Ethical Challenges of Digital Communication: A Comparative Study of Public Relations Practitioners in 52 Countries

Jens Hagelstein, Sophia Charlotte Volk, Ansgar Zerfass, Andréia Silveira Athaydes, Jim Macnamara, Juan Meng, Chun-Ju Flora Hung-Baesecke


Digitalization is fundamentally changing media ecosystems and posing ethical challenges for media and communication practitioners. One of the professions affected is public relations (PR), which today can analyze target groups based on their digital data traces or spread messages via paid digital channels. Although these practices are effective, they raise ethical concerns. However, it remains unclear whether PR practitioners around the world perceive such practices as morally challenging and whether their perceptions are shaped by individual dispositions or national backgrounds. This study analyzed data collected in 4 cross-national surveys involving 5,970 communication practitioners from 52 countries. Results from multilevel modeling indicate that individual predispositions, that is, personal values and beliefs and age, influence ethical perceptions far more than national context. These findings are interpreted as an indicator of the ongoing globalization of PR ethics, which presumably leads to similar perceptions in different regions.


public relations ethics, digitalization, globalization, survey, multilevel modeling

Full Text: