This Week in PR Ethics (10/1/20): Bananas, Ads, Hospitals and Effective Ethics Training

The PRSA and PRCA ethics months are over. Does that mean we are going to stop discussing ethics? Heck no! That is not how we roll at EthicalVoices. Please note: this week we will not be discussing the ethics of tax returns or sharing confidential documents – others are doing that quite well. Rather I decided to build a cornucopia of the most interesting ethics stories of the past week, including effective ethics training.

  • Ethics and AI – My local city news, the Framingham Source, share a release from Sen. Warren questioning the use of race-based algorithms in healthcare. Hospital software ethics issues was prominent last year, and the release states “These algorithms risk embedding racism into medical practice when, for example, the National Football League’s concussion protocols assumedthat Black NFL players have lower cognitive functioning compared to white players.”  We all need to beware bias in AI algorithms and communicators need to understand the AI being used to make decisions. Their implementation creates reputational and societal risk.


  • 90% of online content will be deepfakes – Speaking of AI, there was an interesting story in the Daily Star which claims 90% of online content in the next five years will be AI deepfakes. While I believe the data and percentage is likely overhyped, the core issue is real – particularly for communicators as “We are entering an age where we can no longer believe our own eyes.” The tools will be available to everyone – and the ethical questions comes up as to how much do we make use of them? What is a simple Photoshop touch up, and what goes to far? I see this bringing a huge reputational risk to all organizations, as competitors will have the power to put executives and products in a negative light.


  • What is appropriate? – One of my students drew my attention to an article in PetaPixel that is more than a week old but is new to me. Audi was attacked for what some consider to be an inappropriate ad. It led to a great discussion on subconscious influence and the emotions children and kids evoke and can we ever use bananas in ads again?


  • Fighting fake news – France24 reported on a proposed Nicaraguan law that will make posting face news punishable by 2-4 years in prison. Where this impacts ethical discussions is Nicaragua characterized fake news as “distorted information, likely to spread anxiety, anguish or fear.” I have been doing security and anti-fraud PR for 20+ years and more than a few companies in the industry would fall victim to that rule – so is it something global companies need to consider? Additionally, “spreading anxiety” is very broad. Discussing COVID-19 spreads anxiety with many people, and as we gather more data, recommendations will change. All this ties into challenges of enforcement and overly broad frameworks.


  • Effective ethics training – When I spoke with PRSA Colorado last week, they liked one of my mantras – ethics training is like vitamins. It needs to be done regularly or it will have no impact. The article in Investor’s Business Daily this week also reinforces that point and drive home why simply having a policy isn’t enough. I particularly liked the quote from Noelle Mykolenka that stated “instead of asking, “Were you ethical in that situation?” it’s better to ask, “What’s in the client’s best interest in that situation?” That way, you steer the conversation toward applying the principles you cherish.”


Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA
Follow Me
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


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *