Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ethics for PR academics - is there a new dimension

In this essay, I shall challenge the morality and ethics of Public Relations as taught in British Universities. I will also briefly consider the extent to which modern transformative technologies will set the ethical bar too high for most professional practice.

Using the emerging blockchain technologies it is now possible for a PR practitioner to distribute content securely. End to end encryption is now available and free.

This means that content created by a practitioner is wholly owned by that practitioner. It can be shared and sold at the discretion of the practitioner. The whole process is more secure than any other form of communication (I argue more so than even word of mouth)

For the recipient, the source of the original copyright is assured.  They can now know who contributed towards the information/experiences that they receive.

This content can include concepts, creative ideas and works, designs, text, video, music, tweets, and other social media content plus augmented reality, apps and bots and all of it securely attributed to the originator/s.

Whereas email, fax, messenger and other traditional communication services can be hacked or the origins of the content can be hidden in traditional content sharing structures, the new technologies are for all intents and purposes secure (so far have never been hacked).

The press release in this new environment has value in its original state. Subsequent changes by the author or a client are attributed as they occur. The full activity is available and verifiable from the first ‘key stroke’ to extent that the communication ‘bent the mind of’ recipient.

This means that the practitioner can be paid for the original work; there is no chance that content is Fake News and the quality of practitioner works can be identified without question.

Today the services that enable such capability include Decent (https://decent.ch/), Crypviser (https://ico.crypviser.net/).  

Tierion co-founder and CEO wrote: “We see a fundamental problem with the Internet’s trust infrastructure. The root of trust for all systems relies on trusted authorities. Tierion Network makes it possible to create a better Internet where proof replaces trust as the foundation for security.”

Tierion is not alone.

Companies within the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance are also trying to create a decentralised ecosystem and platforms with which organisations can securely communicate with each other without the necessity of intermediaries and manual labour.

This is not something for ‘the future’. It is here now.

My first question to teachers of PR is simple. Can we avoid up close and personal attention to these transformative technologies? Is it ethical to ignore the extent of change now upon us?

Meanwhile, can a practitioner hide behind old technologies when other practitioners are building a reputation for verifiably true and authentic excellence?

I continue with my second concern. In an industry which is one of the older examples of the gig economy would it be ethical to withhold an opportunity for practitioners to achieve a true return for their works for want of knowledge about services such as Decent? The upside is very good. If such technologies can be used to assure full attribution and immediate payment should knowledge and practical experience of such services be withheld for want of knowledge on the part of teachers?

Next, one might ask if the student (and the PR industry) understands the pressure such technologies will put them under. Challenges of speaking truth to power will soon be re-enforced in the knowledge that without it, technologies will wield a digital stick by showing up the charlatans.  Such strictures will be of the algorithm and not a person/activist/competitor using technologies (for example trying to ‘fix’ elections) or ‘social media’.

Obfuscation is also under pressure. The technologies are beginning to be the arbiters of the source of and extent of verifiable truths. This is not Artificial Intelligence at play (yet) it is the simple fact of the outcomes from verifiable and trusted communication.

Without such knowledge, can there be a trusted relationship between academic PR and the PR industry?

Already, we have to face hard questions. Does PR have to be completely ethical? Will practitioners always be found out if they stray?  Is there room to err? Is the PR academic research able to seek answers to such questions and be able to advise the PR industry?  

Can a university pretend to teach PR if it cannot answer such questions?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The law governing Public Relations and elections

On the face of it, there would seem to be few laws that have been passed to specifically govern the activities of the public relations practitioner.

The fact is that there are many affective laws and some of them are very pertinent during election times.

If someone were to approach a PR practitioner asking for help in running their election campaign, the long arm of the law wraps itself round the practitioner. There is no escape!

The Representation of the Peoples Acts, the Electoral Registration Acts and associated regulation govern what can be be done and what has to be accounted for down to the last stamp.

The law goes further than that. If a PR practitioner attempts to support a candidate or political party in an election, even without the knowledge or consent of the candidates, the law has an interest in this too.

Even working to get people on the electoral register is nailed down by the law and bucking the law can lead to some really serious consequences.

There is a significant sub-set of public relations practitioners who are political agents and they have a considerable history going as far back as 1882. Many political agents have specific qualifications to do the job (I did several decades ago).

