Everyone has heard about wikipedia – it’s a free online encyclopedia that users can contribute to and use as a factual resource when researching a topic.

The name, taken from wikiwiki, the Hawaiian word for “fast”, is quickly spreading throughout the web as an information resource.

Wikis are making inroads into the enterprise, where companies like Sony, Xerox, Disney and Microsoft find them to be a good vehicle to share information efficiently.

Even the Department of Defense is using wikis to enable enhanced collaboration among military analysts.

In the world of academe, Carnegie Mellon is one of many education institutions using wikis to disseminate class work and lectures. As the article notes, “As with content on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia open for any Web browser to change, Mr. von Ahn’s course material is entirely fluid and indefinite.”

Therein lies the rub. Anyone can change content. Anyone can post a suggestion as fact when it’s conjecture. Anyone can pose as a subject matter expert when, in fact, they may not be the professor of theology they claim to be, but rather a 24 year old college dropout.

Wikis, because they allow anonymous posting, can be an active deception, not a source of a commonly accepted truth such as one would accept from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

That can lead to malicious posting intended to shed negative light on a competitor, or intend to mislead instead of educate.

And that comes back full circle to the necessity of having a solid foundation built upon ethics. If PR practitioners employ the PRSA code of ethics they can be assured of conducting themselves professionally and ethically. As a portion of the code states, “We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.”

Regardless if technology changes how we communicate, some things are unchanging.

The PRSA Code of Ethics is as relevant when posting anonymously to a wiki as it is when distributing a release with your client’s name associated with it.

The old saw, the more things change the more they remain the same, is truer than ever when applying ethics to decision-making regarding responsible communication, regardless of the delivery medium.

–Patrick McLaughlin