PRIVACY: Cyber-Bullying, Stalking, Harassment



“Cyberbullying”: when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.


  • Nearly 1 in 3 students (27.8%) report being bullied during the school year (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2013).
  • 64.5% said it was once or twice in the school year
  • 18.5% said once or twice a month
  • 9.2% said once or twice a week
  • 7.8% said almost every day

Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University

II. Cyber-Bullying and Social Media

95% of social media-using teens who have witnessed cruel behavior on social networking sites say they have seen others ignoring the mean behavior; 55% witness this frequently (PEW Internet Research Center, FOSI, Cable in the Classroom, 2011)

III. POYNTER Institute Forum on Cyber-Bullying

New York Times Bill Keller:

“I think that there is in our society a general increase in meanness, aggression, and polarization, and I do not begin to blame the Internet for that. … But there’s something in the nature of social media that rewards partisanship. You tend to hang out with people who think the way you do. Most people don’t hang out in a spectrum of opinion; they hang out in a niche of opinion, and I think that tends to reinforce a kind of closed-mindedness.”

IV. Cyber-stalking/harassment:

Cyber-harassment. Cyber-harassment differs from cyberstalking in that it may generally be defined as not involving a credible threat. Cyber-harassment usually pertains to threatening or harassing email messages, instant messages, or to blog entries or websites dedicated solely to tormenting an individual.

Cyber-stalking. Cyberstalking is the use of the Internet, email or other electronic communications to stalk, and generally refers to a pattern of threatening or malicious behaviors. Cyberstalking may be considered the most dangerous of the three types of Internet harassment, based on a posing credible threat of harm.

Statistics: In September 2012, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a report on Stalking Victims in the United States. The BJS report found that:

• During a 12-month period, an estimated 1.5% of persons age 18 or older were victims of stalking.
• A greater percentage of females were stalked than males; however, females and males were equally likely to experience harassment.

V. Reporting Cyber-stalking/harassment
1. Know the laws of your state.
2. Cover the case in court.
3. Report on more than proceedings—how it affects someone’s life in physical time, culture and place.

708.7 Harassment.
a. A person commits harassment when, with intent to intimidate, annoy, or alarm another person, the person does any of the following:
1. Communicates with another by telephone, telegraph, writing, or via electronic communication without legitimate purpose and in a manner likely to cause the other person annoyance or harm.
2. Orders merchandise or services in the name of another, or to be delivered to another, without the other person’s knowledge or consent.
3. Reports or causes to be reported false information to a law enforcement authority implicating another in some criminal activity, knowing that the information is false, or reports the alleged occurrence of a criminal act, knowing the act did not occur.

20/20 report

20_20 Topics


I. From Cornell Law School: Invasion of Privacy: Governmental power to protect the privacy interests of its citizens, even though those citizens have First Amendment rights.

Case in point: Lawsuits can be brought penalizing publication or authorizing causes of action for publication implicates directly First Amendment rights.

Caveat: While the Court has variously recognized valid governmental interests in extending protection to privacy, it has at the same time interposed substantial free expression interests in the balance.

Privacy law includes these protections:

  1. Unreasonable intrusion upon one’s seclusion
  2. Propriation of one’s name or likeness, from unreasonable publicity given to one’s private life
  3. Publicity which unreasonably places one in a false light before the public.

The right to privacy–or the right “to be left alone”–was not guaranteed in the Constitution, although some aspect of it exists in the Fourth Amendment:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

“The Right to Privacy was adopted as law after the publication of an article in the Harvard Law Review by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis:

First paragraph:

    That the individual shall have full protection in person and in property is a principle as old as the common law; but it has been found necessary from time to time to define anew the exact nature and extent of such protection. Political, social, and economic changes entail the recognition of new rights, and the common law, in its eternal youth, grows to meet the new demands of society. Thus, in very early times, the law gave a remedy only for physical interference with life and property, for trespasses vi et armis. Then the “right to life” served only to protect the subject from battery in its various forms; liberty meant freedom from actual restraint; and the right to property secured to the individual his lands and his cattle. Later, there came a recognition of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings and his intellect. Gradually the scope of these legal rights broadened; and now the right to life has come to mean the right to enjoy life, — the right to be let alone; the right to liberty secures the exercise of extensive civil privileges; and the term “property” has grown to comprise every form of possession — intangible, as well as tangible.

