Friday, August 18, 2017

A background briefing about cryptocurrencies for the PR industry

Most people have heard of Bitcoin. It is a global digital currency. It is one of many.

It raises many questions including: How long will it take to disrupt the old concept of Central Banks? Can they survive? Where is the opportunity?

Are cryptocurrencies of particular interest to PR and what do we need to know what it all means?

In three years, a simple process such as paying for University courses will be different. Today, the University of Cumbria accepts Bitcoins. Now, fifteen marketing agencies are accepting Bitcoin for client payments and there is already a Bitcoin ATM in Penzance.

The Bitcoin system is peer-to-peer, and transactions take place between users directly, without an intermediary. In 2015, the number of merchants accepting Bitcoin exceeded 100,000 according to Cuthbertson. PR people are asked to explain how cryptocurrencies work. Here is one such example. There are more comprehensive examples like this one.

Basically, people from around the world sign up to digital ‘wallets’ that gives them access to these virtual currencies. This allows for instantaneous transactions and borderless transfer-of-ownership. These are cryptocurrencies. Scotland already has a digital currency.

Bitcoin is a global digital currency created in 2009 that uses decentralised technology for secure payments and storing money that doesn't require banks or people's names.

People see value in money free from government control and the fees banks charge. Bitcoin has been seen as a tool for private, anonymous transactions. It has many commercial advantages but has a dark side as the payment method of choice for drug deals and other illegal purchases.

In the 'normal' world, Lush Cosmetics is one end of the scale of organisations accepting Bitcoin while Dadiani Fine Art, located in Cork Street, London, is revolutionizing how buyers can pay for art by accepting Bitcoin.

As of July 2017, there were around 16.5m bitcoins in circulation. In March 2017, the value of a Bitcoin, at $1,268, exceeded that of an ounce of gold ($1,233) for the first time.

There are many cryptocurrencies, all derivatives of the Blockchain technologies and each with their own features and benefits. Their value is still very volatile.

These ‘currencies’ transcend national boundaries and have potential to disrupt the traditional role of Central Banks such as the Bank of England, the FED and the ECB.  One can ask, what is the role of central banks when there is a virtual global bank, with unlimited liquidity, that anyone in the world can use for free which is issuing global coins and setting global exchange rates.

In addition, it is worth examining the way blockchain technologies can bring about - and justify - new models of governance.

In PR, it will be important for professionals to know about cryptocurrencies. Many will charge and be paid using this new coinage over the next five years. Some PR vendors will be paid in digital coins - and international transactions can be much less expensive using digital currencies. In addition, the industry will have to explain why clients are legitimately using Bitly (after all, it does have a dark side). Ensuring that organisations use cryptocurrencies ethical is part of the PR job.

This is a new financial environment. It is attracting a lot VC-backing for start-ups like Colu which is open-sourcing its banking infrastructure known as Bankbox in an effort to remove the technical barriers and reduce costs for central banks that want to issue digital currencies.

Examples of Central Banks looking at digital currencies include Russia, which is getting more into digital currency development with its central bank launching tests of several digital currency schemes. There are other examples such as Singapore.

There are local communities in the UK as in East London which has become home to its own local digital currency, aimed at encouraging spending at local businesses.

The European Community has some big players such as Barclays, State Street, Credit Suisse, Bank of Ireland and Fidelity looking at this space. Germany has an interesting initiative. Digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum will gain support in Germany with the founding of a new nationwide federal digital currency and blockchain lobby group called the ‘Blockchain Bundesverband’ – the German Federal Blockchain Association.

Central bank-issued digital currencies.
At the moment, the Bank of England provides electronic accounts to banks and key financial institutions, but the public can only hold central bank money in physical form – as banknotes. If a central bank were to issue a digital currency everyone, including businesses, households and financial institutions other than banks, could store value and make payments in electronic central bank money in addition to being able to pay with cash.

While this may seem like a small change, it could have wide-ranging implications for monetary policy and financial stability.
We are undertaking a multi-year research programme into the implications of a central bank, like the Bank of England, issuing a digital currency. We first raised the possibility of a central bank-issued digital currency in our research agenda in February 2015. We have since released a more detailed selection of research questions on the topic. We welcome continued engagement from the wider central banking and academic community to shape our research in this emerging field.

