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Does Our Code of Ethics Hold Up Against Modern Spin?

Any public relations pro can harken back to their college days and remember professors who struck fear into their hearts over the dreaded s-word: spin.

A form of propaganda, spin refers to deliberately sharing misleading or biased information to impact someone’s opinion of a person, company or event.

Those of us working in the media or in media relations have long battled disinformation. Spin can mean a lot of things, whether it is cherry-picking quotes, leaving out key details in a press release or opting for a clickbait headline that doesn’t tell the whole truth. It takes a strong ethical code to balance what is best for our clients and those with whom we communicate.

Hirons adheres to the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics, publicly posted so our clients and partners know the exact standards we uphold.

PRSA is more than 70 years old and Hirons recently celebrated its 42nd birthday – our history as communicators goes back well before smartphones or high-speed internet. We no longer wait for the hottest headline to be dropped on our doorstep, but instead receive up-to-the-minute notifications. Does our honored code of ethics hold up?

During the creation of the Code of Ethics in the 1950s, we did not have to worry about bots or individuals circulating false stories on Facebook. Still, our Code said, “We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.”

We did not have to advise a client on how to handle a disgruntled employee tweeting retaliatory information to their followers. Still, our Code said, “We provide objective counsel to those we represent. We are accountable for our actions.”

The local newspaper did not have the ability to disseminate a story which may represent our client unfavorably to subscribers within minutes. Still, our Code said, “We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.”

Spin may look different as our communication channels expand. Our current battles – grappling with the distribution of “fake news,” rapid-fire sharing of information and digitally edited visuals – have forced us to re-interpret our ethics for modern challenges. When the marketplace of ideas shifts with technological developments, we must continue to use our timeless yet malleable Code of Ethics to determine the path forward.

Times may have changed, but our fundamental beliefs in advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty and fairness have not.

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