NOTE: The Right to Privacy evolved because the media at the time, 1890, had developed technology that could infiltrate people’s lives.

1880:A patent for the coaxial cable.
1880–1882: Development and commercial production of electric lighting was underway.
1885: Thomas Edison invents the first ever movie in Menlo Park, New Jersey.
1886–1887: Patent for a zinc-carbon battery, among the earliest examples of dry cell batteries.
1888: Transmission and reception of radio waves.
1888: Kodak camera, portable, film-rolled. Slogan: You press the button, we do the rest.
1889–1891: Automatic telephone exchanges (without operator).
1889: The first commercial production and sales of phonographs and phonograph recordings occurred.

The more technology has evolved, the more privacy has been invaded.

Now, the entire issue has become complex because students take classes in virtual environments where avatars symbolize humans.

Cases in point:

“Avatar Rape”

“Age Play in Virtual Environments”

“Second Life Debate”

For examples of privacy invasion, which may or may not be actionable under law, click here.

Value Systems

Personal and Professional Standards

Value systems, in one way or another, reinforce work ethic, enumerate responsibilities and clarify mission. A value system is expressed in a code of ethics, which usually has a preamble, stating why the document is important, followed by an organizational statement of core principles.

A code can even contain a pledge or an oath. These three components often reinforce the corporate or organizational mission statement, which differs from a code. A mission statement can have ethical components, but its intent is to state why a company or organization exists strategically and to state shared goals pertaining to all constituents, from employees to stockholders.

Codes concern the behavior of those constituents. A good code also should have a central theme—an overriding principle of service or duty that guides and motivates an employee, an outlet or an entire company.

Newcomers to the work force are often surprised about the emphasis that many media companies place on ethics.

In recent years, technological changes across media platforms have dominated discussion, both in academe and the business world. “In a high-tech world enamored of machines, there is immoral behavior to be sure, but even more worrisome is amorality,” says ethicist Clifford G. Christians, who believes that when societies pour resources into means, “the ends shrivel away. … The moral life is alien. Moral vocabulary isn’t heard or understood. We are without moral bearings and devoid of moral categories.”

Ethics codes remind us about moral vocabularies and categories, especially when we compose codes for online portfolios. Doing so is a commitment that can ensure job success, particularly in amoral environments where values-driven leadership usually stands out, even during interviews.

During such interviews, applicants often emphasize words like “ambition” or “objective.” An ambition is not a value but a desire. An objective is not a value but a goal. The words are often synonymous. In fact, you can plug “ambition,” “objective,” “goal,” “desire” or “dream” into the following sentence and still mean the same thing: My _______ is to replace the anchor for NBC “Nightly News.”

When you can substitute words like that with little or no change in the meaning, the sentence lacks substance. It can mean the person works hard and achieves or takes shortcuts and deceives in pursuit of success. Unethical people can have ambitions and objectives, too. Recruiters know this. But you cannot substitute the word “value” for any of the terms in the above sentence because a value has substance. If you told that recruiter—”Diane Sawyer is my role model because she believes that truth may be elusive but integrity is not”—you just might get a call-back for a second interview. Such a comment suggests that you have skills in addition to the maturity to use them responsibly on the job.

Having a job objective on your resume is not important. Having a values statement, however, is. David Peasback, president of Canny Bowen Inc., a New York City recruiting firm, says objectives on resumes “sometimes do more damage then good. Have you ever seen a job objective that said ‘I want an unchallenging job with unlimited career potential’?”

Imagine this. You and another journalism graduate from a rival school have equal talent and experience and find yourselves as finalists for a public relations position at a prestigious agency with a well-known ethical reputation. The recruiter asks your rival about ethics and he hands her a copy of the Public Relations Society of America code, informing her, “I have memorized these.” The recruiter asks you the same question and you hand her your own code of ethics, a professional-looking brochure showcasing your values. You inform the recruiter, “I have read your own code of ethics online and was attracted to your company. So I created this document to accompany my portfolio because I feel strongly about ethics. It’s also in line with the PRSA code, but more personal, discussing how I feel about responsibility, truth, fairness, discretion and other values.”

