Facebook: Trapped in its own bubble
Bent on rapid growth, Facebook ignored and later hid evidence that it was being used to spread misinformation, said Sheera Frenkel in The New York Times. The company has been on the defensive for two years over revelations of massive data theft and its key role in Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. Last week, a Times investigation found that through all Facebook’s crises, executives concealed their missteps and fought dirty to deflect attention from their myriad problems. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg downplayed the embarrassing revelations, even “as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda, and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe.” When Sandberg learned that her security chief had told the board that Facebook had been unable to stop a flood of Kremlin-linked accounts, she seethed that he’d opened the company up to greater scrutiny. The company also hired an opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters. Facebook’s approach has always been “to ask for forgiveness rather than permission,” said Emily Stewart in Vox.com. Now the scandals have badly damaged the company’s reputation, and neither politicians nor investors seem ready to forgive.
One theory is that Facebook’s disasters were caused by its leaders’ naïveté, said Shira Ovide in Bloomberg.com. So convinced were they that Facebook was a force for good, this theory goes, that management couldn’t foresee “how the social network could be twisted and abused.” We now know that’s not true. The fault is squarely on Zuckerberg’s and Sandberg’s shoulders. They have repeatedly apologized for all that’s wrong at Facebook, but they “still don’t truly accept that they created a monster.” With every scandal, Facebook denied or minimized the problems. The company’s success made its leaders believe that they could do no wrong. What Facebook needs is “a Chief Criticism Officer, someone to tell Zuckerberg, Sandberg, and other executives when they can’t see outside of their own bubble.”
With the most recent revelations, a campaign to regulate Facebook is “gathering momentum” in Washington, said Cecilia Kang in The New York Times. Both Democrats and Republicans are threatening to restrain Facebook with antitrust actions and investigations. “Facebook cannot be trusted to regulate itself,” said one top House Democrat. All the pressures have created a “darkening mood within the social-media giant,” said Deepa Seetharaman in The Wall Street Journal. After years of “remarkably stable” leadership, nearly a dozen high-profile or senior executives have announced their departures this year. Outside critics are calling for Sandberg or even Zuckerberg to resign, too. Just over half of Facebook’s employees now say Facebook is “making the world a better place,” a big decline from last year. Zuckerberg has been combative in defending his company. In one meeting with employees last week he blasted the latest critical coverage as “bulls---.” But the urgency of Facebook’s problems is not lost on the CEO. He has pressed top staff to make faster progress on securing the platform, and earlier this year told top lieutenants that Facebook “was at war and he planned to lead the company accordingly.” ■