Ethics and Mass Communication

Lesson Content

Inquire: Audience Interaction


Ethics may seem rather abstract, but in mass communication, they are important. In order to understand the ethical obligations of mass communication, we will start by explaining how mass communication identifies a target audience, and how it reaches that target audience. Once we know who we talk to and how we talk to them, we can cover the ethical obligations that exist for that conversation. But, it’s also important to look at the ethical obligations you have toward those outside of your target audience.


Big Question

How should senders interact with their audience when using mass communication?

Read: How to Use Mass Communication in an Age of Social Media


DecorativeMass communication is quickly becoming one of the preferred methods of communication for many people. With the rise of social media, everyone is quickly adapting to an interconnected world the likes of which we have never seen before. Social media is a kind of mass communication that allows people to create profiles and share information between profiles as a means to network on the Internet. As we increase the amount of mass communication we engage with daily, it is important to understand how we identify our audience, how we reach that audience, and what ethical obligations we have both to those in our audience and those on the outside.

How to Identify the Target Audience of Mass Communication

With the rise of social media, companies and people alike are beginning to establish a brand. A brand is traditionally seen as a specific item produced by a specific company with a specific name, like Coca-Cola or Pepsi. When it comes to mass communication and social media, a brand takes on a different look. A brand on social media is the specific kind of content and persona that a profile uses to reach their target audience. For instance, the brand that Wendy’s has established for itself on Twitter is full of sass, memes, and jokes.

DecorativeThe first step to identify your target audience is to understand the brand you have established and want to broadcast to your audience. If your brand provides helpful tips for first-time mothers, then your audience probably does not include single men age 18-24. Once you have identified the content your brand communicates and the specific messages you will share online, it becomes much easier to identify your target audience.

The second step is to look at your specific message. Helpful tips for first-time mothers is a start, but if your message is specifically how to help moms get more sleep, your target audience for that message does not include moms that are already getting enough sleep. Messages can have different target audiences based on the information you want to convey.

How Does a Mass Communicator Reach their Target Audience?

Once you have identified the audience you want to reach with your mass communication, how do you actually do that? First, you should identify the most effective platform for your message. Is it something that needs to be recorded as a video? Can it fit into a tweet? Knowing what platform to use is essential for effective mass communication.

Once you’ve decided on a channel (platform), you need to then identify the most effective communication method for that platform to reach your receivers. If you write a long-form blog post, will your audience read it? Do they respond better to watching a video? Or should you just try to shorten the blog post into a shorter written text to read? As you develop your brand and your audience, this step becomes easier as you can look at what messages have been better received than others. It is vital to adapt your message to the specific channel that gets it to your audience so that you are effectively using your mass communication tools.

DecorativeFinally, you must adapt your message to fit the channel your audience responds to best. You’ve written a tweet, but you know most of your audience doesn’t follow you on Twitter. They do, however, look at everything you post to Snapchat. So rather than tweeting your message, post it on the network that people actually watch! Adapting your message into a form that will actually reach your audience is crucial to ensuring you effectively communicate with those that you are targeting.

What Ethical Obligations Does a Mass Communicator Have to Their Audience?

Once you have identified and reached your audience, it is important to understand the ethical obligations you have to those that listen to you. You should be truthful, open, and conscientious.

Being truthful with your audience is very important. Don’t mislead them or give wrong information. As a person with a following, you have an obligation to ensure that you only share truthful information. If you don’t, it can be harmful to those that listen to you, and you should avoid harming your audience at all cost.

In that same vein, being open is critical. Everyone will inevitably make a mistake. Being open about those mistakes and taking steps to correct them is a great step to maintaining and growing your brand. Doubling down will only serve to hurt your image and potentially your audience.

Finally, be conscientious. A conscientious person wants to do what is right. With regard to your brand, it means taking actions that will help your audience without causing harm to others. Doing the right thing for your listening audience is one of the most important things you can do. It shows that you respect them and want to ensure they are better off for having listened to you.