Of course misrepresentation is another area of law that affects the PR profession. a false statement of fact or law which induces the someone to enter a contract (agree to buy or do something or agree not to buy or do something), where a statement made during the course of negotiation or conversations (yes, this does apply to social media) is classed as a representation.  Misrepresentation may be available where the statement turns out to be untrue.  There are three types of misrepresentation:
  • innocent misrepresentation 
  • negligent misrepresentation
  • fraudulent misrepresentation
On all three counts, a person purporting to be a public relations practitioner, whether or not a member of an organisation such as the CIPR, cannot claim to be innocence a a defence. There is a duty of care (as well as professionalism) - see 'tort' below.

Many practitioners may not aware of the nature of contracts and yet enter into them daily. 

In the UK a contract that is an agreement giving rise to obligations which are enforced or recognised by law.  In common law, there are 3 basic essentials to the creation of a contract: (i) agreement; (ii) contractual intention; and (iii) consideration (what is the bargain? Is it money in exchange for something or some other value exchange).

Using marketing speak is not exempt. The claim of a 'world leading product' implies there is verifiable research behind the claim. In these cases there is an element of tort. Tort is the part of law for most harms that are not either criminal or based on a contract. Tort law helps people to make claims for compensation (repayment) when someone hurts them or hurts their property.

A lot of harm perpetrated in social media falls into the realm of Tort. In many cases bots fall fowl of tort law but there does not seem to be much case law yet.The legals issues that cover copyright, passing off and trademarks are big for PR practice too. Is your app legal? 

As we have seen, there is a lot of law that affects the PR sector and although it is struggling to keep up with The Transformative Technologies, there is plenty to be going on with.

In the meantime, there are things the practitioner can do to learn about the law that affects PR practice. Being a member and using the facilities of organisations like the CIPR is helpful. Universities provide modules for students and your own lawyer will be of help too.

There is a case for research into present UK and global legal constraints on the practice of PR (this post is about UK law but there are similar constraints worldwide). In addition, there is a need for greater clarity as to the the constraints that already exist.

It is an opportunity for a post graduate student wanting to make a name (and career) for herself.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Barbarians at the gates of the Liberal Democracy Empire

Portrait of Locke in 1697 by Godfrey Kneller
For some time, I have wrestled with the thought that we are living in a political era different to one we knew in the 20th century. As I shall show, there are those before me.

The eighteenth-century philosopher John Locke (1632 - 1704) provided a framework for much of our thinking about identity and the self. He gave philosophers such as David Hume, Rousseau, and Kant, the basis for the idea of Liberal Democracy.  These and his wider range of interests is now brought into close focus in the new era of life changing transformative technologies and a post-Liberal Democratic Hegemony.

The nature of the Transformative Technologies now goes to the very essence of our understanding of wealth. Wealth is now measured in the accessible possession and manipulation capability of Big Data and its translation into intangibles such as knowledge capable of being implanted into the minds of men. The nature of Augmented Reality is such that the idea does not seem to be prosperous and thus can step by step pass from machine to man and seep deeper into our culture - what can be described as a post-knowledge economy. 

Thus, the nature of wealth is not always to be seen in transit to tangible advantage but as access to Big Data transfigurations from the evolution of content in 'The Cloud'.

The ability of technologies to augment the self is now evident in capabilities such as Artificial Intelligence in many of its applications (not least in assisting the medical profession in diagnosis and treatment of ailments such as cancer). AI is seen to be 'better' in many tasks. At the same time, the idea of many truths and liberal interpretation is challenged, even undermined, by unbreakable encryption including technologies accessible to most people in the form of Blockchain.

A Mckinsey view is here and offers some real world numbers of this changing economic world.

The population, in everyday use of mobile phones at al, are aware of the big changes now and in train. They touch them every day. Every day people deploy the cloud and touch new and emerging transformative technologies but they don't see its recognition among governing elites. Poor access to wifi is a simple example of the 'them and us' rupture. "Why can't they fix it?"

Meanwhile, evidence of the collapse of Liberal Democracy is seen in a number of ways:

There is the misplaced power of the State which is evident in day to day performance of the Executive.

One can draw the inference that the Government Executive (DVLA) is too powerful and/or independent of the elected Parliament and, thereby is perceived to be out of control or undermining the electorate and wider community.

The high levels of support for Marine Le Pen also show the frontal attack on the liberal, pluralistic model of society.

It is electors who are marking out the boundaries of a new and emerging 'Western Democracy'. Gone are the days of Left v Right. Many long-established political parties are not loosing support and votes, they have become irrelevant. There is vox pop evidence and opinion o support such a view which emerged in the 2017 election

The change has been a long time in the making but the pace of change is accelerating.  The present release valve for most nations is in the ballot box. The need for the basic of democracy, the universal (voting) franchise, is critical.

We are seeing the barbarians at the gate of the Liberal Democracy Empire.

Reason and tolerance, life and liberty is now cast into a post-industrial, post-knowledge capital era. The capability to develop and access unlimited accumulation of property without causing waste through spoilage is re-cast. 

My, most recent experience is a clue. I had my driving licence withdrawn by the  Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) base on, as it turned out a misdiagnosis of epilepsy.  On informing the Agency of the misdiagnosis and with evidence of two of the Nation's leading Neurologists, the wheels of the agency ground exceeding slow but not exceeding fine. It took the Agency a further six months to restore the licence. I raised this apparently systemic fault with y local Member of Parliament who duly wrote to the Agency for an explanation. The result was two letters from DVLA one to my MP and one to me. The letter from the Agency, an Executive arm of government, to a Member of Parliment was a template and platitudinous and noted that the Agency was undergoing some reforms. The letter to me was courteous and outlined the many approaches I had made to the Agency and offered an explicit apology and noted the upcoming reforms. The two letters could have been about two different cases. In its way, the Agency had deceived the Member of Parliament as to the extent of its failings. Having cited my case to a number of people, I have heard of many similar cases.

Donald Trump described his perspective as: 'Drain the Swamp' to describe his plan to fix problems in the US Federal Government and in doing so touched a nerve in the US electorate.  It was an argument similar to the one provided by Bian Binley (MP) when he noted "(The European) Commission has conceded that the bureaucratic costs of business compliance with European legislation could be equivalent of 5.5 per cent of EU GDP – equivalent to the size of the entire Dutch economy." Such evidence also touched a nerve among the British electorate.  We see similar evidence in other areas of public life, no less than the French Presidential Election results.

This so-called Brexit phenomenon is a reaction to Liberal Democracy as a large proportion of voters see it. 

Dr Robin Niblett at Chatham House invites us to consider that, the liberal international order has always depended on the idea of progress. Since 1945, Western policymakers have believed that open markets, democracy and individual human rights would gradually spread across the entire globe. Today, such hopes seem naïve.

In Asia, the rise of China threatens to challenge US military and economic hegemony. In the Middle East, the United States and its European allies have failed to guide the region toward a more liberal and peaceful future in the wake of the Arab Spring. And Russia’s geopolitical influence has reached heights unseen since the Cold War, as it attempts to roll back liberal advances around its periphery.

But the more important threats to the order are internal. For the past half-century, the European Union has seemed to represent the advance guard of a new liberalism in which nations pool sovereignty and cooperate ever more closely with one another. Today, as it reels from one crisis to the next, the EU has stopped expanding, he says.

Already it takes us back to Locke

In The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Edward Luce talks of the weakening of western hegemony and the crisis of liberal democracy―of which Donald Trump and his European counterparts are not the cause, but a symptom. Luce argues that we are on a menacing trajectory brought about by ignorance of what it took to build the West, arrogance towards society’s economic losers, and complacency about our system’s durability―attitudes that have been emerging since the fall of the Berlin Wall (in my view - long before and a reason for the failure of Nazi and communist forms of government). We cannot move forward, suggests Luce, without a clear diagnosis of what has gone wrong. Unless the West can rekindle an economy that produces gains for the majority of its people, its political liberties may be doomed. "The West’s faith in history teaches us to take democracy for granted. Reality tells us something troublingly different", says Luce.

In Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra looks further back to the eighteenth century before leading us to the present.

He shows that as the world became modern, those who were unable to enjoy its promises--of freedom, stability, and prosperity--were increasingly susceptible to demagogues. The many who came late to this new world--or were left, or pushed, behind--reacted in horrifyingly similar ways: with an intense hatred of invented enemies, attempts to re-create an imaginary golden age, and self-empowerment through spectacular violence. It was from among the ranks of the disaffected, suggests Mishra, that the militants of the nineteenth century arose--angry young men who became cultural nationalists in Germany, messianic revolutionaries in Russia, bellicose chauvinists in Italy, and anarchist terrorists internationally.

