This Week in PR Ethics (3/26/20): How Codes of Conduct May Be Sabotaging Ethical Behavior, Fake News and Fun with Ethics

While media coverage and discussions focused heavily on COVID-19 and social distancing (and rightly so), there were a few notable, interesting and fun communication ethics topics this week including how our codes of conduct may be sabotaging ethical behavior, fake news, AI and coronavirus, and fun with ethics:

  • Your code of conduct may be sending the wrong message – The Harvard Business Review had a fascinating article on how many organizations’ codes of conduct may be inadvertently enabling unethical behavior. The tl;dr version is by saying “we” and using inclusive language people think organizations will be for forgiving compared to if codes of conduct using impersonal terms such as “employees.” Read the full article here.
  • Potential failure of confidentiality and ethics – PR professionals and executives often have access to information in advance of the public or larger audiences. It is our duty to keep the information confidential and not act on it. It appears a few U.S. Senators did not get that message and failed in their ethical (and legal) duty.
  • Mucinex takes on fake news – For a while now I have been saying we are entering the fake information age, and it is not all politics. Mucinex is a great example of this and they should be applauded for launching an educational “spread facts not fear” campaign that fights back against fake news on coronavirus. Fighting disinformation and misinformation is going to be a bigger part of all our jobs in the coming years.
  • Should AI help?The South China Morning Post has an interesting article on if AI should make life of death decisions in the treatment of coronavirus patients and the ethical implications of this. IT opens up a broader discussion of human in the middle and the core ethical issues around AI, transparency and bias.
  • Fun with ethics – One of the challenges I hear from many people is how to make ethics fun. While I tell people that ethics are the foundation of soap operas for the past few thousand years, it doesn’t always resonate. If you want to bring it to life, buy the Trial By Trolley game for when social distancing is over. It turns ethics into a tough, fun party game. (Note: I get no revenue from this product, I backed it on Kickstarter and received my copy this week).








What have you seen 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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