PR practitioners have a new resource to help them navigate the growing world of artificial intelligence (AI).
On Nov. 20 the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) released “Promise and Pitfalls: The Ethical Use of AI for Public Relations Practitioners,” an extensive framework that follows PRSA’s Code of Ethics to provide best practices on preventing and managing potential ethical challenges that may arise from the improper use of AI tools.
Michelle Egan, APR, Fellow PRSA and 2023 PRSA Chair, says document ideation came from a combination of discussions led by PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS) at the beginning of 2023, and PRSA members voicing curiosity surrounding AI tools. Egan has been speaking about and mentioning AI in almost all outreach to members over the past year. She says it’s been interesting to see the rapid evolution of interest.
“[In February, March I’d ask,] ‘how many of you have used a tool like ChatGPT,’ and you’d see a few hands go up, and now you see many, many hands,” Egan says. “I've seen the tone around AI change from a sort of fear… to transition to more excitement and enthusiasm about [using] these tools to make [their] work better.”
PR Ethics and AI
Because the Code of Ethics is so integral to the organization and members’ professional values, the guide’s working group, which includes Linda Staley, Chair of the AI Workgroup; Mark Dvorak, APR, Fellow PRSA, 2023 Chair of BEPS; Michele E. Ewing, APR, Fellow PRSA; Holly Kathleen Hall, J.D., APR; James R. Hoeft, APR; and Cayce Myers, Ph.D., LL.M., J.D., APR, among others, chose to use that document as a foundation to help members navigate a new way of working that can be challenging and confusing.
“Since its formation in 1947, and the creation of its Code of Ethics in 1950, PRSA has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to ethical behavior in the profession,” says Egan. “AI is among the most significant advancements we’ve faced in recent history and will revolutionize how we approach our jobs. The release of ‘Promise and Pitfalls’ will contribute to the ongoing discussion around AI, and advance the important work being done around the ethical use of the technology in the public relations profession.”
What the Guidelines Cover
“Promise and Pitfalls” focuses on five provisions found in the Code, with each defined and examined in terms of how they relate to generative AI tools, coupled with examples of improper and proper use.
The provisions include:
Free Flow of Information
Disclosure of Information
Enhancing the Profession
The guidance also includes a cost-benefit-type analysis for the use of generative AI tools. PRSA says this is a living document and will change as the tools evolve.
A Sense of Urgency for Learning
Dvorak says the rise in popularity of ChatGPT and other generative AI models creates a sense of urgency for communicators to understand how these tools operate and their potential for positive and negative outcomes.
“Without this knowledge, the community of public relations practitioners risks omitting the essential human element it is meant to serve,” he says.
While the resource guide is available to everyone, Egan says the organization hopes teams read through it along with a review of the Code of Ethics to keep in mind top issues that may occur when using AI.
“Broadly, there are lots of opportunities with AI, and we should embrace them,” Egan says. “[However,] there are some things for us to be mindful of. We've had webinars and conversations about bias in AI, what that looks like, and how that pertains to an approach to DEI, for example. It's really just providing a higher awareness for people on what to watch for. There aren't too many hard and fast rules [for AI], and that… requires a reflection, and this document helps with that.”