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  • Leah Cunningham, Account Executive

Ethical AI

It has become clear that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to have a wide impact on the PR industry.

We have already seen AI applied within PR software programmes designed to evaluate content and media exposure, for example, and while such features are expected to make our jobs easier, they have the potential to make some jobs non-existent, especially at clerical levels.

However, in addition to how AI might change the jobs we do, there is also the question of ethics, the hot topic on everyone’s mind since the Bell Pottinger disaster in September. It’s become apparent that the latest advances in IT, while throwing up new opportunities, also impinge on ethical practice, a core value of the public relations industry and one that comes into play every day for practitioners. Since October is the CIPR’s Ethics Festival, it’s a good time to review the ethical impact on IT and AI within the industry.

Let’s start with accepting the fact that AI is already having an impact on the communications industry. The technology is sufficiently advanced that news outlets can use AI programmes to write articles should they wish, while there are bots on social networks that have been purchased to ‘like, share, or follow’ an account. There is even Albert, the AI programme that can create an entire marketing campaign for you. The rise of AI will bring with it a host of ethical challenges.

A good example relating to evaluation was highlighted at the Channel Islands CIPR annual Forum, entitled PR 2022: Future Communications, held in Guernsey recently. What if as a practitioner you are given a near impossible task by a client – gaining 1,000 followers on a new social network account within a stringent time frame. The only plausible way of achieving this is to go down the unethical route of using AI bots and buying followers for the account to like and share content. However, this method is pure vanity. All 1,000 of those followers will be fake and what reason would you have to market your social network to fake people? If you Tweet to 1,000 bots have you even Tweeted?

Andrew Bruce Smith used this example in a panel discussion which tackled the difficult topic of the role AI plays in PR and where the industry sees itself in five years’ time.

With the amount of free and paid-for programmes available for communications professionals and marketing teams alike, we have found ourselves at the precipice of another wave of change in technology, and in turn a change in the industry and the way it operates. These new tools are at our fingertips and are readily available to help practitioners highlight a more realistic value of the work we do. This has the potential of making a difference in terms of how senior management and CEOs view public relations practice and gives us a better foothold in the door to becoming a more influential discipline within organisations.

But, as is the case for any new form of technology, it also has the potential to be abused and employed for unethical objectives. It may seem easier to use AI to meet a low standard of vanity metrics to impress the board, rather than to use AI to generate more genuine and valuable outcomes that may look less impressive on paper.

It is therefore the responsibility of the user, in our case PR practitioners, to uphold their ethical standards when dealing with AI. As highlighted at length at the PR 2022 forum, AI is only as good as the person using it.

We need to ensure that we are upholding our standards of transparency, accountability, and good governance. Without these qualities the value of the new wave of integrated AI and PR can become blurred and its application can even become unscrupulous. With the opportunity greater now than ever before to show just how valuable our work is to an organisation, it’s important we don’t follow in the same questionable footsteps of giants that have fallen before us.

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