According to still valuable Gruning and Hunt’s four models of public relations theory (Grunig & Hunt, 1984), reinforced a couple of years later (Grunig et al., 1989), there are four models of public relations:
|Traditional publicity model (the press agentry model)||Professional agents seek media coverage for a client, product, or event.||Thong-clad actor Sacha Baron Cohen promotes Bruno by landing in Eminem’s lap at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.|
|Public information model||Businesses communicate information to gain desired results.||Colleges send informational brochures to potential students; a company includes an “about” section on its website.|
|Persuasive communication model (the two-way asymmetric model)||Organizations attempt to persuade an audience to take a certain point of view.||Public service announcements like the one that shows “your brain” and “your brain on drugs.”|
|Two-way symmetric model||Both parties make use of a back-and-forth discussion.||A company sends out customer satisfaction surveys; company Facebook groups and message boards.|
Do not worry. My intention is not to bother you with a theory that is now almost 40 years old but to claim that communication can only be two-way symmetric or it is not communication.
This implies that:
- Only a negligible part of public relations uses communication as its tool.
- Traditional mass media (TMS) are not communication media.
- Twitter and similar platforms are so far the only not-oral digital communication platforms like traditional non-digital platforms (home environments, bars, restaurants, debate clubs, and so forth).
Public relations and communication
Communication is co-mmunication, meaning it necessarily implies (at least) two parties communicating. According to Merriam Webster the prefix »co« implies:
1: with : together : joint : jointly
2: in or to the same degree
3a: one that is associated in an action with another : fellow : partner
3b: having a usually lesser share in duty or responsibility : alternate : deputy
4: of, relating to, or constituting the complement of an angle
Having a (public) relation that is one way is clearly not communication. Press agentry and public information are clearly not communication since, in both cases, there is only one agent acting with no opinion for the »co« in communications. It should be quite clear from the same reasoning that Grunning and Hut were wrong, assuming that the two-way asymmetric model could be named as communication since there is only one agent involved in the act of persuasion, with the recipient being passive. Typically the results of such persuasion are measured by various poll techniques where the measured object (individuals) are taken as passive objects of measurement. Thus asymmetric communication is a contradiction in terms.
Traditional mass media communication is fake
Following the same argument as for public relations, TMS media cannot but follow press agentry, publicity, or a two-way asymmetrical model. They do not communicate since, technically, they cannot communicate. TMS media opening digital platforms that are open to comment pretend to be open for communication. This is a pretend because only one side sets the agenda, with the other side having the option to respond if not subjected to censorship. This is why, in my opinion, all digital TMS media platforms struggle to transfer their business model from print to digital. TMS media on digital platforms are recognized as fake attempts to communicate.
Non-fake digital communication platforms
This brings us to Twitter. It is not only Twitter that offers a genuine communication platform, but after Musk took it over and abolished censorship, the best example. It allows each individual to set agenda and open a discussion. The situation is a genuine digital replication of a pub in which you engage in a discussion expected that the other one(s) will respond and set their own agendas in expectations of responses; communication.
Censorship of a discussion that was hopefully expelled from Twitter was like a pub owner that would disallow certain topics to be discussed in his pub or certain individuals to enter his bar. Censorship disallows certain individuals to be agents; it brings a pub or Twitter closer to the position of MSM media, where an editor takes the place of a »censor« that decides both about the agenda and about who can participate.
We should accept that the public space of Twitter is or should be a place where all topics should be »allowed« as much as parties in a pub can talk about whatever they want to. As parties in the pub intersubjectively decide which topics are »politically correct« for their parties, so should parties on Twitter be allowed to decide what topics and language are appropriate for their discussion. It is, of course, harder to intersubjectively agree upon what is politically correct within a Twitter community which is much larger than any possible party in a pub, but the difficulty does not annihilate the fact that this is the only right course, the course that does not rob us our agency.
Grunig, J., Botan, C., & Hazelton, J. (1989). Symmetrical presuppositions as a framework for public relations theory. Public Relations Theory, 17–44.
Grunig, J., & Hunt, T. (1984). Managing Public Relations.