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Today has been Facebook’s worst day in its history. As if the plummeting stocks that closed on  Wednesday at just $144.22.were not enough, Facebook is now facing backlash on its leadership morales.

Yesterday, the New York Times published a scathing expose on how Facebook wilfully downplayed its knowledge of the 2016 Russian meddling of US elections via its platform. In addition, it also alleges that over the course of two years, Facebook has adopted a ‘delay, deny and deflect’ strategy under the shrewd leadership of Sheryl Sandberg and the disconnected from reality, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to continually maneuver through the chain of scandals the company has been plagued with.

In the following sections, we dissect the NYT article and also loo at other related developments that have been triggered in the wake of this news.

Facebook, with over 2.2 billion users globally, has accumulated one of the largest-ever repositories of personal data, including user photos, messages and likes that propelled the company into the Fortune 500. Its platform has been used to make or break political campaigns, advertising business and reshape the daily life around the world. There have been constant questions raised on the security of this platform and all credit goes to the various controversies surrounding Facebook since well over two years. While Facebook’s response to these scandals (“we should have done better”) have not convinced many, Facebook has never been considered ‘knowingly evil’ and continued enjoyed the benefit of the doubt. The Times article now changes that.

Crisis management at Facebook: Delay, deny, deflect

The report by the New York Times is based on anonymous interviews with more than 50 people, including current and former Facebook executives and other employees, lawmakers and government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members.

Over the past few years, Facebook has grown, so has the hate speech, bullying and other toxic content on the platform.  It hasn’t fully taken responsibility for what users posted turning a blind eye and carrying on as it is- a platform and not a Publisher.

The report highlights the dilemma Facebook leadership faces while deciding on candidate Trump’s statement on Facebook in 2015 calling for a “total and complete shutdown” on Muslims entering the United States. After a lengthy discussion, Mr. Schrage (a prosecutor whom Ms. Sandberg had recruited)  concluded that Mr. Trump’s language had “not violated Facebook’s rules”. Mr. Kaplan (Facebook’s Vice President of global public policy) argued that Mr. Trump was an important public figure, and shutting down his account or removing the statement would be perceived as obstructing free speech leading to a conservative backlash. Sandberg decided to allow the poston Facebook.

In the spring of 2016, Mr. Alex Stamos (Facebook’s former security chief) and his team discovered Russian hackers probing Facebook accounts for people connected to the presidential campaign along with Facebook accounts linked to Russian hackers who messaged journalists to share information from the stolen emails. Mr. Stamos directed a team to scrutinize the extent of Russian activity on Facebook. By January 2017, it was clear that there was more to the Russian activity on Facebook.

Mr. Kaplan believed that if Facebook implicated Russia further,  Republicans would “accuse the company of siding with Democrats” and pulling  down the Russians’ fake pages would offend regular Facebook users as having been deceived.

To summarize their findings, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg released a  blog post  on 6th September 2017. The post had little information on fake accounts or the organic posts created by Russian trolls gone viral on Facebook.

You can head over to New York Times to read in depth about what went on in the company post reported scandals.

What is also surprising, is that instead of offering a clear explanation to the matters at hand, the company was more focused on taking a stab at those who make statements against Facebook. Take for instance , Apple CEO Tim Cook who criticized Facebook in an MSNBC interview  and called facebook a service that traffics “in your personal life.” According to the Times, Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly told his employees to only use Android Phones in lieu of this statement.

Over 70 human rights group write to Zuckerberg

Fresh reports have now emerged that the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, and over 70 other groups have written an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg  to adopt a clearer “due process” system for content takedowns.  “Civil society groups around the globe have criticized the way that Facebook’s Community Standards exhibit bias and are unevenly applied across different languages and cultural contexts,” the letter says. “Offering a remedy mechanism, as well as more transparency, will go a long way toward supporting user expression.”