Who makes the better impression?

You do. Does that mean you’ll get the job? That is neither the point nor the objective. You will have shown interest in the agency’s culture and standards, showing a commitment to research. The recruiter, more than anyone, also knows that applicants almost always possess the skills for entry-level jobs but few have the maturity and ethics to remain in those jobs.

“In speaking to fellows in our Diversity Institute, who hope to go into journalism as they make a mid-career switch, I recommend that they begin formation of what I call a ‘moral compass’ or code of ethics for themselves – and then compare that with the employers they hope to work for,” says Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center. Policinski asks fellows write down in spiral notebooks two or three things that as journalists they hope they always do, and two or three things they hope they never would do, and then build on those notes throughout their careers. “Over time,” he says, “I hope those notes evolve into an independent, self-sustaining set of guidelines—or moral or ethics code, if you wish.”

At this point we want to note that codes of ethics by the various journalism and communication associations are as important as your own. You will want to review codes across platforms and ensure that your standards also are embraced by the industry. You can access ethics codes online of such organizations as:

Successful careers are based on a balance of values—yours, your supervisor’s and your employer’s. Those avenues must intersect. Job failure often has little to do with competence or competition. You may have strong values but work for a supervisor and/or company with weak ones. Or you may have weak values and work for a supervisor and/or company with strong ones. Or everyone’s values may be strong (or weak) but essentially different on important issues or actions. Your goal upon graduation or re-entry into the work force may be, simply, to find a job.

Salary levels and advancement opportunities are factors you’ll want to weigh, of course. But job dissatisfaction and termination are almost always based on value conflicts when they aren’t based on financial ones. A good way to determine your compatibility is to research the ethics codes as well as the mission statements and corporate philosophies of potential employers. Request a copy of the employee handbook, if the handbook isn’t online. Read all those documents and decide whether you might like to work for that company.

You can also pattern after that company a values document to accompany your resume, portfolio or clipbook.

Here are general tenets as found in some 100-plus codes of ethics across media platforms:

1. What Codes Should Promote

  • Truth in all actions and interactions.
  • Discretion in determining actions and interactions.
  • Responsibility for all actions and interactions.
  • Fairness as a means of continuous improvement.
  • Quality service and/or production to build corporate trust or brand loyalty.
  • Teamwork, sensitivity, collegiality, inclusivity.
  • Resolution of problems via transparency (openness), fairness and other shared values.
  • High, consistent standards of conduct.

2. What Codes Should Prevent

  • Temptation, taking shortcuts to attain goals.
  • Deception, cheating to attain goals.
  • Manipulation, deceiving or treating others like objects.
  • Bias, dealing unfairly with others based on race, sex, social class, lifestyle or religion.
  • Self-gain, using corporate resources for personal benefits.
  • Incivility, reacting to rather than resolving challenges.

3. Touchstones

  • Is it legal, honest, responsible?
  • Does it improve teamwork, morale, communication?
  • Does it enhance internal culture and external image?
  • Is it sensitive toward others and diverse viewpoints?
  • Does it resolve problems without creating new ones?

After you secure a position, don’t discard your ethics document but update it and your portfolio for continuous improvement and job advancement. Changes in values can be signs of growth or decline requiring amendments and/or revisions. The longer you work in mass media, the more apt your values are to metamorphose as you adapt to your working environment or work across platforms. But the beauty of living ethics across media platforms is in the amending so that your standards increase in proportion to your influence at work.

In the end, no one can predict the changes that will occur in your value system during your career. But there is also good news. You may not have control over budgets, benefits, contracts, assignments, mergers, buy-outs, closures, office moves, promotions, demotions, reprimands, awards, hirings, firings, layoffs and management restructures. You may not have control over deaths, births, marriages, divorces, illnesses, relocations and myriad other highs, lows and turning points that may affect your performance at work.

By exercising your values, however, you will always determine your response to pressures and pleasures … and learn and grow in the process.


Discretion is defined in Webster’s as “the power to act according to one’s own judgment … thus relying on individual perception.”

In ethics, the term does not mean “be discrete” as in secretive.

