Online Reputation Management for Governments: in the national interest or out of the dictator’s playbook?

According to media commentary, the flourishing business of online reputation management (ORM) straddles an ethical divide between protecting against falsifications and perpetrating them.  Its techniques inhabit several ethical shades of gray, from reputation monitoring, defamation clean-up and positive content promotion to SEO manipulation, negative review removal and astroturfing practices.  But if ORM poses ethical concerns in relation to its use by private businesses and individuals, how then should its use by governments be regarded?

Thor Halvorssen, president of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, argues that ‘reputation management’ can be a euphemism of the worst sort.  “In many cases across Africa, it often means whitewashing the human rights violations of despotic regimes with fluff journalism and, just as easily, serving as personal PR agents for rulers and their corrupt family members”.  It can also work to drown out criticism, branding dissidents and critics as criminals, terrorists or extremists… Read more at DiploFoundation

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[Propaganda poster in Beijing reinforcing the CCP’s official ‘harmonious society’ narrative. From the Line 21 Project collection]

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