Book Review: Charles Ess – Digital Media Ethics

Reviewed by Elizabeth Patterson

In Digital Media Ethics, Charles Ess explores the ethical issues encountered in digital media from a global perspective. Ess focuses on issues and legal regulations within the US, EU, and Asia. Some of the main topics covered in the book include privacy, copyright, citizen journalism, and general digital media ethics. Ess goes into great detail about each topic, and includes case studies and discussion questions within each chapter of the book. The layout and structure of the book are perfect for students and classroom settings.

One of the strongest qualities of this book is the detail throughout. Each topic is explored thoroughly, and includes related case studies and discussion questions to allow the reader to contemplate the content on an even deeper level. In addition, Ess does an excellent job of helping the reader to understand data mining and ways in which privacy can be maintained while using digital media by exploring relevant cases that have taken place in the US, EU, and Asia.

Ess also does an excellent job of exploring the ethics behind copying and distributing property through digital media. With the increasing amount of information available online, “the general rules, guidelines, and laws applicable to such copying are wide-ranging and frequently shifting” (p. 91). This can make it difficult to truly understand the ethical and legal ways to access and use property. Ess helps explain this by explaining FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software) and the Creative Commons approach. While some of these concepts can be challenging to understand, Ess does a commendable job of pulling content from websites and licenses while supplementing with his own explanation.

While Digital Media Ethics contains many strengths, the content is somewhat dense in some places. The discussion questions throughout and at the end of the chapters are helpful in examining certain concepts on a deeper level, as well as breaking up the text. While Ess does a great job of explaining certain topics such as copying and distributing property, some sections of the text are overwhelming and difficult to follow. For example, one chapter focuses on privacy in the electronic global metropolis. While this chapter contains valuable information and relevant case studies, it is easy to get lost in some of the extensive descriptions and concepts, which are arguably over-explained.

As mentioned before, because of the discussion questions that are used to break up this book, it would be a good choice for school and university courses that emphasize digital media and information ethics as seen throughout the world. This book could work for undergraduate discussion-based courses, but because of the complexity of some of the concepts, graduate and doctoral courses would especially benefit from this book, particularly courses that are seminar based.

Outside of a university setting, Digital Media Ethics has relevance to just about any profession. Documentation managers, who are in charge of managing both the creation and maintenance of documentation within their organizations, would find this text especially useful. Many of the resources used today to assist in research and writing are online. While the book is somewhat dense, Ess does an excellent job of explaining the most relevant ethical issues in digital media today. Documentation managers would be able to relate to some of the cases discussed within the book, as well as benefit from the explanations and resources provided in the chapter, “Copying and Distributing via Digital Media.”

As a high school teacher, I am constantly looking for ways that I can teach my students about the importance of digital media ethics and online privacy and safety. While Digital Media Ethics is a much higher-level book, it includes topics and case studies relevant for high school students. Ess argues that, “it becomes increasingly essential, for example, for young people to participate in social networking sites – failure to do so threatens to isolate them from the large majority of their peers who are active on such sites” (p. 121). This claim demonstrates the popularity of social media, and therefore the importance of understanding how to navigate the sites ethically and safely. Safe internet use is a growing need among high school students and Ess does a good job of beginning to discuss this, as well as including some thought-provoking discussion questions that would benefit students of all ages.

Digital Media Ethics is an interesting read that focuses on ethical scenarios encountered online on a daily basis. While the book is relevant to today’s society, it is not a light read and does require some deep thought and consideration that would be great for university teachers and students to utilize within an ethics course. The chapters are packed full with case studies that would also greatly benefit technical writers, documentation managers, and those who work with and use online content frequently.

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