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Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 went missing on March 8, 2014 with 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board. Throughout the crisis, Malaysian Airlines indicated publicly through various statements to the media they would be transparent with all MH370 information. In fact, the airline suggested they would operate according to a “commitment to openness.”

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Image from beforeitsnews.com

However, their information disclosure practices were anything but open and transparent. Throughout their social media responses the airline refused to answer questions, offering many “no comment” responses and directly stating they were withholding information.

Jensen Moore, Assistant Professor of Strategic Communication, Louisiana State University

Jensen Moore, Assistant Professor of Strategic Communication, Louisiana State University

Overall, studies linking transparency and ethics place information disclosure as the linchpin in building public trust and accountability, which in turn, is essential to the success and reputation of the organization. Turilli & Floridi (2009) address the ethical implications of disclosing information as a “double-edged sword.” On the one hand, an organization has to consider the ethical and unethical uses of the disclosed information. On the other hand, that information effectively demonstrates the organization’s commitment to legal requirements as well as how well they adhere to and implement ethical principles and practices.

When disclosed information “enables” or “impairs” audience behaviors or decisions there is a direct impact not only on organizational image, but the ability of the publics to act according to social norms (in the case of flight MH370, the victims’ families’ abilities to grieve losses, move forward with lives, mitigate damages, etc.). Conversely, when “false, misleading, partial or inappropriate details are released to the public” (Turilli & Floridi, p. 106) organizational ethics are diminished. Lack of transparency directly influences perceptions of ethics; “when information users perceive ethical standards to be low, the information provider’s image and business may be damaged” (p. 106).

Bob Pritchard, Instructor and Agency Advisor, The University of Oklahoma

Bob Pritchard, Instructor and Agency Advisor, The University of Oklahoma

Our study, funded by a Page Legacy Scholar Grant from the Arthur W. Page Center at the Penn State College of Communications will examine social media messages and formal statements from Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government from March 8, 2014 to July 8, 2014. We contend that complete and ample information during a crisis of this type is an ethical imperative as Malaysia Airlines had an obligation to provide information regarding loss of life to victims’ families. This study will examine both edges of the sword as noted by Turilli & Floridi (2009) above. Our focus specifically is on what happens to public interaction and engagement when an organization promises transparency and openness and then withholds information, and uses ambiguous crisis responses.

Ultimately, we hope this examination will move us closer to best practices for transparency (in terms of information disclosure) and ethically communicating with publics via social media during crises. Information from this study could provide insight into how lack of information disclosure affects public responses, how lack of information disclosure affects rumors during crisis situations, what type of crisis response strategy should be used to avoid ambiguity, how trust and credibility are affected by using social media to communicate with various publics, and how withholding or not releasing information leads to “pooling” or aggregating information from other sources.

Michael Climek, Operations Manager of the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University

Michael Climek, Operations Manager of the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University

This project was supported by a Page Legacy Scholar Grant from The Arthur W. Page Center at the Penn State College of Communications under Page Legacy Scholar Grant. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pennsylvania State University.

For further information on this study please contact the authors at:

Jensen Moore (jmoore5@lsu.edu)

Bob Pritchard (rpritchard@ou.edu)

Michael Climek (mclimek@lsu.edu)

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