On Monday, April 18th, Dr. Donald K. Wright taught a master class in public relations to a full room of PR students from the College of Communication. The prior evening, Dr. Wright had been inducted to the Rowan University Public Relations Student Society of America Hall of Fame. Dr. Wright, the Harold Burson Professor and Chair in Public Relations at Boston University, focused his master class talk on ethics and social media.
In his discussion, Dr. Wright noted that Marshall McLuhan once said that “the media is the message.” With regard to social media, Dr. Wright disagrees with that claim, stating that what is said on Facebook, Twitter, etc. is important and must be attended to, particularly with regard to the ethical dimensions of the messages.
Based on his research into social media use by PR practitioners, Dr. Wright noted that, at this point, over 87% of practitioners studied agree that new media is important in public relations. His research also has indicated that the existence of new media formats creates a significant need for fast response. He notes that this requires even more careful attention to the message that is sent. While the practitioners studied indicate that new media has a long way to go before it reaches the level of credibility of more traditional media forms, at the same time practitioners note that they are spending more and more time utilizing these formats to reach audiences and see social media as extremely important parts of the practice.
Dr. Wright considered ethics and social media from the perspective of both a sender-orientation and a receiver-orientation. He noted that, at times, the ethical fault is not in the provision of particular information via social media but in the utilization of that information by receivers. While ethical breaches can occur both in the creation of a message and in the use of that message, Dr. Wright notes that, for the public relations practitioner, the focus should be on good preparation that allows for the crafting of ethically sound and responsive messages. For students, an issue of concern is employers utilizing facebook or other forms of social media to research employees. Dr. Wright noted that, regardless of intent, all information provided on social media forms can be found and that, because of this, precautions must be taken about what is published via social media.
Students were very engaged in the discussion, asking interesting questions about the research and the ethical issues related to social media. In all, it was a valuable opportunity for students to hear from an experienced public relations faculty member and scholar and to consider the connections between public relations practice, social media, ethics, and public opinion.