This blog is provided by the IPR Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Digital Media Research

One of the most exciting things about the public relations discipline is that it is intricately linked to major technological innovations throughout history – from the early days of the railroad, to the development of the telephone, to the birth of the internet, to the rise of social media and now artificial intelligence (AI). Dr. Damion Waymer and I contribute to conversations about the ethical implications of AI in public relations with an article that examines three key cases in which AI, public relations, and race intersect, including: Microsoft’s chatbot Tay, a Facebook recommendation feature, and FN Meka, an AI-powered rap avatar once contractually signed to Capitol Records. We draw upon public relations race (Logan, 2021) and DEI literature (Waymer et al., 2023) to introduce a theoretical framework we coin Inclusive, Responsible, Communication in Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI). The IRCAI framework is intended to help public relations scholars and practitioners understand the nuanced complexities of AI engagements with race, and the article also highlights the utility of the framework beyond racial contexts.

The Inclusive, Responsible, Communication in Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI) Framework
The IRCAI framework consists of three key principles: inclusivity, responsibility and communication. These principles are outlined below.

The inclusivity principle is consistent with the perspectives of inclusivity seen within the public relations DEI literature (e.g. Bardhan & Gower, 2022; The Language of Diversity, 2021; Waymer, et. al., 2023). Being inclusive means that different types of individuals are a part of the organization and represented at different levels throughout the organization, not concentrated in particular areas or roles. Moreover, we argue that not only should public relations have a position in the C-suite, it should also a have place at the technology decision-making table (Buhmann & White, 2022) because the public relations function often serves as the ethical conscience of the organization, and as such, PR people are well positioned to ensure organizations do not narrowly focus on AI’s technological prowess and neglect its sociocultural implications.

The IRACI principle of responsibility extends from the theoretical foundations of Corporate Racial Responsibility (CRR) (Logan, 2021). Thus, it directs specific attention to the racial dimensions of AI. It situates responsibility in AI as racial responsibility – meaning that organizations have a responsibility to avoid exacerbating racial discrimination through their design, development, and deployment of AI technologies and that they should aim to foster racial equality through AI technologies. The principle of responsibility responds to the significance of race as an organizing factor that often determines both advantage and disadvantage in society.

The third principle in the IRCAI framework is communication. Communication is inherent in, and infused throughout, the other two principles – inclusivity and responsibility – as neither can be actualized without the ontological and heuristic processes of meaning making. Consistent with CRR communication principles (Logan 2021), we argue that organizations should communicate about AI in ways that consider the racial dynamics of their technological offerings. This is especially important in AI crises that involve race. So, while the other two principles – inclusivity and responsibility – are proactively oriented to help organizations avoid AI discrimination in the first place, the IRCAI principle of communication offers guidance on how to respond to AI race-related crises.

An IRACI Analysis
The article employed the IRCAI framework to analyze three case examples including: Microsoft’s chatbot, Tay; a Facebook recommendation feature; and Capitol Records’ FN Meka, hailed as the “AI-powered Rapper.” Our analysis revealed three distinct ways that AI can reproduce racial discrimination:

— Microsoft’s chatbot Tay was launched on Twitter and quickly learned racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic language, demonstrating that chatbots do not merely learn language; they also reflect cultural values within a society. 
— Facebook’s topic recommendation feature equated Black men with primates and reflected the ideological underpinnings of Tay’s offensive comments. This situation demonstrated how racist tropes can become reinforced in the most mundane of ways – through a simple recommendation feature.
— The case of FN Meka, the AI-powered rap avatar dropped from Capitol Records, reveals how easily racist representations can become commodified for entertainment and profit-producing purposes through AI. 

The ways in which the corporations communicated about all three cases highlights the need for ethical public relations within AI.

The public relations field must expertly navigate the intersection of AI and race, because it is our job to provide wise counsel to others in this increasingly diverse and multicultural society. The IRCAI framework can help the PR field understand the racial dynamics of AI, how organizations can avoid the pitfalls of AI bias, and how communicators can navigate a crisis stemming from discriminatory AI. Although we focus on race in this article, the framework can be used to explore AI inequities connected to (and beyond) race, such as gender, sexuality, religion, and other forms of intersectional marginality.

Moreover, the era of non-human stakeholders and digital publics (Bourne, 2022) with machine intelligence (Moore, 2018) is here. Many of these artificial agents are already raced and gendered as our case examples demonstrate. The public relations discipline must continue to explore these changes, what they mean for the field, and for society as a whole. If AI is to revolutionize the world in a way that contributes to a more fully functioning society (Heath, 2006), it is essential that public relations scholars and practitioners take our place at the technology decision-making table sooner rather than later.

Dr. Nneka Logan is an associate professor in the School of Communication at Virginia Tech. Her research and teaching focus on public relations, corporate social responsibility, race, diversity, artificial intelligence, and rhetorical studies. Prior to pursuing a career in academia, Dr. Logan worked in several corporate communication roles where she managed internal and external communication programs. Dr. Logan is a member of the IPR Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Dr. Damion Waymer is a scholar and administrator who is committed to access, advancement, and faculty development. A native of Orangeburg, South Carolina, he currently serves as the Director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. Waymer is a seasoned communication researcher and practitioner who has conducted, for nearly two decades, high-quality, internationally respected research in the contexts of public relations, crisis communication, corporate social responsibility (CSR), branding, and strategic communication. Waymer has held faculty appointments at leading research institutions such as Virginia Tech, the University of Cincinnati, and Texas A&M University. Dr. Waymer is an IPR Trustee and serves as the Director of the IPR Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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