The mission statement was always “…to make the world more open and connected.” It was an idyllic dream and a better direction than the original college dating website for Harvard students. You could share photos, update your family on life happenings, and rekindle those friendships you haven’t thought about since middle school. Maybe there would be occasional bits of drama, but that would all be manufactured by users, not the platform itself. It was supposed to be a bright beacon leading the way into the future, ushering in a world in which 7 billion people could connect and communicate, promoting an exchange of culture and ideas, the likes of which had never been seen in history. As always though, the best-laid plans went awry.
It’s November of 2018, and Facebook is embroiled in scandal after scandal, bringing the nation’s trust in the brand to the brink of collapse. Shareholders are calling for Mark Zuckerberg’s head, the federal government is considering antitrust legislation, and advertisers are circling the wagons. Things are bleak. How did things become so bleak though? How did America’s startup darling fall so far from grace? How did this happen?
The age-old adage rings truer here than ever: the coverup is always worse than the crime. The problem is that Facebook has been covering up for years. While still being a platform that is able to host 2.27 billion users, Facebook can also lay claim to hosting Russian election interference, anti-Semitic conspiracy proliferation, and the enabling of genocide. These are terrible truths that make one shudder at the power held by the social network, but what makes one shudder more is the concentrated effort by Facebook to “Delay, Deny and Deflect.”
Facebook has denied that it could have done more to stop the spread of “fake news” despite all evidence to the contrary. Zuckerberg has denied funding opposition research firms to discredit protestors by falsely linking them to George Soros despite all evidence to the contrary. Facebook has minimized the role its platform played in ethnic cleansing in Myanmar despite all evidence to the contrary. Rather than apologize and improve, Facebook dug deeper holes and doubled down on terrible practices.
This is concerning, but there doesn’t seem to be an imminent impact, especially where your business is concerned. As with Amazon, convenience beats any form of justice, as people are only willing to commit to outrage when it’s convenient. As long as Facebook is available to allow people to slide into direct messages, look at minion meme pages, and creep on exes, people will use the platform. People complain about Facebook on Facebook. They’re not going to stop now.
Everything short of a trust bust will allow the platform to keep on chugging. This is cynical but seems to hold true given the number of outrageous activism campaigns we’ve forgotten. Remember #Kony2012? Remember the profile filters for Paris? Remember the blackout for abuse awareness? Those campaigns have long since been forgotten, as unfortunately, our activism stops at the keyboard.
What does this mean if you’re a business owner that advertises on Facebook? No sweeping changes are likely to come, but it should give you pause to consider what role advertising on Facebook plays in your model. If you depend only on Facebook, you need to be prepared to diversify. This is good advice without the scandals, but even more so now. Find and study other platforms, because you might need them someday.
It’s also important to learn from the mistakes of Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. If they had simply apologized, and promised to be better, the backlash would not be nearly as vocal as it is now that coverups are exposed. If you’re starting a business from scratch, mistakes will happen. Don’t try to cover them up. Give your customers credit — they’re smart. They’re also understanding enough to forgive if you atone.
This is your opportunity to be better than Facebook. Maybe you won’t reach billions of people, but you can serve them with integrity. The push of shareholders and consumers alike may cause Facebook to apologize, but empty concessions will mean little. It’s time for Facebook to come clean — truly clean — or be another fallen empire, doomed to ruin, relegated to the annals of history.