The only way is ethics #PRethics

The debate in Committee Room No 10 / pic by Kate Matlock

Committee Room number 10 in the House of Commons in London was the setting in the evening of July 7 for a vibrant debate on a big topic, formally titled “Wearable technology is an ethical nightmare for the communications, marketing and PR professions.”

Organized by The Debating Group and sponsored by the CIPR, the motion was proposed by Stephen Davies and seconded by me; and opposed by Stephen Waddington and seconded by Claire Walker.

About 100 people formed the audience, many of whom contributed opinion and running commentary on Twitter as each of the four speakers made their cases for the motion and against it. Once the formal addresses had been made, debate chair Alastair McCapra opened the debate to the floor where 18 people offered their perspectives to the debate.

It was a most interesting few hours. Opinion during the motions seemed pretty evenly divided, which seems to me to be fairly reflected in the commentary on Twitter. But when it came to the moment of voting, we were firmly defeated – 55 votes against the motion with only 28 for it.

Yet those stark numbers hide one reality, which is that it’s clear to me that this topic is not as black and white as it seems, offering only agreement or disagreement as your options. It is phenomenally nuanced, with so many shades of grey, and where almost everything you might say needing to start with “It depends.”

It’s also clear that the two opposing sides to the motion were far closer in thinking and belief than it may seem. Closer in the view that the topic is largely about people’s behaviours rather than about the wearable tech – meaning, what the tech enables people to do and so what they do or don’t do with it – and largely about providing codes of conduct that would be the roadmap for PR practitioners’ behaviour in how they use wearable tech.

I wholly support that idea although I’m far less optimistic that PR practitioners will simply abide by a code of conduct and not do bad things. If some PRs can’t get even the basics right, why should I have confidence that they can be trusted to do the right thing on their own with something far more important? Having a code is great, but it needs by-example leadership and professional behaviour to make it work at all.

Hence the “it depends” idea where I firmly believe that there won’t be an ethical nightmare as long as we – the profession, consultancies and clients, and individuals – take firm and clear steps to make the landscape anything but an ethical nightmare. We must do this, actively and proactively, collectively and individually.

Unlike my fellow speakers in the debate, I didn’t make a prepared speech. Instead, I prepared talking points from which I highlighted my perspectives to support Stephen. For the purpose of this narrative, let me highlight the bottom line of my argument:

Is there (or will there be) an ethical nightmare for PR, marketing and communication professionals?

I have 3 answers…

Yes, if…

1. Yes, if we do nothing to raise awareness and educate our publics on the SWOT of wearable tech.

2. Yes, if we fail to recognize the critical importance of the trust consumers place in our clients, in our employers and in governments that their behaviours are ethical.

3. Yes, if we fail to take advantage of the opportunities to advance our profession at the vanguard of understanding the ethics, scope and scale surrounding the enabling technologies that are before us, and what they will do – and do not – for our clients, our employers, consumers and businesses, and society at large.

Will we do this?

You tell me.

And here’s the argument in detail by the lead debaters:

My complete notes on Scribd:

I’ve seen some great reports and commentary about the debate, notably:

And of course, the curation of all the tweets, etc, in Storify by Gabrielle Laine-Peters:

And finally, credit where credit’s due – hard to resist a pun on the word ‘ethics’ as I use in my headline above. “The only way is ethics” is a play on “The only way is Essex,” a popular (?) reality TV show in the UK. So, full credit to Wadds for first use in the debate!

Making politics interesting again #EP2014

Houses of Parliament, London

If Nigel Farage has achieved one other thing apart from his seismic shifting of the political landscape in the UK following elections for the European Parliament across the European Union on May 22, it’s making politics more interesting again.

And not just in the UK, either.

Unquestionably overshadowing the election for local government councillors that also took place in many constituencies in England and Northern Ireland last week, Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) – firmly to the right-of-centre in political terms – has consistently banged the drum of anti-EU sentiment that is broadly strong in the UK, especially on populist issues such as reducing immigration and its related topic, open borders to any citizen of an EU member state – and closing them.

It’s been touching a chord for many months now, one that translated into votes when it came to the ballot box last Thursday as became readily clear as the election results started to be announced across the EU late on May 25.

UK European election results 2014

In the UK, UKIP out-performed every other party with its share of the vote, and how many MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) they’d be sending to Brussels/Strasbourg.

