A recent report has shown how Facebook and its high profile executives attempted to deal with the recent crisis at the company. After a turbulent 2 years which lead to plummeting stock and a consumer backlash campaign, just how Facebook’s helms attempted to deflect criticism and attack opponents can now be examined.
In one such attempt to deflect criticism from the left, Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. The tactic is a modern form of anti-Semitic mudslinger, harking back to far right conspiracies of the Rothschild’s funding the Bolsheviks. The myth of a Judeo–Bolshevik conspiracy has been replaced by that of a “cultural Marxist” one. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, use of these tactics shows just the tip of the iceberg of Facebook’s problems.
Facebook’s main issue has been the sites associations with hate speech. The Anti Defamation League has criticised Mark Zuckerberg after he suggested that his company should not censor Holocaust deniers. When researchers and activists in Myanmar, India, Germany and elsewhere warned that Facebook had become an instrument of government propaganda and ethnic cleansing, the company largely ignored them. Facebook saw the role as a censor as costly and feared backlash from the right wing. When Trump posted his infamous call of a ban of Muslims entering the US, Facebook’s Washington group of well connected Republicans were instrumental in keeping Trumps post on the site. They argued that Mr. Trump was an important public figure and that shutting down his account or removing the statement could be seen as obstructing free speech. The sites main chance to block hate speech on a global level was missed.
Facebook has seen its position attacked by both the main American political parties. The Democrats allege Facebook of allowing Russian influence into the US election, seeking a scapegoat for their failures to stop the election of Donald Trump. Similarly, Republicans accuse Facebook of banning and seeking out conservative posts in their attempts to further play out their “us and them” mentality. Facebook’s attempts to unite both sides over the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act in November 2017 have become futile as further allegations about the site emerged.
Facebook’s relationship with British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytical has seemingly been the straw that’s broke the camels back. When evidence was found that copies of improperly acquired Facebook data still existed, despite earlier promises by Cambridge executives and others to delete it, Facebook’s attempts to pre-empt the stories failed leading to worldwide outrage.
Facebook went on the offensive using conservative site the NTK Network to accuse companies who had attacked Facebook such as Apple and Google of similar data misuse and exploitative practices. Meanwhile in public, the company took a more conciliatory approach with Mark Zuckerberg agreeing to testify on Capitol Hill. Sandberg also met with prominent Republicans and Democrats due to alleged fears that Facebook’s reputation will muddy her own legacy as well. Senate Democrat leader Chuck Schumer, a keen corporate ally to Silicon Valley, has intervened on the company’s behalf.
Facebook’s attempts at damage management show its media cunning and highlights its influential links with both Republicans and Democrats. However, the companies reputation has been severely damaged and its notoriety for hate speech, misinformation and data misuse will likely mean the company will never fully recover of the events of the last 2 years. Despite this, Facebook’s influence on Washington shows off the companies important connections that will expectantly never lead into a full force probe into the website used by 2.2 billion people.