Why Facebook needs to take its reputation more seriously

Facebook wants to build the digital currency of the future. But first it must contend with its past and sinking reputation after a relentless hurricane of data privacy PR nightmares.

By Louisa Bartoszek,

I recently saw CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify before the House Financial Services Committee to discuss Facebook’s plans for Libra with deep fascination. I work in technology and financial services; and I’m a communications adviser.

How was he going to handle this?

The answer; not great. The highlight for me was when the mic turned to congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) who fired questions like an elite special force’s sniper.

Mr Zuckerberg, I think you of all people can appreciate using a person’s past behaviour in order to determine, make decisions or predict people’s future behaviour, and in order for us to make decisions about Libra I think we need to kind of dig into your past behaviour and Facebook’s past behaviour with respect to our democracy. Mr Zuckerberg, what year and month did you personally become aware of Cambridge Analytica?”

Gasp. She went there. Yes AOC! I was on the edge of my seat. Over to you Zuck. Own it, show the world Facebook takes its responsibilities seriously and recognises it has a duty of care to protect the global citizens it serves.

I was dismayed, but not shocked, to see Zuckerberg’s memory loss and lack of ethical outrage for the largest scandal to hit the company he co-founded.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal rocked the world. And it’s not over. The ramifications are still surfacing with the depth of severity unknown. Yet Facebook continues to sidestep questions and in turn, allows its reputation to further deteriorate.

“I think lying is bad,” Zuckerberg stuttered whilst fumbling to answer questions around how far political groups could mislead the voting public before Facebook would step in to prevent the spread of misinformation.

Facebook’s business account at the Bank of Trust is severely overdrawn. Yet, the social media giant appears to not recognise the need to tackle its reputational debts if it wants to be trusted with disrupting something as valuable as the global financial system. Here they will immediately need to grapple with much more serious issues, like money laundering and terrorist financing.

Based on their current reputation, how would they respond should their digital currency experiments inflict say, global catastrophic damage, if accidental operational missteps occur? Will we see a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis? Will they act fast and take responsibility?

Innovation done well is extraordinary. It has the power to change lives and societies for the better. It is also why I moved from banking to the technology sector this year. Being on the front line, working on industry-transforming projects, is awe-inspiring.

Theoretically, Facebook has the technological smarts and fearlessness to accelerate the creation of a global digital economy, disrupting the banking status quo in the process.

However, for Facebook to be granted the trust it craves to continue innovating and be part of the future digital economy, it must first earn the right to be trusted. Trust is earned by having a strong reputation for doing the right thing. For getting it right or taking fast action when something doesn’t go as planned. Not just moving fast, breaking things and not worrying about any damage. This is not something PR alone can fix.

Warren Buffet famously said that a business’s reputation takes twenty years to build but five minutes to ruin. If you think about that, you will do things differently. Facebook would benefit from listening to him.

By Louisa Bartoszek, Group Head of Communications at 20|30 Group and member of the editorial board of Influence magazine.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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