Web 2.0 opens the Pandora’s Box of Black PR

Web 2.0 technologies are of course a double edged sword. When it comes to corporate communication the speed and reach of these new mediums can be harnessed just as easily to spread truth as misinformation. However, the growing adoption of social media channels is apparently leading to resurgence in Black PR. For those unfamiliar with the term it refers to individuals and companies with malicious intent using various techniques to attack or attempt to destroy an adversary’s reputation.

At Monday’s CIPR summer party I met Ivana Kalay a PR security expert who filled me in on the new dangers and vulnerabilities that many businesses face. Now Black PR is nothing new and the techniques it deploys are a standard part of the arsenal employed by political hactivists, whether trying to defend animal rights or battling the oil and pharmaceutical industries. What’s changed is that Web 2.0 apps make the implementation of these techniques so much easier and their implications more far reaching.

In her chilling but compelling article for Strumpette, Kalay sets out the main weak points of PR 2.0 – a perfect storm of hacking websites, hijacking news feeds and harnessing the power of search engines. The potential for RSS feeds to be subverted and false messages to be inserted is particularly worrying along with the use of splogging (spam blogging) to rapidly embed Black PR messages in millions of popular blogs. The power behind these attacks is their permanence with the false information virtually impossible to remove from search engines.

So what does this all mean, and how much of a threat does Black PR actually present? Well responsibility for prevention I would argue rests mainly with IT departments ensuring that corporate information channels are secure. However, this potential new threat also underlines the importance of blog and web monitoring – increasingly a PR function. Early detection of attacks will be critical in attempts to reduce their scope and impact. Thankfully attacks of this kind so far have been very rare so no need to panic (yet), but it would be naive to think that the PR implications will not be serious when the first big brand almost inevitably becomes a Black PR victim