The big losers are the Liberal Democrats (LD in the chart above), who were just about wiped out in the EU with only one candidate voted in, losing nine others elected in the last European Parliament election in 2009.

So a period of soul-searching begins for the main parties in the UK, less than a year before the general election in May 2015.

“What to do about UKIP?” is the question political experts and pundits alike are currently saying is no doubt on the lips of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.

If it is, it’s the wrong question.

The right question must be, “How can we re-engage with our citizens that leads them to believe that voting in an election is a compelling act for them?” Here’s the pointer in this map posted by the AFP news agency showing the percentage of non-voters in each EU member state.

The non voters

While the UK is at 64 percent, it gets worse the further east you travel in Europe – over 77 percent of voters in Poland didn’t vote, for example. The figure was 79 percent in Slovenia and 80 percent in the Czech Republic. And a whopping 87 percent in Slovakia. (I wonder what pro-EU Ukrainians think about the EU and their country’s fractures when they see apathy like this.)

Looking at the UK again, here’s ampp3d’s more dramatic perspective on voter apathy.

Did note vote

It seems clear to me what politicians of every flavour need to do – whether in the UK or in any other of the 28 member states of the European Union – and that is to give voters two things:

  1. Reasons why they should care
  2. Reasons why they should vote

Certainly in the UK, it should be a very interesting 335+/- days between now and the forthcoming general election.

  • If you’re wondering what the EU election results mean for communications and public affairs, you can find out and add your own voice in a tweetchat on this topic organized by the CIPR, taking place on June 4 at midday UK time. Follow the hashtag #CIPRCHAT.

[The attractive Houses of Parliament postcard-type image at the top of the page is by Jenny Scott and is used under a Creative Commons license.]

Know where the legal line lies in what you can and cannot say online

Attorney General's OfficeIf you need further evidence that social media is now very much part of the fabric of contemporary society, it comes in the form of an initiative by the Attorney General’s Office designed “to help prevent social media users from committing a contempt of court.”

Attorney General for England and Wales Dominic Grieve, QC, MP – the British government’s senior legal adviser – announced a change in government policy today about ‘not for publication’ advisories issued to the mainstream media designed to make sure that a fair trial takes place and warn people that comment on a particular case needs to comply with the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

[...] Blogs and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook mean that individuals can now reach thousands of people with a single tweet or post. This is an exciting prospect, but it can pose certain challenges to the criminal justice system.

In days gone by, it was only the mainstream media that had the opportunity to bring information relating to a court case to such a large group of people that it could put a court case at risk. That is no longer the case, and is why I have decided to publish the advisories that I have previously only issued to the media.

In other words, anyone with an internet connection can now read publicly what previously went privately only to a small group.

You’ll be able to read future advisories on the Attorney General’s Office website and via Twitter – just follow @AGO_UK.

In his announcement, the Attorney General added:

[...] I hope that by making this information available to the public at large, we can help stop people from inadvertently breaking the law, and make sure that cases are tried on the evidence, not what people have found online.

It’s a good initiative as raising awareness that leads to better understanding will provide people with the opportunity to act within the law and, thus, avoid themselves being in the dock.

It may surprise you (or not) that quite a number of people seem to believe that you can talk about anything online via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook with impunity. Say what you like, it seems to be: there is little consequence from a quick tweet or status update.

Even in professions like public relations, awareness and understanding of what you can and cannot say publicly on social networks from a legal point of view is pretty low, as evidenced by an informal quiz during the Don’t Risk Litigation: Know Your Social Media Law session at the CIPR’s The Public Relations Show 2013 in London last week.

I participated in that session and took part in the quiz, along with the other 50 or so session attendees, being one of only five people left standing by the end of it, ie, we had the correct answers.

You can listen to that session including the quiz in this CIPR podcast:

(If you don’t see the audio player above, listen on SoundCloud.)

In the past, the Attorney General has issued around five advisories per year although the announcement notes that ten have been issued so far in 2013.

Whatever the number, make sure you’re keeping current with the law and social media, especially if you’re a communicator whose clients (or employer) would expect you to know where the line lies between what you can and cannot say online.

Related posts:

Filters and trust

Truth-O-MeterAs we get exposed to more and more information online, two elements assume great importance – filtering in the things we want to see; and verifying those things so we trust our filtered-in information along with the purveyors of it.

The former is easier done than the latter: there are apps, algorithms and all manner of technical tools to help you filter in what you want and, thus, filter out what you don’t.

Trust is a very tricky thing. Subjective, emotive and based largely on the things people say to one another, no one has yet come up with a method of automating trust that is convincing, reliable and, well, trusted.

Could PundiFact and the Truth-O-Meter be an answer? According to the US newspaper the Tampa Bay Times, yes, it could.

[…] The new site will have a dedicated staff of journalists who will research claims by media figures and rate them using PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter. The fact-checks will be published on PunditFact.com and will often be featured on the main PolitiFact site.

[…] “Pundits on TV and radio, as well as bloggers and columnists, are prominent voices in our political discourse, yet sometimes they blur the lines between opinion and fact,” said Neil Brown, editor and vice president of the Times. “Now we will hold them accountable, much as we’ve done with politicians.”

PolitiFact does have a track record of rating American politicians and what they say, presenting ratings in a way that you can, at a glance, see how particular public voices stack up on a truth scale. At least, according to PolitiFact.

trueorfalse

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark is quoted in the Tampa Bay Times story with a resonating appeal:

I just want news I can trust, and PunditFact is a real contribution in the direction of trustworthiness and accountability.

The bold’s my emphasis.

Maybe that’s the way to see this idea as one that’s “in the direction of trustworthiness and accountability.” That sounds realistic.

I’d love to see a PunditFact for the UK!

Related posts:

A simple solution for EDF Energy’s marketing problem

EDFSo EDF Energy has told its customers it can only recommend lower cost gas and electricity tariffs on annual bills if they “opt in” to receive advertising material.

Reading the report in today’s Telegraph, I was pretty sure that EDF Energy’s intention surely couldn’t be a cop-out to telling customers about better energy deals. That is, to not tell them.

But the Telegraph goes on to say:

EDF last night said the Data Protection Act meant it was unable to pro-actively tell customers about cheaper deals. It said the clause was only supposed to effect customers coming to the end of fixed-price contracts.

And quoting a spokeswoman:

“If a customers has opted out of ‘marketing,’ Data Protection Act rules mean we cannot highlight the cheapest deals within the letter informing them of the closure.”

I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me as though the Department of Common Sense at EDF Energy has closed down.

It seems to me that the Data Protection Act is also about consent: if you consent to a company doing certain things with your personal information, then isn’t that part of opting in?

Here’s a suggestion, EDF Energy.

How about a specific page on the EDF Energy website inviting customers to opt in to receiving information about cheaper deals? Or enabling customers to indicate that they’d like to receive information by email or in the post – or whatever needs to be said to comply with data protection and privacy laws – specifically about tariffs, prices and cheaper deals?

The invitation to opt in could say something like this:

[ ] Yes, I’d like to receive marketing emails or letters from you that will inform me of the choices I have in choosing an energy tariff at the best price. You promise that my opt-in to such communication will only be for this purpose: you will not spam me forever more with useless direct-marketing crap unrelated to choosing an energy tariff at the best price.

Okay, the final part of that last sentence probably wouldn’t make it. But I don’t see why EDF Energy can’t simply offer customers such an invitation to opt in to receiving “marketing” communication where it’s explained very clearly what it will include.

I bet they would get a huge take-up. You might even see some buzz building online showing EDF Energy in a good light about their common-sense approach to a thorny issue of rising energy prices and the negative opinions about energy companies that has got politicians all exercised and has even led to letters being written.

This isn’t a public issue: I’ve not seen any media reports about it other than in the Telegraph. A tweet or two here and there.

But such things have a habit of suddenly becoming a major issue and before you know it, you’re all over the media  – mainstream and social – for all the worst reasons. You might consider the Telegraph’s story as an early alert, an opportunity for EDF to address the matter before it evolves.

Proactive communication, EDF Energy, surely a simple solution that offers a big benefit. The customer relationship advantage could be significant.

Not to mention public relations.

Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day

Amid the conflict, awful tragedy and human suffering constantly occupying centre stage in mainstream media reporting about the Middle East, one man tries to explain the relationship complexities of, among, between, within and without key countries, states and individuals;  and countries outside the region.

A short guide to the Middle East (photo)

Financial Times reader K.N. Al-Sabah writes a letter to the editor of the FT on August 22 to offer a short guide to the Middle East.

That’s the snapshot view on the day Mr Al-Sabah wrote his guide. It seems to me that solving Rubik’s Cube or finding a cure for cancer would be a breeze in comparison to truly understanding the landscape of conflict in the Middle East.

(Via BuzzFeed Politics)