This Week in PR Ethics (8/6/20) – Virtual People, Pay-for-Play in Sports Reporting and the Metaverse

This week I came across three different but interesting stories looking at ethical issues around virtual people. Authenticity with a theme that wove through most of the articles as well. Plus, we get to look at payola in sports media and a really fascinating article on the communication metaverse which introduced a few new areas of concern to me, including brain computer interface data.

  • Pay for Play in Sports Media Coverage – The Salt Lake Tribune this week wrote a story I was surprised wasn’t covered more. The story alleges that the PAC-12 paid the Los Angeles Times $100,000 in advertising in exchange for increased earned media coverage. This ties back to the USC Annenberg study from 2018 that shows the continued blurring of paid, earned, shared and owned and the growing inability to distinguish between them.


  • Authenticity in Brand Communication around Racial Justice – Prove it with actions, not words is one of the mantras of 2020, and the Harvard Business Review this week has a good guide to how brands can prove their ethical stances through action, rather than trying to shape perception.


  • Ethics in the Communication Metaverse – What type of tracking can and should communication and marketing professionals be doing in virtual reality and the metaverse? That is the topic of in interesting article in Forbes this week. While much of it is areas that have been discussed before (privacy, deepfakes) there are interesting permutations such as Brain Computer Interfaces, Digital Twins (which gives me flashbacks to Second Life) and body movement beyond eye tracking. It is a great read.


  • The Rise of the Virtual Being – Complementary to the above story, the WIRED podcast this week looks at the rise of the virtual beings and the ethics of never aging people and how we deal with them.


  • And yet another virtual person/hoax – And for the hat trick, this New York Times story looks at a non-deepfake, but fabricated person, that stirred up controversy while discussing sexual harassment in the sciences, COVID and a number of other topics. There are enough permutations here to make a good movie, so it is worth the read. And don’t pretend to be someone you are not.
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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