For further information, email

Professor Laurie Simon Hodrick, A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Economics in the Faculty of Business, Columbia Business School, says:

“The distributed ledger, while not yet ready for wide scale adoption, may be a transformative technology that provides ubiquitous, safe, faster electronic solution(s) for making a broad variety of business and personal payments, supported by a flexible and cost-effective
means for payment, clearing and settlement groups to settle their positions rapidly and with finality.”

One might also ask ‘what is the long term role of a Central Bank with so much trade being executed using digital currencies?

The US Congress wants answers from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about its investigation into bitcoin tax avoidance. Senator Orrin Hatch, Representative Kevin Brady and Representative Vern Buchanan – requested information about the IRS’s overall strategy toward digital currencies in a letter dated 17th May.

Bitcoin is at risk of no longer being the biggest digital currency. Meanwhile, mass data giant Thomson Reuters, the parent company of multinational news agency Reuters, has released a new tool called ‘Blockone IQ’ to enable clients to plug into its market data with their blockchain systems.

The American Institute for Economic Research’s recent analysis suggested that while Bitcoin dominates media and investor attention, it and dozens of other “altcoins” are competing in the market, each with unique technical and economic features. AIER asks “Would it be possible in the future to have widespread adoption of several digital currencies, all widely traded and accepted by merchants? Or would people converge on one or at most a few currencies? In a future where digital currencies replace dollars and euros, the latter scenario seems a good deal more likely.” It is very easy to use Bitcoin and so it is a threat to present currencies.

Barclays has been in contact with one of UK's top financial regulators, a senior official for the bank said recently.

According to Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK, the bank communicated with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to bring cryptocurrencies  "into play". Vaswani disclosed the conversations in an interview with CNBC.

Vaswani did not elaborate what exactly such "play" is, remarking that the bank been working with financial technology startups and the FCA for projects that focus on blockchain.

"We have been talking to a couple of fintechs and have actually gone with the fintechs to the FCA to talk about how we could bring, the equivalent of Bitcoin, not necessarily Bitcoin, but cryptocurrencies into play," he told the network.

As for how the regulator might react to the push, that remains to be seen.

Though the FCA has played an active role in creating an environment that fosters innovation – the regulator has welcomed a number of blockchain and digital currency related start-ups into its experimental "sandbox" – it has also expressed caution in recent weeks about investing in cryptocurrencies.

"I am not saying that we view digital currencies as an inherently bad thing … but we do have to exercise a degree of caution," Chris Woolard, the FCA's director of strategy and competition, said during a blockchain-related event earlier this month.

Going beyond digital currencies

There are some initiatives that look exciting such as the LSE/IBM initiative. The London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) recently partnered with IBM to build a blockchain solution to digitally issue private securities of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Europe. The new platform’s goal is to help simplify tracking and managing shareholder information by storing it all on a distributed ledger, effectively opening up new opportunities for trading and investing.

A further form of licence can be offered to other banking institutions operating out of the UK.

The US Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) is exploring an accounting standard for digital currency in response to increasing concerns about inconsistent accounting standards.

FASB, which sets standards for U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) adopted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, will consider adding this project to its agenda at a public meeting, the time of which has not been set, according to Thomson Reuters

The Chamber of Digital Commerce (CDC) requested standards to address concerns that have emerged in the expanding digital currency market. CDC sent a letter on June 8 seeking the FASB’s help in providing guidance to determine when to recognize digital currency and how to measure it.

The PR sector can learn from this that cryptocurrencies are here and are being taken seriously by the major financial institutions in the world. They are evolving fast.

They will affect and be used in PR as they are already in marketing. Time to read-up about them and not be taken by surprise.

Just in... The tax collecting agencies (and probably the security services) are able to track cryptocurrency movements and using such a 'vapour-trail' are able to seek court orders to find out the identity of the coin.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ethics for PR academics - is there a new dimension

In this essay, I shall challenge the morality and ethics of Public Relations as taught in British Universities. I will also briefly consider the extent to which modern transformative technologies will set the ethical bar too high for most professional practice.

Using the emerging blockchain technologies it is now possible for a PR practitioner to distribute content securely. End to end encryption is now available and free.

This means that content created by a practitioner is wholly owned by that practitioner. It can be shared and sold at the discretion of the practitioner. The whole process is more secure than any other form of communication (I argue more so than even word of mouth)

For the recipient, the source of the original copyright is assured.  They can now know who contributed towards the information/experiences that they receive.

This content can include concepts, creative ideas and works, designs, text, video, music, tweets, and other social media content plus augmented reality, apps and bots and all of it securely attributed to the originator/s.

Whereas email, fax, messenger and other traditional communication services can be hacked or the origins of the content can be hidden in traditional content sharing structures, the new technologies are for all intents and purposes secure (so far have never been hacked).

The press release in this new environment has value in its original state. Subsequent changes by the author or a client are attributed as they occur. The full activity is available and verifiable from the first ‘key stroke’ to extent that the communication ‘bent the mind of’ recipient.

This means that the practitioner can be paid for the original work; there is no chance that content is Fake News and the quality of practitioner works can be identified without question.

Today the services that enable such capability include Decent (, Crypviser (  

Tierion co-founder and CEO wrote: “We see a fundamental problem with the Internet’s trust infrastructure. The root of trust for all systems relies on trusted authorities. Tierion Network makes it possible to create a better Internet where proof replaces trust as the foundation for security.”

Tierion is not alone.

Companies within the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance are also trying to create a decentralised ecosystem and platforms with which organisations can securely communicate with each other without the necessity of intermediaries and manual labour.

This is not something for ‘the future’. It is here now.

My first question to teachers of PR is simple. Can we avoid up close and personal attention to these transformative technologies? Is it ethical to ignore the extent of change now upon us?

Meanwhile, can a practitioner hide behind old technologies when other practitioners are building a reputation for verifiably true and authentic excellence?

I continue with my second concern. In an industry which is one of the older examples of the gig economy would it be ethical to withhold an opportunity for practitioners to achieve a true return for their works for want of knowledge about services such as Decent? The upside is very good. If such technologies can be used to assure full attribution and immediate payment should knowledge and practical experience of such services be withheld for want of knowledge on the part of teachers?

Next, one might ask if the student (and the PR industry) understands the pressure such technologies will put them under. Challenges of speaking truth to power will soon be re-enforced in the knowledge that without it, technologies will wield a digital stick by showing up the charlatans.  Such strictures will be of the algorithm and not a person/activist/competitor using technologies (for example trying to ‘fix’ elections) or ‘social media’.

Obfuscation is also under pressure. The technologies are beginning to be the arbiters of the source of and extent of verifiable truths. This is not Artificial Intelligence at play (yet) it is the simple fact of the outcomes from verifiable and trusted communication.

Without such knowledge, can there be a trusted relationship between academic PR and the PR industry?

Already, we have to face hard questions. Does PR have to be completely ethical? Will practitioners always be found out if they stray?  Is there room to err? Is the PR academic research able to seek answers to such questions and be able to advise the PR industry?  

Can a university pretend to teach PR if it cannot answer such questions?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The law governing Public Relations and elections

On the face of it, there would seem to be few laws that have been passed to specifically govern the activities of the public relations practitioner.

The fact is that there are many affective laws and some of them are very pertinent during election times.

If someone were to approach a PR practitioner asking for help in running their election campaign, the long arm of the law wraps itself round the practitioner. There is no escape!

The Representation of the Peoples Acts, the Electoral Registration Acts and associated regulation govern what can be be done and what has to be accounted for down to the last stamp.

The law goes further than that. If a PR practitioner attempts to support a candidate or political party in an election, even without the knowledge or consent of the candidates, the law has an interest in this too.

Even working to get people on the electoral register is nailed down by the law and bucking the law can lead to some really serious consequences.

There is a significant sub-set of public relations practitioners who are political agents and they have a considerable history going as far back as 1882. Many political agents have specific qualifications to do the job (I did several decades ago).

Of course misrepresentation is another area of law that affects the PR profession. a false statement of fact or law which induces the someone to enter a contract (agree to buy or do something or agree not to buy or do something), where a statement made during the course of negotiation or conversations (yes, this does apply to social media) is classed as a representation.  Misrepresentation may be available where the statement turns out to be untrue.  There are three types of misrepresentation:
  • innocent misrepresentation 
  • negligent misrepresentation
  • fraudulent misrepresentation
On all three counts, a person purporting to be a public relations practitioner, whether or not a member of an organisation such as the CIPR, cannot claim to be innocence a a defence. There is a duty of care (as well as professionalism) - see 'tort' below.

Many practitioners may not aware of the nature of contracts and yet enter into them daily. 

In the UK a contract that is an agreement giving rise to obligations which are enforced or recognised by law.  In common law, there are 3 basic essentials to the creation of a contract: (i) agreement; (ii) contractual intention; and (iii) consideration (what is the bargain? Is it money in exchange for something or some other value exchange).

Using marketing speak is not exempt. The claim of a 'world leading product' implies there is verifiable research behind the claim. In these cases there is an element of tort. Tort is the part of law for most harms that are not either criminal or based on a contract. Tort law helps people to make claims for compensation (repayment) when someone hurts them or hurts their property.

A lot of harm perpetrated in social media falls into the realm of Tort. In many cases bots fall fowl of tort law but there does not seem to be much case law yet.The legals issues that cover copyright, passing off and trademarks are big for PR practice too. Is your app legal? 

As we have seen, there is a lot of law that affects the PR sector and although it is struggling to keep up with The Transformative Technologies, there is plenty to be going on with.

In the meantime, there are things the practitioner can do to learn about the law that affects PR practice. Being a member and using the facilities of organisations like the CIPR is helpful. Universities provide modules for students and your own lawyer will be of help too.

There is a case for research into present UK and global legal constraints on the practice of PR (this post is about UK law but there are similar constraints worldwide). In addition, there is a need for greater clarity as to the the constraints that already exist.

It is an opportunity for a post graduate student wanting to make a name (and career) for herself.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Barbarians at the gates of the Liberal Democracy Empire

Portrait of Locke in 1697 by Godfrey Kneller
For some time, I have wrestled with the thought that we are living in a political era different to one we knew in the 20th century. As I shall show, there are those before me.

The eighteenth-century philosopher John Locke (1632 - 1704) provided a framework for much of our thinking about identity and the self. He gave philosophers such as David Hume, Rousseau, and Kant, the basis for the idea of Liberal Democracy.  These and his wider range of interests is now brought into close focus in the new era of life changing transformative technologies and a post-Liberal Democratic Hegemony.

The nature of the Transformative Technologies now goes to the very essence of our understanding of wealth. Wealth is now measured in the accessible possession and manipulation capability of Big Data and its translation into intangibles such as knowledge capable of being implanted into the minds of men. The nature of Augmented Reality is such that the idea does not seem to be prosperous and thus can step by step pass from machine to man and seep deeper into our culture - what can be described as a post-knowledge economy. 

Thus, the nature of wealth is not always to be seen in transit to tangible advantage but as access to Big Data transfigurations from the evolution of content in 'The Cloud'.

The ability of technologies to augment the self is now evident in capabilities such as Artificial Intelligence in many of its applications (not least in assisting the medical profession in diagnosis and treatment of ailments such as cancer). AI is seen to be 'better' in many tasks. At the same time, the idea of many truths and liberal interpretation is challenged, even undermined, by unbreakable encryption including technologies accessible to most people in the form of Blockchain.

A Mckinsey view is here and offers some real world numbers of this changing economic world.

The population, in everyday use of mobile phones at al, are aware of the big changes now and in train. They touch them every day. Every day people deploy the cloud and touch new and emerging transformative technologies but they don't see its recognition among governing elites. Poor access to wifi is a simple example of the 'them and us' rupture. "Why can't they fix it?"

Meanwhile, evidence of the collapse of Liberal Democracy is seen in a number of ways:

There is the misplaced power of the State which is evident in day to day performance of the Executive.

One can draw the inference that the Government Executive (DVLA) is too powerful and/or independent of the elected Parliament and, thereby is perceived to be out of control or undermining the electorate and wider community.

The high levels of support for Marine Le Pen also show the frontal attack on the liberal, pluralistic model of society.

It is electors who are marking out the boundaries of a new and emerging 'Western Democracy'. Gone are the days of Left v Right. Many long-established political parties are not loosing support and votes, they have become irrelevant. There is vox pop evidence and opinion o support such a view which emerged in the 2017 election

The change has been a long time in the making but the pace of change is accelerating.  The present release valve for most nations is in the ballot box. The need for the basic of democracy, the universal (voting) franchise, is critical.