Discretion and Confidentiality

In media, the term typically is a warning, as in “Viewer discretion is advised.”

Viewer Discretion Advised

Perception concerns how you view a problem, person or situation. That’s subject to change, especially when emotions are high during crises at work or school. As you develop discretion, you will make prudent “judgment calls” in your own, your group’s or the community’s interest.

During tense times:

1. Accept your gut instinct, but reject your first reaction.

  • Learn to feel your ethics as well as your anger. Perception is often distorted when you feel tempted, manipulated, or deceived. Relearn physical feelings associated with your values so that when questionable situations arise, you can practice discretion.
  • Accepting your gut instinct is one thing, but acting on it quite another. Gut instincts can bring back memories of past experience and thus can cloud the immediate situation.

Thus …

2. Don’t speak before thinking.

  • When you “speak what’s on” or “give a piece of” your mind, you also risk betraying yourself, creating more problems, and causing bleaker circumstances for yourself and others.
  • Don’t telephone, text, email, or fax until your emotions subside.
  • If angry, determine if you are reacting because someone is using a trigger word (loaded-language) or an uncivil tone of voice.
    • Remember to focus on the content, not the word or the tone, to help ease the pressure so you can articulate your viewpoint credibly.

3. Seek counsel with someone impartial.

  • Resist spreading rumors or gossip in your attempt to ease your emotions. Rumors and gossip invite more of the same and worsen, rather than resolve, problems.

4. Focus on perception first; then solve the problem.

Try these methods:

  • Listen.Not finishing other people’s sentences or rushing discussions to express one’s views.
  • Understand: Seek to listen and understand at least as much as to speak and be understood.
  • Research: What you don’t understand, look up.
  • Choices: Understand your range of choices.
  • Priorities: Make your choices reflect your priorities: put first things first.

5. Solve problems without creating greater ones.

  • Use appropriate but penetrating discourse, even when others are inappropriate or uncivil.
  • Do the necessary analysis before judging others’ work or person.
  • Embrace a shared set of values that analyzes or honors all viewpoints—even ones with which you disagrees—in the interest of diversity and community.

Lack of Discretion: Humiliating Facebook Post



All Kinds of Social Networks



Des Moines Superintendent’s Racy Emails

Subsequent Lawsuit Brought Against Publication of Emails

Discretion Contacting Sources Via Social Media

Oregonian False Obituary. Example of invention for a “good cause”

Follow-up Correction on False Obituary: Example of acting 180 degrees on fact

See More on Discretion on the Visuals Tab.


Power Bases

1. Definition: Power is not a value but the force that we use to put forth our values or the reputation that we earn because of those values. When we exercise too much power, we risk oppressing others. When we exert too little, others can take advantage of us.

The objective is to apply only as much power as needed to address or resolve an issue without causing harm to innocent others.

According to the book, The 48 Laws of Power, “Power is essentially amoral. … Half of your mastery of power comes from what you do not do, what you do not allow yourself to get dragged into.”

2. Power Reveals Character

Thus, we reveal our nature through power and the choices that we make. If, for instance, the challenge is unemployment and the problem, financial, we can apply for a job or rob a bank. We can solicit a recommendation from a mentor or a bank sack from a teller. Then power goes passive. We bask in its glow or sweat in its glare.

3. Power is Personal

Power also is intensely personal, associated with how you treat others and how they treat you as you perform your duties.

4. Power Differs from Influence

Influence can be more effective than power, especially when moderated by discretion. Famous saying: Discretion is the better part of valor.

5. Power Differs from Authority

A person may have the authority to take action, but again, influence can trump authority as well as power. It all depends on a person’s ethics.

6. Power of the Press vs. Profit

Many professions are powerful. Business influences the economy and that, in turn, influences everyone because of the cost of living. Superstores like Wal-Mart affect communities, literally revamping hometowns.

To explain how, the award-winning journalist Charles Fishman has written a book titled, The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World’s Most Powerful Company Really Works—and How It’s Transforming the American Economy.

Question: Wal-mart has revenue of about 80 times that of the Washington Post. So which company is more powerful—Wal-Mart or the Washington Post—and why?

