This Week in PR Ethics (2/23/23): Subway Surfing, Laundering Reputations, and Psychological Targeting

This week there were some ironic ethics issues – but the most intriguing articles are both depressing and important. There is a rise in unethical reputation laundering. What content should social media companies censor? What are the ethics of psychological targeting?


  • The rise of unethical reputation laundering – This is a very long article, but it is a must-read.  Seth Arenstein pointed it out to me. It looks at the rise of Black Hat Reputation Management Firms and the unethical tactics they use.  I told Seth, the good news is unlike the BuzzFeed article of a few years ago, at least they don’t call them PR firms. But as he says – will people really understand the difference?


  • The ethics of psychological targeting  – HBR had a great article this month on the ethics of psychological targeting – the practice of influencing behavior through interventions customized to personality traits. Is it effective? Where do you draw the line?


  • Should social channels ban subway surfing – This article from the Gothamist was intriguing. After a 15-year-old died on Monday, The MTA has asked the major social networks to ban videos of subway surfing. The MTA claims videos of young people riding atop the subways surged by 160% between 2019 and 2022. Should the networks ban the videos? If so, where do they draw the line on what to ban. Street racing? Dangerous pranks?


  • Should AI determine who gets laid off?  In my ethics class, we use layoffs as an example of ethical dilemmas more than anything else.  This Washington Post article reports on the growing use of AI in determining who should be laid off? Is this a good or bad thing? Where do you draw the ethical line?



  • Ironic – Gizmodo reported on how a student used Chat GPT to cheat on his exam on AI ethics.


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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