This Week in PR Ethics (9/24/20) – The Slippery Ethical Slope of Intent

This week PR ethics issues revolved around the slippery ethical slope of intent. From TikTok’s social media coalition to the ethics of the Social Dilemma, media buying, and corporate donations to non-profits…there is a bit of insight for everyone. To cap it off, the PRCA has a great, free, upcoming webinar on ethics and government relations.

  • TikTok plans social media coalition – To combat fake information and inappropriate content, TikTok has announced plans to create a social media coalition. I see this as a move to keep the government away, but these coalition have worked in banking to fight fraud and other industries. The question is always who determines what is appropriate, particularly on a global scale. The most interesting data in the article is TikTok claim to have removed 104 million videos in six months, 90.3% of the videos before anyone saw them. They also said 16.4% of requests for user data came from U.S. law enforcement.


  • The ethics of the Social Dilemma – The Social Dilemma is one of the hottest films on Netflix right now and it looks at how social networks use social engineering to drive action and engagement, potentially to unhealthy levels. The question is always are people informed and can they make a decision as a moral agent. Slate had an interesting article this week which postulated the film was drawing attention to tired tropes and missing the real issues in tech ethics, such as how broader structural inequalities are reflected in and often amplified by the practices of big technology companies.


  • What ethical issues are involved in media buying? In The Drum this week, Richard Reeves, the managing director of the Association for Online Publishing (AOP), weighed in on the responsibility of media buyers to help shape the world around them. Specifically, he calls on organizations to move beyond attention to at a broad level, implement new methods of redirecting budgets to secure, high-quality and diverse publishers by creating ethical metrics to guide buying choices.


  • How ethical are corporate donations to non-profits? – Joanne B. Ciulla, professor and director of the Institute for Ethical Leadership at Rutgers Business School gives some great, practical examples how some corporations fail from a virtue-based ethics approach when donating to non-profits. She states, “implicit or explicit reciprocity does not necessarily make a gift unethical. (But), the ethics of giving and receiving depends on what that reciprocity means and entails for both parties.” And that “Donating to a charity for public relations alone can also harm both parties if it becomes apparent to the organization or the public that the donor is merely using the organization.” I really liked the example she shared that Mother Teresa’s charity, Missionaries of Charity, was one of the few organizations that accepted donations from unethical sources because it used that money to help those in extreme poverty.


  • Government Relations Ethics in an election year – As part of its ethics month programming, the PRCA has really interesting, free webinar on 29 Sept at 11:30 am ET featuring Ed Ingle (@edingle) who will “guide participants in this session through the ethics of U.S. government relations, particularly when stakes are even higher during an election year.” I think the topic is fascinating and plan to listen in.


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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