Quote from Fishman:

“At Wal-Mart, there are many employees who earn more than I do [as a journalist]. Without telling you what I earn, I can tell you that a typical Wal-Mart store manager can earn $150,000 a year (more than I do), and that many district managers and senior headquarters managers and executives earn that or more. Typically, the majority of Wal-mart’s 1.7 million employees earn modest salaries of about $20,000 annually. Journalists have influence disproportionate to their pay sometimes, but so do Wal-Mart’s ordinary front-line buying staff—the people who pick the varieties of dog food and clothes and cordless phones to stock in the stores. They can’t ‘take on’ the Washington Post,” but the retail staff at Wal-Mart has more the power to determine what we buy every day “than any business section reporter at the Post or Fortune or the Wall Street Journal.”

How about Fishman’s Power as Author?

Fishman: A single person, with a telephone, a computer, a stack of notebooks and pens, a set of fairly urgent questions, and a credit card, was able to dig in and write what has turned out to be an important book about the largest, most powerful company currently operating in the world.

That’s an example of media influence.

7. Censorship vs. Self Censorship

Censorship speaks to the power of government and self-censorship, to that of lobbyists. The government can conceal policies from the media by labeling them secret or restrict access to sensitive areas, especially during war, acting in the national interest. But in times of peace, censorship is primarily a concern of journalists working for U.S. companies operating in foreign countries with stricter laws regulating the media. Leaders of certain countries know the maxim—“knowledge is power”—and so silence their media to protect their policies.

8. Power of the Press

A watershed study, “The Future of the First Amendment,” commissioned by the John. S. and James L. Knight Foundation, surveyed more than 100,000 students, 8,000 teachers, and more than 500 school administrators. Here is a sampling of its findings:

  • “Nearly three-fourths of high school students either do not know how they feel about the First Amendment or admit they take it for granted.”
  • “Seventy-five percent erroneously think flag burning is illegal.”
  • “Half believe the government can censor the Internet.”
  • “More than a third think the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.”

9. Power of Science


Astrophysics: Galaxy


Mathematics: Fractals


Biology: DNA


Chemistry: Carbon


Biochemistry: Protein



10. Power of Art

Definition of Art:

Search Results

ärt/ noun: art; plural noun: arts; plural noun: the arts
1. the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
2. the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.

Greek Mythology: Icarus


Icarus is the son of master craftsman Daedalus. He and his father were imprisoned by King Minos of Crete because Daedalus helped another mythical hero, Theseus, kill the monster Minotaur so Theseus could escape with the king’s daughter. King Minos controlled the land and the sea, but not the air; so Daedalus made wings for himself and his son, Icarus, out of feathers and wax. Daedalus told Icarus not to fly too close to the sea, because the mist would dampen the wings and bring him down. The father also told him not to fly too close to the sun or the wax would melt and he would plummet to earth. Icarus ignored his father’s warning and flew too close to the sun. Icarus has come to symbolize hubris or failed ambition.

Breugel’s Icarus Falling


Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts

11. Taste vs. Free Expression

Defined: Taste is the suppression of images or messages in a specific medium by authorized representatives of that medium, usually with a goal of appropriateness in response to privacy or community and customer standards or with respect to budgetary concerns. As such, taste is an issue related to the First Amendment and the power of the press. Free speech allows for most messages and possesses great power, as we have noted. However, depending on values or corporate policies, journalists and practitioners restrict or transmit images and/or messages in the interest of (or without regard to) taste.

Taste is associated with the concept of power because:

  • Content reviewed for taste often is powerful in itself, involving grief, pornography, profanity, etc.
  • Software and multimedia applications typically amplify such content through photo-enhancement, music, voice-overs and videos, often converging at once.
  • In a converged media world, such content may reach unintended readers, viewers, listeners, publics, constituents and consumers.
  • Gatekeepers of content (in-house attorneys, editors, managers, agency owners, etc.) determine taste in part on the power of their positions.

12. Decency and Community

Standards of decency may differ legally from taste in the courtroom but not in the news- or conference room. Decency plays a role in taste considerations. However, two factors have complicated standards of decency across media platforms. Increasing use of technology homogenizes community standards over time. Before network and cable television, people in different parts of the United States dressed, spoke and ate according to cultures of their region. Now we tend to don the same brand-name clothes, speak the same lingo and consume the same fast foods. Technology, including instant and text messaging, cell phones and mobile devices, has added to that effect.

