Building trust in the age of AI: Why PR pros must prioritize ethical guidelines

by | Jul 19, 2023 | Public Relations

The history of AI goes beyond a decade or two. By the early 1950s, the world has heard of the concept of artificial intelligence and machine learning and its immense potential in manufacturing, logistics, finance, and even healthcare. And since then, many of those industries have already successfully adopted AI solutions. So why are we having such a blast acting all shocked and confused with a seemingly well-adopted technology?

The hype that 2023 brought with the concept of AI could be due to its recent mainstream application, including PR. It seems like everyone can test different tools and work with them, not just the big tech companies or selected professionals in niche fields. 

Years back, there were philosophical debates about human creativity and the abilities of AI to generate original art. After all, the concept of art implies a human-made product, physical or intangible. Today, we face the reality of thousands and thousands of AI tools being introduced this year alone, with the majority of them being able to produce content from scratch.

We will not argue here about how original or authentic this content can be, but the reality is that AI can and does come up with texts, images, and other pieces. AI is here to stay, but the PR industry needs to address the ethical aspect of using this advanced tool in everyday work. Otherwise, the industry may lose trust and face serious backlash affecting its reputation.

AI in PR: A progressive approach

As a PR professional with more than 15 years in PR and financial journalism, I see the undeniable potential and inevitable implementation of AI technologies in PR. It has become a mainstream tool that assists companies in their growth journey and helps scale businesses and services. And I believe it is a progressive approach to utilizing advanced technologies—not resisting the evolution, but joining it and being a part of the bigger conversation.

Sixty-one percent of PR pros around the world aim to facilitate their pitching, communication, and organization of everyday work with AI solutions on a daily basis. However, the industry lacks consideration of the issue of ethics and disinformation. So far, there is still no clear understanding of which historical data AI operates on. Moreover, if the training data used to build the AI models contains biases or discriminatory patterns, it can amplify those biases and result in unfair targeting, discriminatory messaging, or simply false news.

Nonetheless, I want to give credit where it is due. Several AI chatbots, including ChatGPT, add disclaimers to their answers: either that the data used for content generation may be out of date (valid up until the end of 2021) or that it is highly recommended to fact-check the information brought by AI—arguably the most urgent challenge for human specialists relying on advanced tools.

Brainstorm. Rewrite. Label. Repeat.

This leads us to the next vital point: the PR industry must implement the same ethical codex and use disclaimers on all content generated with the help of AI tools. When respectable journalists generate and publish news, they take responsibility and sign with their own names as authors of the content. They put their reputation on the line if the content contains false factual statements. And the general public has a right to make claims against such content officially and combat fake news. However, no such claim can be made against AI-generated content. If the information unjustifiably denigrates the image of your brand, then to whom should you complain?

Recently, “the godfather of AI,” cognitive psychologist and computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton, left Google after more than a decade at the company to speak freely about the dangers of misinformation AI brings. With such high-profile scientists and AI pioneers warning the public, it is only a matter of time before legislators worldwide start treating AI usage as strictly as they came after digital marketing techniques and targeted advertising. 

The conversation has already been initiated in Europe, with Vera Jourova, the European Commission’s vice president for values and transparency, stating that companies deploying generative AI tools with the potential to spread false news should label their content respectively to fight disinformation. While the regulatory framework is on its way, the PR industry needs to take the initiative and react, starting with small but crucial steps.

Lead by example

My kind warning to the PR industry is that every time we use AI, we must do so responsibly by fact-checking, rewriting, and labeling such content. AI can help build the outline and synopsis of the text, but human beings are the final authors that put their names and reputation on the line. 

To avoid destroying our reputation as professionals, the PR community at all levels, including international PR organizations, associations, and agencies, should take the initiative to create a code of ethics for the use of existing and future advanced technologies. Suppose your company is at a crossroads of where to start. In that case, I recommend independently researching several AI tools and finalizing thorough instructions for all employees on how to deploy them and what is the most ethical way to do so. It definitely saved time in educating my team members and allowed me to support their responsible AI journey.

Mary Poliakova
Mary Poliakova is a PR consultant, Co-founder & COO of the global PR consulting agency Drofa Comms.