As Spider-Man and countless others before him once said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” With about 2.3 billion users worldwide, Facebook has enormous power, yet seems to struggle with its responsibility as of late.
As the aperture continues to widen on Facebook, so do the scandals: US election interference by the Russians, data breaches, privacy issues, mood manipulation experiments, user tracking, abusive and hateful language by users, and more recently, the controversy surrounding the hiring of opposition research firm The Definers (please don’t call them a PR firm) and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s investigation into George Soros.
I am not going to go into the gory and still-developing details of the latest Definers scandal. However, it is worth positing the following question: can Zuckerberg and Sandberg survive this latest indignity? One operates in the shadows and the other operates in the sun, but both find themselves in a storm of controversy.
Let’s start with Zuckerberg.
At first, I really bought Zuckerberg’s argument that the company’s lax oversight was generally grounded on a universal belief that people are good and the platform will be used for great, not nefarious purposes. Naive? Misguided? Immature? You bet, but I gave Zuckerberg a pass because of his man-child being and presence. He’s clearly very bright, maybe even a genius. But he’s not a leader, and he’s a terrible communicator.
His discomfort while in public and in an interview situations causes me unease just watching him. For a guy who has had just one job with pretty much no management or leadership experience, he’s done very well for himself. But like most boy wonder-turned-founder phenoms, he’s not fit for the office of chief executive of a larger publicly traded company like Facebook.
If Zuckerberg was feline, this latest scandal may be his tenth life, and that’s OK by me. My plea to the Facebook board: keep him on, maybe even as chairman, but replace him with an experienced chief executive as soon as possible. Think back to when Google hired Eric Schmidt as its adult chief exec.
Now, on to Sandberg.
Until somewhat recently, Sheryl Sandberg was viewed as the perfect complement to Zuckerberg. Mature, articulate, experienced and business savvy, she’s an inspiration to many people, and especially women. She’s also a best-selling author, unafraid to step into the limelight, telling women to “lean in” and coaching us all on how to cope with personal tragedy. To be clear, I continue to have enormous respect for Sandberg’s accomplishments, but have waned in my enthusiasm for her as an executive and brand ambassador. If Michele Obama is hating on you, then you know you’re in trouble.
What should Sandberg do to recover her reputation? Rather than bore The Drum’s readers with 300 more words of bullshit PR-guy speak, I can tell you what she should do in just one word. Resign. The cautionary tale here? Don’t fly so close to the sun.
To quote the late US president George H.W. Bush, ”America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world." I’m hopeful for America, and for a kinder, gentler Facebook too.
Aaron Kwittken is chief executive and founder of KWT Global and president of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation