Sheldon Rampton, research director at the Center for Media & Democracy, which publishes PRwatch.org, is struck by "the delicious irony of a campaign against counterfeiting creating a counterfeit student," he says.
Debbie Weil, a consultant and author of The Corporate Blogging Book, says she finds Cee "morally questionable" because "it falls in a troubling middle ground between hoax and clever campaign."
Weil helps companies such as GlaxoSmithKline start blogs and sign up for social networking Web sites so that they can connect with customers. She urges caution.
"We know how to use these tools, whether a Facebook campaign or a blog, but we have to be responsible how we use them," Weil says.
MySpace, where Cee's profile also remains posted (myspace.com/lookitsheidi), prohibits content that "constitutes or promotes information that you know is false or misleading." MySpace did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Bob LeDrew, who works in PR in Ottawa, Canada, has written about Cee on his blog, FlackLife. (His first post was entitled "Now we flacks get students to astroturf for us.") Among LeDrew's concerns are that the students were encouraged to run a campaign that he believes violates aspects of the Public Relations Society of America's ethics code, namely: "Be honest and accurate in all communications," "avoid deceptive practices" and "reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented."
"When the students said, 'Oh, we'd like to make up an identity for a person,' I don't think they would have had to bring out the yardsticks and smack them on the hands," LeDrew says. "But they could have had a discussion about the ethics of this."
Still, LeDrew sees where even seasoned PR pros can falter when it comes to the sniff test for online campaigns, since traditional advertising itself is largely a game of pretend.
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