Ethics is a huge issue in almost all professions, not just public relations. However, with the recent trend of social media, such as blogging, ethics has become a more prevalent issue. A lot of companies have used blogging as a way to promote their clients, but many people argue that blogging is useless to the PR industry and that if used for the wrong reasons, it can be unethical.
A classmate who is actively involved in social media recently told me that she believes social media is only good if used properly and for good cause. There is no point in blogging just for the point of blogging. But if you use it wisely, it can work wonders. But the thing about social media is that there are no restrictions. Anyone can write a blog on anything they want and it is difficult to understand whether or not these people are credible. After researching blogs on ethics in PR, I came across one that discusses a social media code of conduct developed by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).
According to this blog, the code of conduct states that CIPR members must execute their online activities and conduct themselves with integrity, competence and confidentiality. The fact that the CIPR implemented a code of conduct acknowledges the fact that social media is becoming an increasingly popular medium used in the industry and unethical activity can play a large role.
The Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) also indicates in their policy statement on Communications in Social Media that all members should not practice professional conduct that discredits themselves, the CPRS or public relations.
While social media has become popular in PR, it appears that professional organizations are taking a great part in ensuring that the use of social media is not used unethically, which to me seems like the proper thing to do. Social media can be dangerous, so it must be used carefully, and with these policies in tact, PR professionals can be assured that any misuse of social media will be dealt with.
One example of an ethical issue involving social media is the Edelman-Wal-Mart incident. For those who don’t know, Wal-Mart hired Edelman as its PR agency and in a tactic to promote Wal-Mart, they created a blog where a couple wrote about their vacation in which they drove across the United States in an RV and parked in Wal-Mart parking lots. They discussed their experiences at each Wal-Mart and how great the staff was. The ethical issue is that the couple was hired by Edelman to write the blog and did not let readers known on the blog that they worked for the company. The issue is that this blog was written intentionally to promote Wal-Mart. While there are many opinions on the issue, it is just one of the big ethical incidents involving social media and public relations.It is evident through this case and many others online, that ethics and social media is a controversial issue in public relations. Thankfully, institutions are noticing how significant social media can be in the industry and are taking a stance to protect the integrity of PR professionals, their clients and the industry.