Buzzfeed News offers up an exposé of something called “Black PR” in its investigative piece, “Disinformation For Hire: How A New Breed Of PR Firms Is Selling Lies Online.”
The subhead is actually chilling: “One firm promised to ‘use every tool and take every advantage available in order to change reality according to our client’s wishes.'”
Look, public relations is a cynical business, but the people quoted in this article are like supervillains of cynicism — unembarrassed and even proud of their ability to cheat systems like Facebook and Twitter and “change reality” in the service of their clients.
Here are a couple of examples: In Poland, an agency called Cat@Net hired disabled people to run fake Twitter accounts from their homes because the agency could pay them below-market rates while — and this is the super-cynical part — accepting subsidies from the Polish government for hiring handicapped workers.
In another case, an agency was posting content both for and against a political candidate in an election while working for the opposition. Why did they post content in support of the candidate while representing his opposition? So they could gather pro-candidate Twitter handles and then flood those accounts with anti-candidate content.
And here I thought fake news and deep fakes were as bad as it could get.
What’s most disturbing about this trend is the admission by one interviewee that PR firms are beginning to feel pressured to offer black PR services or risk becoming uncompetitive in the marketplace.
I can’t foresee a day when NewmanPR would ever offer such services — we value our integrity and credibility too highly. But if that day comes, I’m turning in my flack credentials and cursing Edward Bernays — the “father of modern public relations” — for originally setting the practice down this path in 1929 when he started a campaign to encourage women to smoke by labeling cigarettes “Torches of Freedom” for the nascent feminist movement.
Black PR indeed …