Question: Without locality, how do we discern decency in a technological age?

13. Decency and Crime Reporting

Issues of taste in news coverage can have great impact on society. One of the most mundane tasks is gathering information from police reports or court documents, often the source of taste-related privacy problems in the newsroom. The task may be mundane but the details in such reports or documents often are stark. When published, they can cause great pain to family and friends of crime victims.

CASE STUDY: Such was the case with an Ohio University student whose friend was murdered along with another woman acquaintance near Akron. The OU student felt the information that area newspapers published about the murders violated the privacy of the victims and their family and friends.

Quote from student:

    “I know my friend’s death was brutal and painful,” she says. “I know she suffered more horror than I can ever imagine in my life. However, thanks to the newspaper’s vivid description, images of her death fill my mind. Did I need to know, let alone the public, that Wendy was found naked from the waist down, with her top pulled up and her bra torn in half? Was it necessary to print that she was raped twice, by two guys? Or that her face was covered with ‘inch-deep lacerations’ from a knife? Or that they were ‘killed with a blunt instrument smashed against the right sides of their heads.’ Or that the weapon crushed (Wendy’s) skull’ and that ‘both died of brain injuries.’

“I did not. These descriptions have caused nightmares and unnecessary horror. When I think of Wendy I no longer think of the beautiful model she was. It’s hard to get the image of her bloody, mutilated body out of my mind. It’s hard to stop picturing her being raped in this ‘field of tall cattails.’ And it is hard to realize that her death was slow and painful. Did the paper have to mention that before she was beaten to death, the guys tried to kill her by strangling her with a shoelace?”

April Hunt, then also in my ethics class and now a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, said she was in the newsroom as an intern when the decision was made to publish the details so that the public was aware of the brutality of the crime. In sum, her editor accepted the risk of hurting or offending some individuals in the name of the public good or the community’s right to know.

14. Taste and Social Media

Several journalists working at traditional outlets have been fired or reprimanded for views expressed on social networks or blogs. This has complicated ethical issues concerning taste, which previously were handled internally between employee and supervisor about content under consideration for publication, broadcast or public release.

Example: One reporter, formerly of the Dover (Del.) Post, was fired after his editor learned that the reporter’s “MySpace” page made certain references about African-Americans, Martin Luther King Day and James Earl Ray, King’s assassin. The reporter maintained that his firing violated his free speech rights, but as he worked for a private employer, and government did not interfere, any First Amendment legal action likely would prove futile.

15. Companies Adopt Social Network Policies

Meredith Corporation, like several other media companies, now includes information in its employee handbook under the section, “Blogging and other forms of online discourse”:

Whether or not you choose to create or participate in a blog or other form of online publishing or discussion is your own decision. Your online activities in or outside of work that affect your job performance, the performance of others, or Meredith’s business interests are a proper focus for company policy. Accordingly, if you do participate in online discussions, make sure you know and follow Meredith’s Code of Business Conduct & Ethics guidelines. Pay particular attention to what the code has to say about confidential or proprietary information, about avoiding misrepresentation and about competing in the field. If, after checking the code, you are still unclear as to the propriety of a post, it is best to refrain and seek the advice of management. You are personally responsible for your own posts, and your postings are not corporate communications. Be mindful of what you write. If you can be identified as a Meredith employee in your online discussions, you should make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of Meredith. Be respectful of the company, employees, clients, partners and competitors. Ensure that your online activity does not interfere with or detract from your work commitments or the company’s interests.

The policy allows blogging. However, it also reminds employees that online activities have the potential to affect the company, recommending that bloggers consult the ethics code and a supervisor on any issue that might violate standards.


Click picture to visit the Ergolab on “Empowerment”

Illusive Concept

The word “empower” is more elusive than it seems at first glance. You can “empower” another person by relinquishing your own authority or abilities, as in this sentence taken from The Random House Dictionary of the English Language: “I empowered my agent to make the deal for me.” Or the word can mean “to enable,” as in another sentence from the same dictionary: “Wealth empowered him to lead a comfortable life.”

