Facebook, like the NFL and Nike, is one of just a handful of brands that’s remained nearly unimpeachable despite numerous public debacles and high-profile crises over the years – some might even say impenetrable. But despite Facebook’s defensive posture during its earnings call this week, the kerfuffle with whistleblower Frances Haugen may force the company to finally find its soul, having never bothered to actively look for it before, writes KWT founder and The Drum columnist Aaron Kwittken.
Will the latest scandal finally flip the script for Facebook? Its permissive, willful blindness toward misinformation? The harm it does toward children and non-stop rhetoric sowing seeds of division around the world?
Does Mark Zuckerberg still think that people are generally good? Because that’s largely been his defense whenever the company takes fire. Facebook’s PR strategy is truly anomalous when compared to the rest of the mere mortal companies when faced with crises. It almost always denies, deflects and defends, whereas most companies will admit/acknowledge, apologize and make amends. But most companies don’t have business models built on attention and agitation.
I’ve counseled countless companies through some very high-profile, high-stakes crisis over the years. Instead of having his PR mob implicitly challenge Haugen’s credibility by citing her short tenure at the company and lack of access to executives, here’s what I would have liked ‘Zuck’ and the team to do:
Say you’re sorry. Own it. Acknowledge Haugen’s concerns head-on and publicly commit to working with outside experts to address the accusations.
Commit to fully cooperating and working with regulators and lawmakers to change the way you conduct your business so that in both reality and perception, profits are never placed above safety or democracy.
Stop being so opaque about how you run the business and embrace transparency through a willingness to disclose more about how the algorithms work and how Facebook will work harder to make them work in the public interest.
Counter any patently false accusations with facts and continue to reference and highlight the good the platform also brings to billions of people around the world.
Here’s the problem. Steps one to three won’t ever happen on their own unless there’s a wholesale management team change at Facebook, and that’s not going to happen. The management team will continue to dig in and defend ad nauseam unless and until advertisers, investors and users jump ship in a material manner. Will that ever happen? That’s also unlikely. But regulating Facebook is pretty much the only thing that Republicans and Democrats can agree on these days, and that means something.
If Zuck doesn’t give a fuck, Congress will.
Aaron Kwittken is founder and chief executive of KWT Global.