Digital Communication Ethics

Please note: this is archived course information from 2020 for COMMS 208.


We now use algorithms to help decide who goes to prison and who receives healthcare, but those systems are fraught with biases. Will we be able to equitably distribute the vast benefits of artificial intelligence — and manage its risks? When social media are used to erode democracy, who is responsible? If old mobile phones are filling toxic waste dumps, should I still upgrade to the latest model?

This course may be counted toward both BA and BSc degrees. An interdisciplinary team of lecturers from both Science and Arts worked together to design the course as an opportunity for students from various disciplines — especially Communication and Computer Science (but all students are welcome!) — to bring their diverse skills and perspectives to these vexing problems. We go beyond the personal computer to address ethical issues raised by smartphones, GPS navigation, biometric modelling, AI and the ever-expanding range of devices tracking us through the so-called "internet of things".

We consider issues such as algorithmic bias, “big data” surveillance and privacy, digital journalism and intellectual property from a range of different perspectives. Programmers and media professionals may frame these questions differently from lawyers, policymakers and diverse communities of users around the globe who depend on computing technologies every day from positions of power and precarity alike.

We draw upon the western philosophical tradition’s ethical frameworks but decentre those perspectives, instead emphasising questions raised by Māori, Confucian and other non-western understandings of what constitutes good and right ways of living together.


Coursework + exam

View the course syllabus

Availability 2020

Semester 1


Coordinator(s) Dr Ethan Plaut


COMMS 208: 15 points


60 points passed