This Week in PR Ethics (2/26/20): Ethics Flowcharts, Consequence Scanning and Nicomachean Ethics

It thought it was a relatively slow week in PR ethics, and then two topics popped on my radar Wednesday evening. So this week we can discuss ethics flowcharts, consequence scanning, libel, and Nicomachean ethics:

  • An easy-to-follow guide to ethical decision-making – To celebrate the Global Alliance’s ethics month the Canadian Public Relations Society created a flowchart to help guide ethical decision-making. While like any one-page guide there are things it overlooks, it is a really good cheat sheet for communicators and I encourage people to check it out.


  • Salesforce and Ethics – There was a great piece in the Wall Street Journal recently profiling Salesforce’s Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer, Paula Goldman. They brought her on to the company to help look at the ethical implications of Salesforce dealing with U.S. immigration authorities. What jumped out at me was the model she implemented… “introducing a process known as “consequence scanning,” an exercise that requires employees to document the potential unintended outcomes of releasing a new function, she said.” That is a textbook definition of teleological decision making. I loved using it with my class to discuss utilitarianism and its potential drawbacks.


  • The biggest ethical issues communicators face – Despite being hurt by my good friend Gini Dietrich not interviewing me for this article, it is a great article from SpinSucks this week highlighting the top ethical issues. The tl;dr version is transparency, disclosure, honesty, exaggeration and misrepresentation. There is a lot of good advice and detail. Check it out here.


  • Suing the media for libel – This afternoon the Trump campaign sued the New York Times for libel claiming that one article was both untrue and done with malicious intent. The question is will this have a chilling impact on freedom of speech and does it respect autonomy or is it an organization taking what they perceive to be an advocacy group to task?


  • Military ethics issues – Two quick ones that popped up on my radar. C4isrnet reported on the five AI principles recently adopted by the Department of Defense. I loved seeing equity and transparency in there. Also for those that love to talk virtue based ethics there is an interesting article in Small Wars Journal that discusses ethics training in Special Forces.


Until next week. Let me know what you think or if you see any interesting ethics in communication stories.



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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