Zuckerberg rejects facetime call for answers from five parliaments

“The fact that he has continually declined to give evidence, not just to my committee, but now to an unprecedented international grand committee, makes him look like he’s got something to hide.”
-DCMS chair Damian Collins

On October 31st, Zuckerberg was invited to give evidence before a UK parliamentary committee on 27th November, with politicians from Canada co-signing the invitation. The committee needed answers related to Facebook “platform’s malign use in world affairs and democratic process”. Zuckerberg rejected the request on November 2nd.  In yet another attempt to obtain answers, MPs from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Ireland and the UK  joined forces with UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee requesting a facetime call with Mark Zuckerberg last week.

However, in a letter to DCMS, Facebook declined the request, stating: “Thank you for the invitation to appear before your Grand Committee. As we explained in our letter of November 2nd, Mr. Zuckerberg is not able to be in London on November 27th for your hearing and sends his apologies.”
The letter does not explain why Zuckerberg is unavailable to speak to the committee via a video call. The letter summarizes a list of Facebook activities and related research that intersects with the topics of election interference, political ads, disinformation and security.  It makes no mention of the company’s controversial actions and their after effects.

Diverting scrutiny from the matter?

According to the NYT report, Facebook reportedly expanded its relationship with a Washington-based public relations consultancy with Republican ties in October 2017 after an entire year dedicated to external criticism over its handling of Russian interference on its social network.

The firm last year wrote dozens of articles that criticized facebook’s  rivals Google and Apple while diverting focus from the impact of Russian interference on Facebook  It pushed the idea that liberal financier George Soros was behind a growing anti-Facebook movement, according to the New York Times. The PR team also reportedly pressed reporters to explore Soros’ financial connections with groups that protested Facebook at Congressional hearings in July.

How are employees and users reacting?

According to the Wall Street Journal, only 52 percent of employees say that they’re optimistic about Facebook’s  future . As compared to 2017, 84 percent were optimistic about working at Facebook.

Just under 29,000 workers (of more than 33,000 in total)  participated in the biannual pulse survey. In the most recent poll conducted in October, statistics have fallen-  like its tumbling stock market – as compared to last year’s survey. Just over half feel Facebook was making the world a better place which was at 19 percentage last year. 70 percent said they were proud to work at Facebook, down from 87 percent, and overall favorability towards the company dropped from 73 to 70 percent since last October’s poll. Around 12 percent apparently plan to leave within a year.

Hacker news has comments from users stating that “Facebook needs to get its act together” and “are in need for serious reform”. Some also feel that “This Times piece should be taken seriously by FB, it’s shareholders, employees, and users. With good sourcing, this paints a very immature picture of the company, from leadership on down to the users”. Readers have pointed out that Facebook’s integrity is questionable and that  “employees are doing what they can to preserve their own integrity with their friends/family/community, and that this push is strong enough to shape the development of the platform for the better, instead of towards further addictive, attention-grabbing, echo chamber construction.”

Facebook’s reply on the New York Times Report

Today, Facebook published a post in response to the Time’s report, listing the number of inaccuracies in their post. Facebook asserts that they have been closely following the Russian investigation, along with reasons for not citing Russia’s name in the April 2017 white paper. The company has also addressed the backlash it faced for the “Muslim ban” statement by Trump which was not taken down.

Facebook strongly supports Mark and Sheryl in the fight against false news and information operations on Facebook.along with reasons  for Sheryl championing Sex Trafficking Legislation. Finally, in response to the controversy to advising employees to use only Android, they clarified that it was because “it is the most popular operating system in the world”.

In response to hiring a PR team Definers, Facebook says that “We ended our contract with Definers last night. The New York Times is wrong to suggest that we ever asked Definers to pay for or write articles on Facebook’s behalf – or to spread misinformation.”

We can’t help but notice that again, Facebook is defending itself against allegations but not providing a proper explanation for why it finds itself in controversies time and again. It is also surprising that the contract with Definers abruptly came to an end just before the report went live by the Times. What Facebook has additionally done is emphasized about improved security practices at the company, something which it has been talking about everytime they face a controversy. It is time to stop delaying, denying and deflecting. Instead, atone, accept, and act responsibly.

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