I won't ask, though, because then I'd be obligated to answer the question myself. (It would only be fair.)
Instead, consider the case of the Bothell High School cheerleaders. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer leads:
Parents of two Bothell High School cheerleaders have sued the Northshore School District, alleging school officials erred when they suspended the girls from the team this year after nude photos of them circulated throughout the student body via text message.
The story goes on to reveal that action was not taken to punish, or even identify, the students who sent the pictures. One of the pictures was taken three years ago, when the girl sent a topless picture of herself to her boyfriend.
Here's the story from CBS:
Plenty of sites have already discussed the moral implications. Jezebel writes:
Why did the school administration get involved with something pretty much outside their purview? According to CBS News, the girls were chastised because "The student code of the conduct does say that athletes are held to a higher standard." Then why did the myriad boys — presumably some of whom were also athletes — get off scot free for passing around the naughty photos?
Moral judgments aside, what ethical questions does the this story raise about digital media? With cell phones and computers, pictures, words and audio are infinitely reproducible, and can be shared (accidentally or purposefully) in an instant.
- What happens when information, originally meant to be private, becomes public?
- Are journalists obligated to use information, even if it was never intended to fall into their hands?
- Have the rules that guide journalists changed, now that sharing information is easy, even mindless?
When that cheerleader chose to share information with a cell phone, was she giving up her right to privacy? When she hit send, was she agreeing to an unstated "you share with one person, you share with the world (whether you like it or not)" rule embedded in digital media?
If using the internet equates means partially giving up your privacy, then media outlets have every right to reproduce private information that falls into their hands. But the fact that different outlets reproduce images differently -- CBS, for example, blurred out the faces of the cheerleaders in the photos when some sites did not -- means that each writer, editor, and publisher still has decisions to make. Just because we can use something, doesn't mean we must.
In some situations it would be unethical not to reveal information, as with Abu Ghraib. That's simply not the case with the BHS cheerleaders. I think the ethics that dictate how to make that call have not changed from traditional journalism. However, with the ease of sharing implicit in new media, journalists may be asked to make that call more frequently. That's why I think strong ethics and clear goals are more necessary now than ever before, whether for a lone blogger or a several hundred person organization.