This Week in PR Ethics (06/04/20) – Systemic Injustice, Free Speech, Racism and More

I can’t think of a week packed with more significant, societal and communication ethics issues. Systemic injustice, free speech, racism and more. If my ethics class was in session now, I would throw out the lesson plan and we would just discuss the events of the past week. I have spent most of my time this week counseling clients on how to respond appropriately and authentically and how to act. It is good to see so much constructive discussion, but like others I want to see talk move into action. I was blown away yesterday seeing Bank of America commit $1 billion to the issue. We need to see more actions like this and more statements like those from Gov. Charlie Baker, The Handel & Haydn Society and Former President Bush.

  • George Floyd, the Riots and Action – There are so many important articles, comments, and discussions on this topic, it is tough to pick just one. Looking at it from a communication point of view, I loved that Edelman came out strong and hard that brands must stand up to racism. I am seeing brands start to do so, such as Bank of America.


  • Who is responsible for what is posted on social media? In any other week, this would have been the dominant topic. Now it is 1a at best. There was extensive coverage about the executive order President Trump will issue making technology companies responsible for what is posted on their channels. One article that stood out to me was in The Atlantic that looked at the ethical issues with it. I think it was said best in that “The first amendment protects Twitter from the President, not the President from Twitter.” The New York Times looks at this in greater detail.


  • But what is Facebook’s responsibility? – While I personally believe the above issue is pretty black and white, there as room for some interesting discussion on the power of the platforms and the role they play and if there should be some oversight. Facebook employees believe the platform needs to do more. I liked how Verge called it out – Facebook is treating a moral issue as if it is a legal one.


  • Deepfakes will be a greater challenge – Compared to the massive issues listed above, this one may seem minor, but long term this is a tsunami of an ethical challenge waiting to happen. Forbes highlights the issue and the end quote is the most powerful part of the article: “The man in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square moved the world,” said NYU professor Nasir Memon. “Nixon on the phone cost him his presidency. Images of horror from concentration camps finally moved us into action. If the notion of not believing what you see is under attack, that is a huge problem. One has to restore truth in seeing again.”


Imagine the challenges we would face with regards to the protests and the events of the past week if people didn’t believe the images they were seeing, or how those with ill will could manipulate them.  It is something for which we need to be ready.


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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