THINKPIECE: Do hi-tech PR professionals have the ability to affect the regulation of the computer industry?

In addition to the Microsoft antitrust trial that hogged the headlines for nearly a year, government officials are keeping a close eye on a number of other issues in the computer industry. The main topics are Y2K glitches, Internet privacy and sexual and violent content online. Their conclusion may well be that the computer industry is unable to regulate itself.

In addition to the Microsoft antitrust trial that hogged the headlines for nearly a year, government officials are keeping a close eye on a number of other issues in the computer industry. The main topics are Y2K glitches, Internet privacy and sexual and violent content online. Their conclusion may well be that the computer industry is unable to regulate itself.

In addition to the Microsoft antitrust trial that hogged the

headlines for nearly a year, government officials are keeping a close

eye on a number of other issues in the computer industry. The main

topics are Y2K glitches, Internet privacy and sexual and violent content

online. Their conclusion may well be that the computer industry is

unable to regulate itself.



In tech communications, we tend to have a ’silo’ mentality and develop

stand-alone programs for product PR, corporate PR, government relations

and IR. However, the government’s review of the computer industry is

likely to make these disciplines converge.



Although we may not have any influence on digital content, we can be

influencing the debate about regulating violence and sex in video games

and creating the context for broader-based regulation. Despite our

freedom of speech, for example, we do have a responsibility not to tell

people to shoot their neighbor; it’s as bad as telling children to

smoke.



Because of the rising awareness of tech issues, consumers are aware that

unprofitable dot-coms have higher valuations than the GDP of many

countries and they see online brokers luring consumers with images of

desert islands.



The next Black Tuesday could wipe out the life savings of millions of

small investors. If there is a backlash, who will admit

responsibility?



Appearances are everything. There is, or may well be a sense, that at

the point technologists meet entrepreneurs we cease to be able to

distinguish between ’doing well’ and ’doing good.’ That is not to say we

must all morph into bleeding-heart liberals cum social democrats, but

rather our penchant for making money without responsibility makes us

appear obscene - the 1990s version of Barbarians at the Gate. Therefore,

it’s not just what we do and say to address the issue of regulation, but

also how we do and say it.



Consumer-PR messaging impacts jury pools and voters, just as government

relations impacts consumer and business-to-business buying

perceptions.



It is therefore important to develop an integrated approach that factors

government into all communications activities.



As PR pros we will then be in a better position to get out in front of

these issues. Violence and sex online are easier to identify and

address; others, such as Y2K, are more nebulous. Although we may not

have an equivalent to silicon breast implants or asbestos, we are

getting close to a watershed.



Regulation is an emotionally charged issue, which resonates with

government, Wall Street and consumers. Raising our collective

consciences now can avert bigger issues later.



Rachel Postlethwaite is an SVP at New York-based TSI Communications



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