Recent news of a high profile, local individual allegedly creating fictitious social media personas to influence a contested community issue casts a dark shadow on the many respected and ethical public relations professionals in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It also stands in direct opposition to the code of ethics set forth by the two major professional public relations organizations.
On its website, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) affirms its commitment to ethical practices, stating that “the level of public trust PRSA members seek, as we serve the public good, means we have taken on a special obligation to operate ethically.” Members are called to “serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent” and “provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.”
Some might believe the rules of engagement have changed in today’s shifting social media culture, but the ethical values of advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence loyalty and fairness stand firm for professional communicators. In 2008, PRSA issued this advisory that directly addresses the question of deceptive online practices and the misrepresentation of organizations and individuals with the following statement:
The use of deceptive identities or misleading descriptions of goals, causes, tactics, sponsors or participants to further the objectives of any group constitutes improper conduct under the PRSA Member Code of Ethics and should be avoided. PRSA members should not engage in or encourage the practice of misrepresenting organizations and individuals through the use of blogs, viral marketing, social media and/or anonymous Internet postings.
The individual involved in recent local news reports is not a member of PRSA national or the local chapters, and our intention is not to comment about the facts of this case. Rather, we take this opportunity to educate the public about the role of public relations and the ethical standards expected of those within our profession.
As members of PRSA, we are obligated to serve the public and operate in a manner that sets a standard of performance, professionalism, and ethical conduct. These are more than guidelines. These values are the fundamental beliefs that guide our behaviors and decision-making processes. They are vital to the integrity of our profession and in the best interest of the public that we serve.
Tweet Gigi Westerman, APR, Fellow PRSA, @StrategicImage