PR veteran Shel Holtz is concerned about something big and important – insuring that online identities are authentic and not produced by fraudulent means. He writes on his A Shel of My Former Self blog about the perversion of "sock-puppetry" through which interest groups or individuals can multiply their messages on social media via automated, fabricated identities. That sort of thing represents a threat to the Internet's very capacity for meaning-making. And it will be viewed, Holtz warns, as a damning tactic in a PR industry which, unfortunately, has lots of alleyways.
Holtz provides a look into the dark side of Internet messaging through emails that a hacker group, Anonymous, evidently obtained from a suspect firm, HB Gary Federal. Because of its implications for Internet credibility, this material makes for sickening reading. We don't have first-hand access to any of it, but the "Danger" flag should be hoisted high and waved fervently.
"So far," Holtz warns, "the organizations that represent the public relations profession have been only moderately visible when it comes to situations like these" (including the U.S. Air Force seeking the ability to create fictitious online identities – this according to Erik Sherman on BNET). "They point to their codes of ethics as evidence that they are, of course, opposed to such behavior."
Yet a new, much louder consensus needs to be developed behind Internet credibility, so we all understand what's at stake in developing this astounding new medium.
"As these practices spin out of control," Holtz writes, "these (professional) organizations (IABC, PRSA, CPRS or any other) need to do more. I would like to see an industry-wide effort that condemns these practices and those who are behind them. That condemnation needs to be loud and repeated often."
Earlier in his post, Holtz stated, with bold face added: Manipulating consensus is wrong, unethical, unprofessional and the very antitheses of the transparency and responsibility that are at the heart of the changes sweeping business today."
He's right, and shouldn't have to shout about it.
Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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