This Week in PR Ethics 2/6/2020: Spruiking, Iowa, plagiarism, free speech and censorship

On Monday, I thought it might actually be a quiet week in terms of PR and ethics challenges.  Boy was I wrong.  My class discussed Spruiking, Iowa, plagiarism, free speech and censorship at length:

Following are some of the most interesting stories of the week.  

  • Iowa – Need I say more? Keeping out of the politics of it, there are some great ethical discussion topics from choosing an app vendor, to data integrity, to how balance the free flow of information with honesty and loyalty when your process encounters a major issue? Who needs to be informed when? How can you protect the reputation of the process? If you are a candidate (or business) what to you do ethically when there is a news hole you can fill? Should you position yourself as a winner despite not knowing it for sure? This topic is just ripe for discussion…


  • Respect for IP and avoiding plagiarism – Many communicators cut and paste basic information. But how much is too much? The Paso Robles Press calls out a recent local news article for being 76% cut and paste of reddit, government news sites and other online news sources.


  • Are some Australian companies greenwashing and going back to the days before ethical PR? – This Brisbane Times opinion piece “My fellow spin doctors, you’re going to regret spruiking fossil fuels” asks the question.

    Once I got over my outrage at a public relations professional voluntarily calling themselves a spin doctor and looking up spruiking, this article was an interesting read. It calls out a number of Australian companies for allegedly greenwashing and going back to the practices of Big Tobacco in the 1950s and beyond. The author claims by “promoting the reputation of polluters you’re damaging your own personal reputations” and that any communications professional that positively represents fossil fuel interests is violating the PRIA Code of Ethics.


  • Free Speech and Censorship: At Silicon Slopes Tech Summit last week, Mark Zuckerberg said “Facebook’s ‘new approach’ is ‘going to piss off a lot of people’” and that “Increasingly we’re getting called to censor a lot of different kinds of content that makes me really uncomfortable.” At the same time, Stephen King quit Facebook in part because the platform supports a “flood of false information that’s allowed in its political advertising.”

    What is the duty and ethical responsibility of a platform such as Facebook, TikTok or company blogs and message boards to police and censor comments and discussions? What normative framework do we need to make sure rules are consistently followed?

What other PR and communication ethics issues did you see this week?


Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA
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Mark W. McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the general manager of C+C's Boston office. C+C is a communications agency all about the good and purpose-driven brands. He has more than 20 years of tech and fintech agency experience, served as the 2016 National Chair of PRSA, drove the creation of the PRSA Ethics App and is the host of


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