“As a business, they seem to have lost their compass.”
Yesterday the NYT released an investigative report about the inner-workings and decision making at Facebook during the months after its Cambridge Analytica data scandal broke. It’s a detailed account of just how far Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg were willing to push for continued user and revenue growth, despite obvious warning signs about Russian hacker activity and the dissemination of political misinformation on their platform. In a nut shell, they put Facebook’s profits ahead of user privacy and even the stability of the US election system.
So what did Facebook do that was so bad? The initial problem was not having enough safeguards in place which allowed 3rd party apps like Cambridge Analytica to breach its user data. That’s the part we’ve known about for a year now. Yesterday’s NYT report laid out the steps Facebook took to make the problem go away. This included hiring political lobbyists to snuff out a movement in Congress to limit the use of user data in digital media, and even a deliberate PR campaign to deflect some of its own blame onto other social pubs. It’s sort of like the old Watergate saying, that it’s not the crime but the cover up that gets you every time.
After the story broke yesterday morning brands and agency leads immediately began speaking out. Their reactions were a combination of disbelief, “It’s time to admit we were all wrong about Facebook”. It’s actually worse” to disdain, “Now we know Facebook will do whatever it takes to make money. They have absolutely no morals.” Given that almost all of Facebook’s $40B in annual revenue comes from marketers, you have to wonder of this story will finally hurt the company enough to effect real change.
By the end the day yesterday there was even speculation in the press that these revelations could force the removal of Zuckerberg and/or Sandberg from Facebook’s senior leadership. I guess that would be real change.