Friday, May 13, 2011

Smear Campaign Perpetuates PR Stereotypes

Posted by Amanda Walsh

There has been some dubious news from Silicon Valley recently. USA Today just reported that Facebook, the social networking giant, was caught in partnership with international PR firm, Burson Marsteller, to spearhead a smear campaign against Google.

Burson reached out to well-known bloggers and other publications on behalf of a ‘mystery client’ to help draft and place op-ed pieces speaking out against Google’s invasion of user privacy. One blogger in turn published the email correspondence, cracking the story wide open.

Dan Lyons of The Daily Beast reported that when Facebook was confronted with the evidence of hiring the PR firm, a spokesperson outlined the company’s reasons for doing so. “It believes Google is doing some things in social networking that raise privacy concerns; second, and perhaps more important, Facebook resents Google’s attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service.”

According to Lyons’ article, the latest conflict between Google and Facebook is regarding “a Google tool called Social Circle, which lets people with Gmail accounts see information not only about their friends but also about the friends of their friends, which Google calls ‘secondary connections.’ Burson, in its pitch to journalists, claimed Social Circle was ‘designed to scrape private data and build deeply personal dossiers on millions of users—in a direct and flagrant violation of [Google's] agreement with the FTC.’”

It’s interesting that in recent years many social media sites have come under fire for their privacy policies, including Facebook. News such as this comes to light at a time when the company has been trying to position itself as “trustworthy.” What bothers me even more is that political campaign-like smear tactics are executed on behalf of for-profit businesses. Such tactics perpetuate negative PR stereotypes like “flack” and “spinster.”  As one who entered the industry with a high regard for ethics in our profession, I am disappointed by, what we call around here, PR Bullying. At Furia Rubel, we believe that proactive communications are about delivering great products and services and then telling that story in a way that creates a true competitive advantage. It’s never necessary to lodge a smear campaign. And as my boss, Gina Rubel, likes to say, “It’s all about radical transparency.” I’ve never liked the negativity in politics and I certainly don’t like it in public relations. A great place to start with strategic PR planning is to review the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Code of Ethics.

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