These authors are delving deep into the nature of modern civilisation. There is change in the air.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The PR department that needs an Artificial Intelligence chip

Will your PR department have its own AI chips? will it need them just to keep up?

My thinking is brought about by an article by Cade Metz  in Wired magazine today.

He writes about an AI chip for everything and identifies companies already developing such capability.

Google recently built its own AI chip, called the TPU, which is widely deployed inside the massive data centres that underpin the company’s online empire. There, thousands, of TPU’s helps with everything from identifying commands spoken into Android smartphones to choosing results on the Google search engine.

But this is just the start of a much bigger wave, says Metz.

“As CNBC revealed last week, several of the original engineers behind the Google TPU are now working to build similar chips at a stealth startup called Groq, and the big-name commercial chip makers, including Intel, IBM, and Qualcomm, are pushing in the same direction.|” Facebook too is working on an AI chip.

These new chips are very efficient and use much less power than the traditional CPU.

Now, as companies like Google and Facebook push neural networks onto phones and VR headsets—so they can eliminate the delay that comes when shuttling images to distant data centers—they need AI chips that can run on personal devices, too. “There is a lot of headroom there for even more specialised chips that are even more efficient.”

In other words, the market for AI chips is potentially enormous. That’s why so many companies are jumping into the mix.

Let's go back a bit and think about “ push neural networks onto phones and VR headsets.”  This will make AI chips more ubiquitous than mobile phones. Such chips in such volumes would be (relatively) cheap.

This would offer the prospect of Artificial Intelligence chips in everyday items such as clothes, personal items like glasses, headsets, wand-like pens and so on.

AI in all forms of communication will demand an AI response in corporate governance (as well as government and the law).

Those people who have to manage public relations (not the marketing/publicity sort), and thus the governance aspects of the job, will need some very serious AI tools to gain access to the means of relationship management mediated by the now ubiquitous AI chip.

Yes, your PR department is going to need its own AI chips.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

What is 'The Media' - A job for the universities

"Much power is media generated. Historically, only certain groups could produce and publish content through media platforms due to the lack of technology. Now, anyone can produce and share content, especially within our own social networks, however small or large that may be. Verčič warns that the public relations industry must think about media relations differently—not just the paid, earned, shared, owned model—but everything generating communications today. “Mediatization” is everything. So said Dr. Dejan Verčič , Professor and Head of Centre for Marketing and Public Relations at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

The game changers are staggering.

The announcement by Facebook this week that it wants to get to a point where its system can read the brain five times faster than an individual can type on a smartphone is awesome. It offers new forms of communication. It will, says Facebook, also enable other new technologies such as artificial intelligence-powered augmented reality to offer alternative insights into the authors' thoughts.

Meanwhile, Facebook is also focused on is turning the camera into a mainstream augmented reality platform.

But then, in the corner of your office is a 'virtual assistant'. These devices access a lot of information some of which is provided by the Marketing and Public Relations industies. Virtual Assistants are very chatty and are getting better at it too. Further-more, they morph into your mobile phone to give you the same service on the move. They have become in-house companions for housebound senior citizens too.

These developments and many more reflect a growing number of media channels that are now available for the PR industry to use in affecting and influencing relationships.

The problem is that such media pops up in many forms. 

The car is now the equivalent of the Daily News of yesteryear. It provides information about the car and journey, directions to take, nearest McDonalds and a vast array of entertainment. It is a platform for news and opinion as well as augmented reality adding to the driver and passenger experience.

We still have 'print media', radio and TV, the web and social media and we have the many new media. 

This means there are serious challenges for practitioners when it comes to media selection.

Lots of people are currently touting their ability to communicate one on one through social media.  Sentiment analysis and emotion tracking are also now possible. It is marketing nirvana.

But is it?

How can one identify the environment (e.g. housebound home, car, mobile phone on the bus) and its influence on the moment? What about the nature of opinion changing social media bots and trolls and their impact of the AI programmes that seem to offer such wonderful insights?

Communication that changes the nature of genes in the human body so it can receive and act on mobile phone communication is not as far-fetched as it would seem.

What are the questions we need to ask if we are going to be equipped with knowledge and capability to use the media that is needed in relationship change?

We now have to turn to the universities to offer a solution. They are beyond the capability of the individual practitioner or PR agency.