What Ethical Obligations Does a Mass Communicator Have Toward Individuals Outside of Their Audience?

Now that we’ve covered what obligations you have to your audience, let’s talk about obligations to those outside of your audience. You should be polite, think of the impact your message has, and be inclusive. When crafting messages, you should not be hostile to those outside of your audience. If you ever do interact with those outside of your audience, you should be polite. Don’t attack or antagonize them, and certainly don’t have your audience attack those outside of your audience.

You should you never outright attack people outside of your audience, but you should also be aware of the impact your message can have on those individuals. Words have power, and thinking about how your message might affect those that hear it (including those that are outside of your target audience) is important. Choose language that is not going to be offensive or hurtful to those individuals. Awareness of the impact of your words is called being mindful. Mindfulness is an important skill to develop as it will allow you to easily communicate with many audiences.

Finally, be inclusive. You don’t want to push anyone out of your audience or make it so people who want to join in on your audience are unable to. Even if you don’t think someone needs the things you’re saying, they might. It is important to be open to growing your audience, even into unexpected demographics.

Reflect: Audience or Outsiders?


Should a sender focus on upholding their ethical obligations to their target audience over those outside of their target audience, or those outside of their target audience over their target audience?

Expand: Ethics in Television


DecorativeEthical considerations exist in social media, but they also need to be considered in the realm of television. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determines what these ethical obligations are and investigates whether television shows are meeting those burdens. This section will talk about the FCC — what they do and whether they’re doing a good job.

The Role of the FCC

The FCC is in charge of regulating television, radio, satellite, and cable for all 50 states. Its job is to enforce the laws that control media content. One of its stated objectives is to ensure that new technology is able to grow and be used well while also ensuring that diversity is not harmed.

Diversity is large amounts of differing ideas, content, and producers from different backgrounds creating content without discrimination. One of the largest ethical considerations for producers to consider is how they represent diversity in the materials they create. The FCC attempts to make rules to ensure that diversity is able to flourish alongside the content that the American people want to see.

Think of your favorite movie or television show. Now, write down what about that show makes it diverse. Is the cast racially diverse? What about gender? Now, look into the production team of that show or movie. Is that diverse? Representing many different ideas and backgrounds is important to ensure the best possible content that is reflective of real life. Making sure that television content is diverse and that opportunities for people of all backgrounds to flourish in the creation of television content is one of the leading ethical obligations of content producers today.

The FCC doesn’t just protect diversity, however. Head over to the FCC website,, and take a look at what they say their job is. How do you feel they are doing? Do you think they could improve?

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Lesson Resources

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Additional Resources and Readings

Why Mass Media Ethics Are Still Important Ethics in mass media

An article giving five tips to remain ethical in the world of mass communication

Identifying target audiences

This article gives an in-depth look at how to reach your target audience.

10 tips for understanding your audiences and targeting new ones

An article explaining how to grow your audience once you have reached your target

Lesson Glossary


AJAX progress indicator
  • brand
    social media, the specific kind of content and persona that a profile uses to reach their target audience
  • conscientious
    wanting to take actions that will help your audience without causing harm to others
  • diversity
    large amounts of differing ideas, content, and producers from different backgrounds create content without discrimination
  • mindful
    being aware of the impacts of your words
  • social media
    a kind of mass communication that allows for people to create profiles and share information between profiles as a means to network on the Internet

License and Citations

Content License

Lesson Content:

Authored and curated by Alexander Amos, Elizabeth Amos for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA 4.0

Media Sources

DecorativeEthics Morality Credibility3dman_euPixabayCC 0
DecorativeSeal of the United States Federal Communications CommissionU.S. Government Wikimedia CommonsPublic Domain
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DecorativeChild Baby Little Thing2081671PixabayCC 0
DecorativeSocial Media FacebookPhotoMIX-CompanyPixabayCC 0