• Emory Business Ethics

Ethics of Media Companies During Elections

As the country becomes increasingly politically polarized, media companies have followed suit. Just last year, the 2020 presidential election had copious amounts of concerning media publications that seemed to be fabricated or misconstrued. Often, companies that lean toward one end of the political spectrum will bias their news to fit their party’s agenda. The effects can be far-reaching, creating a larger divide among the American population and producing false stigmas regarding political figures and controversies. This issue poses the question: should the media be ethically responsible for only publishing/airing unbiased information during elections, or is regulating this an ethical violation of freedom of the press? To analyze this, one must delve into both television and social media.

Many argue that news should be unbiased and objective, and that people should make their minds up for themselves. However, if we require unbiased reporting, what about constitutional rights? The United States has a culture quintessentially strung up on individual rights, and if any action were to be taken to restrict or censor what is put on by media companies, some may claim that it is a restriction on the first amendment which protects freedom of speech and press. Still, there are concerns of misinformation and manipulation. So if we should change things, who should be in charge of it: the government, a separate bipartisan entity, networks themselves, or something/someone else? A possible solution would be to create a separate organization specifically tasked with analyzing news and media content, and deeming it accurate or inaccurate. There would be specific quantifiable protocol to deem something inaccurate. For instance, if a presidential candidate said something that wasn’t true, the organization could cite the television station’s offense. Additionally, this organization could give a list of the most credible and accurate television sources for election data and content, so that the American public has access to accurate information. If something is false, the television company still has the right to air it, but the network will lose credibility. Therefore companies will be motivated to produce accurate content.

Companies including Facebook, Google’s YouTube and Twitter are under immense political pressure to fight disinformation and voter manipulation by removing political ads, investing in authentication tools, etc. On the other hand there is still the argument that removal of certain posts violates the right to free speech. “Filter Bubbles” of social media facilitate the provision and consumption of one-sided information through the use of algorithms based on user data, allowing individuals to self-select into preferred content. By using social media, does one inherently only consume biased information? Possibly. However, users have access to a wide range of political opinions on social media.

To conclude, it is beneficial to discuss different ways in which social media might be used positively in a political context. Social media grants opportunities to educate people on basic political concepts that are not subject to opinion (ex. election systems and statistics). Given that there is a large proportion of the American population that is actually not knowledgeable about these concepts, this would be a great opportunity to spread useful knowledge. Not only could this help create a more educated population, a higher degree of political awareness could also fuel more respectful and productive social discourse. Another way that social media could be used positively is to take action and speak out against injustice. Prominent social media such as Facebook and Instagram can also be used to raise awareness about political issues going on around the world, and can promote positive action to be taken. Finally, social media has also been a useful tool to remind people to vote and be civically engaged. This uses the traditionally unhealthy online peer pressure toward something beneficial for everyone. Overall, social media is here to stay no matter what we say about it, and it’s up to us as people using and developing the technology to use it for good.

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