Sorry seems to be the hardest word: Mark Zuckerberg's letter deconstructed by a copywriter
The commentariat has got its collective knickers in a twist about Mark Zuckerberg’s mea culpa for the Cambridge Analytica affair. (Analgate?)
"A new media company going old-school with a letter? How quaint!"
But what of the writing itself? Here’s a brief exegesis.
The headline is a slog.
The first line elicits a reader response, “Yeah. And?”
The second elicits a “Huh?”
If you can’t what, you don’t deserve what?
To follow the headline’s own syntax, it means,
If we can’t [protect your information], we don’t deserve [to have) it.
But the sentiment is lost because the two sentences that comprise the headline are not congruent.
One is high-register language that scores a lamentable 18.9/100 on the Flesch Reading Ease Score. (As a comparison, the Harvard Law Review scores in the mid-30s and Plain English scores 60/100.) The other switches to low register and scores a commendable 100/100.
Ending with “it” is a feeble way to conclude a sentence – zero emotional punch (although maybe that’s the point.)
But also, look at the final four words.
“We don’t deserve it.”
That sounds less like an apology and more like a not-guilty plea.
A genuine apology might begin with the classic “I’m sorry”.
Perhaps this headline would be better:
I’m sorry we didn’t take better care of your data.
Or even this:
I’m sorry we didn’t protect your privacy.
On to the body of the letter. The first sentence is a classic of obfuscation.
It’s boring, for one thing, long for another, and devoid of emotional content. We are asked to analyse, not to react. The blame is immediately shunted off onto an unnamed “university researcher”.
Far better to start by saying:
My name is Mark Zuckerberg. I run Facebook. I screwed up. And I’m sorry.
And 2014 was ages ago, so, y’know, what’s to worry about?
It contains a grammar error, too. It should be either “the Facebook data of millions of people” or “Facebook data on millions of people” .
The phrase “breach of trust” is something a lawyer would say, not a real person. “Mum, I committed a breach of trust when I stole five quid out of your purse”. I suspect a lawyer did, in fact, write this.
The word “sorry” is buried in the middle of the letter’s longest paragraph and easy to miss.
Given that he goes on to explain what steps they are taking, this sentence could come out. Although that would leave the “sorry” exposed.
Enough with the apps already! It wasn't apps that did this, it was people. Possibly including Facebook executives. More water-muddying from Mr Z. Although “ban” is good. A simple, strong word we can all understand.
“Shut off”? Odd phrase. Makes an app sound like a tap.
A classic assumptive close. Personally, I don’t “believe” in the Facebook “community”. I mean, I believe that people use Facebook; 2.2 billion of them use it every month (source: Facebook).
But Facebook is hardly a community. It’s an app. And a damned leaky one at that.