The word “empowerment,” associated with gender equity, is based on both meanings, implying that one should not blindly relinquish authority or abilities and instead claim them for one’s self.

Empowerment takes many forms at the workplace. Power concerns the force that we exert expressing our values or the confidence that we gain because of our values. When so defined, it is impossible to be powerless because everyone has values and everyone aspires to have confidence in his or her abilities.

People who claim to be powerless may not be aware of or have made a choice not to acknowledge their power.

Add to this the incidentals of your life or your background that enhance your power base. Perhaps you were reared in an affluent family and have access to powerful individuals who can promote your interests or advise you. Or perhaps you were reared in a less fortunate environment and have encountered challenges along the way, sharpening your awareness or independence. There are simply too many variables to address theoretically when it comes to establishing the scope of each person’s power.

To exercise it, however, each person has to analyze those variables. Otherwise you may be prone to empowering others, sacrificing your values or beliefs, or too uncertain about how to apply them in a crisis.

Remember that power is a force, not a value: too little force, and your beliefs will be overridden; too much force, and they will offend others. Thus, ascertaining how much force to apply in each situation requires that you know how and when to tap your power bases.

Let’s illustrate that, listing the power bases of a typical journalism professor. In most cases, the person:

  • Will have had a good education in the United States or abroad.
  • Will have had professional media experience.
  • Owns computer, communication technology and camera equipment and can send or transmit messages or images instantaneously almost anywhere 24 hours each day.
  • Influences readers, viewers or listeners with published or broadcast works, papers or talks.
  • Has access to powerful people in publishing, media and education.
  • Is a member of influential academic/professional associations.
  • Is employed and earns a decent wage.
  • Has or is on the path toward tenure and so cannot easily jeopardize his or her job.
  • Can exert authority over children, spouses and partners.
  • Can exert authority over students and staff.

As you can see, there is real potential for abuse here. If the professor wanted, he or she could take advantage of less-educated people, to feel superior, or use experience or contacts cynically, to dull the dreams of others. He or she could tell aspiring journalists and practitioners that they should use their skills to advance causes serving his or her political, personal or financial interests. The professor could prevent the hiring or promotion of others to lessen competition in his or her discipline. The person can use blogs to ridicule rather than to inform. He or she could use professional contacts and associations to find jobs for ingratiating graduates, practicing favoritism to boost ego. He or she also could abuse children or a partner or a spouse, to control their behavior, or students and staff, to make teaching less demanding. As a professor, the person could claim the First Amendment or academic freedom to take on any challengers.

But if the professor resists those self-serving temptations, he or she can add one more item—more powerful than the sum total of all others—to his or her power list: credibility.

12 Tenets of Ethical Living

Aspiring journalists and practitioners should know how to tap their power bases to meet any challenge, without causing harm to innocent others.

    1. Acknowledge the influences in their lives that may affect their judgment, for better or worse, in an attempt to make independent choices.

    2. Develop the strong work ethic required for most media jobs to safeguard the principles of the First Amendment and social responsibility.

    3. Know right from wrong and consider long-term consequences of actions before taking them, accepting responsibility for those actions no matter if the outcome is good or bad.

    4. Embrace the values of role models rather than the fame of media idols because values endure and fame is fleeting.

    5. Commit to truth, shunning falsehoods of every stripe, from exaggeration to invention, safeguarding their own and their company’s reputation.

    6. Do not intentionally manipulate others or allow others to manipulate them because they respect their audience, clientele and/or constituents.

    7. Do not yield to temptation by taking shortcuts to achieve goals and resolve conflicts of interest in their own and their company’s best interests.

    8. Do not discriminate against others because they have committed to truth and discrimination, inherently, is a lie.

    9. Exercise fairness, accepting truth where they find it, even if that truth goes against everything they hitherto have believed.

    10. Practice discretion in matters small and large, from being mindful about use of technology to honoring confidentiality.

    11. Practice restraint, knowing when, how and on what occasion to tap their power, applying only as much as needed to address a situation or resolve an issue.

    12. Develop a value system based on the above tenets, so that each one is enhanced and empowered by the other, living their ethics throughout their careers.