By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)
The great thing about following the news of the day is that there’s always something to learn.
For example, the other day I learned a new phrase: Doxing, the process of using online resources to gather and share information about a person, company or organization. According to a definition I found on Wikipedia, doxing “is closely related to internet vigilantism and hacktivism.”
And, you guessed it: The word’s etymology comes from “docs,” an abbreviated form of the word documents.
(NOTE 1: I never heard of those two related words before today, but I think I know what they mean.)
I stumbled across the reference to doxing while reading about the fallout last week centering around the decision by Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli to escalate the price of the drug Daraprim to $750 per tablet from $13.50 per tablet.
Surly, you read about the backlash against Turing and Mr. Shkreli by this decision. “Backlash” may be a bit of a misnomer, as there was a firestorm of protest from the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare profession to politicians running for President and the internet general public.
(NOTE 2: I just made up that phrase, “internet general public.”)
People across the digital world expressed outrage and bashed Mr. Shkreli, referring to him as a “pharma bro” and using other terms, many not appropriate for this space. To complete the doxing, personal information on Mr. Shkreli and his staff were disseminated.
(NOTE 3: I also never heard the derogatory phrase “pharma bro” before last week, but I have read about “bro country” music.)
Now, to the point I’d like to make: Mr. Shkreli and his company were “doxed” and severely so. And, a positive result will be a reduction in the price of Daraprim; at this writing that price has not been disclosed.
This doxing incident has demonstrated the awesome power of digital communications to rally people and organizations to a cause. As reported by many news sources, the virtual public bludgeoning did get an intended result.
But to me, that raises the question of whether this type of calculated and possibly coordinated practice is ethical. From the perspective of ethical public relations practices, I say it’s not.
At its core, public relations is driven by an open disclosure and free flow of information, honesty and fairness; and, the overall result of an ethical public relations program should offer something that’s good for society.
A public relations program that incorporates or inspires doxing — or another uncontrolled, non-managed communications practice — is unethical and has no place in modern public relations.
Today, on the waning days of September, the month the Public Relations Society of America dedicates toward ethics, I hope ethical public relations professionals everywhere will take note and perhaps take a stand against doxing and any related practices.
After all, I certainly don’t ever want to be known as “PR bro.”