Five Avoidable, Ethical Dilemmas for Interns

As student interns honing our skills in preparation for our professional career, it is likely that we will experience situations with unethical aspects. We need to know and be comfortable with how to overcome these challenges.

Free Flow of Information

The free flow of information includes a wide range of issues, such as disclosing yourself to the public, allowing thorough and complete information to be released, and encouraging debate among your targeted publics. Correcting incorrect information, and responding to all communication in a timely manner, especially during times of crises, ensures that you are participating in good ethical practices.

As an intern, you will be faced with situations in which you will have direct contact with the public.  When you begin the internship, discuss with your supervisor that you wish to completely disclose your identity with the contacts you make. Establishing this information increases transparency. Another way to do this is to disclose when you retweet a client’s post on Twitter or “like” a client’s Facebook page.


It is possible that an internship will require you to sign and follow a confidentiality agreement that will ask you to keep certain information private or not to reveal information after your internship is done. These agreements range in content, however, all of them must be upheld. Respecting the confidentiality agreement is vital to your credibility and future professional reputation.

If you decide to leave your internship or job, remember that it is unethical to reveal any information learned at the other agency or company. Doing so breaches the practitioner’s ethical obligation to fair competition. Be ethical and maintain the integrity of our profession.

The Internship Law

In most states, a law exists setting specific guidelines for interns. Typically, it states that an intern must either be getting paid for their work, or receiving college credit. If neither is happening, the company or organization is not necessarily following the law. Of course, it’s important to clarify this with your employer prior to beginning your internship. Be sure to ask what your responsibilities entail and make sure you’re selecting an internship with opportunities for you to learn and grow as a young professional.

As a future leader in the public relations industry, it is your ethical responsibility to ensure that all ethical and legal considerations have been met before making any final decisions.

The Blogging Phenomenon

At my first internship, one of my responsibilities was to monitor a series of travel blogs and respond to them by encouraging readers to book their travel through a specific travel company. I was also instructed not to label myself as the “Public Relations Intern.” I politely explained that my ethical obligation was to properly represent myself.

Many of us have responsibilities as interns to monitor or update blogs. It is our job as future leaders to recognize the ethical repercussions of our actions. We have an obligation to openly and honestly disclose our identity to the public, even online. Doing so enhances transparency.

Website and Media Content

As ethical gurus, it is our responsibility to ensure that all messages sent to our target audiences are accurate. It is unethical to disseminate incorrect information. This can include websites, media kits, and social media information. To be safe, always edit your content for accuracy and make necessary changes.

What ethical issues have you encountered?  How did you handle them? What was the end result?

This is a guest post from Vice President of Advocacy Adam Aisner.

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