We are seeing the barbarians at the gate of the Liberal Democracy Empire.

Reason and tolerance, life and liberty is now cast into a post-industrial, post-knowledge capital era. The capability to develop and access unlimited accumulation of property without causing waste through spoilage is re-cast. 

My, most recent experience is a clue. I had my driving licence withdrawn by the  Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) base on, as it turned out a misdiagnosis of epilepsy.  On informing the Agency of the misdiagnosis and with evidence of two of the Nation's leading Neurologists, the wheels of the agency ground exceeding slow but not exceeding fine. It took the Agency a further six months to restore the licence. I raised this apparently systemic fault with y local Member of Parliament who duly wrote to the Agency for an explanation. The result was two letters from DVLA one to my MP and one to me. The letter from the Agency, an Executive arm of government, to a Member of Parliment was a template and platitudinous and noted that the Agency was undergoing some reforms. The letter to me was courteous and outlined the many approaches I had made to the Agency and offered an explicit apology and noted the upcoming reforms. The two letters could have been about two different cases. In its way, the Agency had deceived the Member of Parliament as to the extent of its failings. Having cited my case to a number of people, I have heard of many similar cases.

Donald Trump described his perspective as: 'Drain the Swamp' to describe his plan to fix problems in the US Federal Government and in doing so touched a nerve in the US electorate.  It was an argument similar to the one provided by Bian Binley (MP) when he noted "(The European) Commission has conceded that the bureaucratic costs of business compliance with European legislation could be equivalent of 5.5 per cent of EU GDP – equivalent to the size of the entire Dutch economy." Such evidence also touched a nerve among the British electorate.  We see similar evidence in other areas of public life, no less than the French Presidential Election results.

This so-called Brexit phenomenon is a reaction to Liberal Democracy as a large proportion of voters see it. 

Dr Robin Niblett at Chatham House invites us to consider that, the liberal international order has always depended on the idea of progress. Since 1945, Western policymakers have believed that open markets, democracy and individual human rights would gradually spread across the entire globe. Today, such hopes seem naïve.

In Asia, the rise of China threatens to challenge US military and economic hegemony. In the Middle East, the United States and its European allies have failed to guide the region toward a more liberal and peaceful future in the wake of the Arab Spring. And Russia’s geopolitical influence has reached heights unseen since the Cold War, as it attempts to roll back liberal advances around its periphery.

But the more important threats to the order are internal. For the past half-century, the European Union has seemed to represent the advance guard of a new liberalism in which nations pool sovereignty and cooperate ever more closely with one another. Today, as it reels from one crisis to the next, the EU has stopped expanding, he says.

Already it takes us back to Locke

In The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Edward Luce talks of the weakening of western hegemony and the crisis of liberal democracy―of which Donald Trump and his European counterparts are not the cause, but a symptom. Luce argues that we are on a menacing trajectory brought about by ignorance of what it took to build the West, arrogance towards society’s economic losers, and complacency about our system’s durability―attitudes that have been emerging since the fall of the Berlin Wall (in my view - long before and a reason for the failure of Nazi and communist forms of government). We cannot move forward, suggests Luce, without a clear diagnosis of what has gone wrong. Unless the West can rekindle an economy that produces gains for the majority of its people, its political liberties may be doomed. "The West’s faith in history teaches us to take democracy for granted. Reality tells us something troublingly different", says Luce.

In Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra looks further back to the eighteenth century before leading us to the present.

He shows that as the world became modern, those who were unable to enjoy its promises--of freedom, stability, and prosperity--were increasingly susceptible to demagogues. The many who came late to this new world--or were left, or pushed, behind--reacted in horrifyingly similar ways: with an intense hatred of invented enemies, attempts to re-create an imaginary golden age, and self-empowerment through spectacular violence. It was from among the ranks of the disaffected, suggests Mishra, that the militants of the nineteenth century arose--angry young men who became cultural nationalists in Germany, messianic revolutionaries in Russia, bellicose chauvinists in Italy, and anarchist terrorists internationally.

These authors are delving deep into the nature of modern civilisation. There is change in the air.