talks related to the ethical issues of sexting and the whole issue was pointed out as a recipe for disaster, because the solutions developed were unable to address the problem. The talks emphasized that stopping sexting was almost impossible, but the young were very willing to work on harm reduction, following knowledge of law and ethical duties. For example, the education to be delivered to the young needed to be one focused on fostering the respectful exchange of content (Attwood & Smith, 2011). The new outlook on the problem highlighted the importance of reforming the laws in force, so as to offer more appropriate redress and guidance for the behavior of the youths.


       The past few decades saw major changes in digital media usage and transformations in the social relations of young people, as well as those of adults. However, the developments corresponded with a new variety of ethical issues, and there was little information available to the youths as well as the adults. Due to the scarcity of well-though-out information, there was little consensus on the behaviors that amounted to the breach of ethical responsibilities and legal offenses. The same problem was highlighted in the literature studied before the study started, and the issues highlighted included that the young generation was excluded from talks on sexting and the ethics it covered. For that reason, their vulnerability to ethical and legal violations increased; many victims did not know that they were making such violations. The information gathered from the literature review was supported by the findings collected through focus-group discussions with the young, and the experts exploring the issues. In light of the new knowledge developed, this study presented a wide range of recommendations, through the context of sexting and the nature of ethical violations that could come up.


Albury, K., & Crawford, K. (2012). Sexting, consent and young people’s ethics: Beyond Megan’s Story. Continuum, 26(3), 463-473.

Attwood, F., & Smith, C. (2011). Investigating young people’s sexual cultures: an introduction. Sex Education, 11(3), 235-242.

Chalfen, R. (2009). It’s only a picture’: sexting, ‘smutty’ snapshots and felony charges. Visual Studies, 24(3), 258-268.

Cox Communications. (2009). Teen Online and Wireless Safety survey: Cyber bullying, sexting, and parental controls. May 2009. Cox Communications with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).Mitchell, K.J., Finkelhor, D., Jones, L.M. & Wolak, J. (2012). Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study. Pediatrics, 129(1), 13-20.

Sweet, L. (2012). Dirty Talking & Texting Tips…!! London: Carlton Books.

Tallon, K., Choi, A., Keeley, M., Elliott, J. & Maher, D. (2012). New Voices / New Laws: School-age young people in New South Wales speak out about the criminal laws that apply to their online behavior. November 2012. Sydney: National Children’s and Youth Law Centre and Legal Aid NSW.

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StudyScroll. (2015). Ethical issues on media and the relationship to the consumption of digital media. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 5-Dec-2022]

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