Facebook, Elections & the Spin

Mark Zuckerberg, on first day back from paternity leave, posted his response to the recent questions being raised about the company and its role in elections. Much of the sound and fury has been focused on the “Russian connection.” But focusing on this issue, making it all about elections misses that larger point. And perhaps I thought it was a good idea to ask Mark this question. And I did as a comment on his Facebook update. Here is what I asked him and Sheryl Sandberg:

This is a great update, but let me ask you and Sheryl Sandberg— for a company that has touted micro-targeting as a core competency and as a way to separate yourself from the other advertising giant, how is that you folks had not foreseen any of this.

I understand our urge to look for good in the people, but the micro targeting was and is always open to abuse. World is full of people who are going to use technologies for nefarious actions.

My real question is what are you going to actually be proactive about things such as this nasty micro-targeting? How are we supposed to believe in your words when every so often all one hears is a reactive apology and we will do better.

When are we going to see Facebook do better in terms of being preventive. I am interested less in apologies. How can we continue to trust the company and your data-related policies.

Can you folks also clarify why was a feature that allowed to target by ethnicity and then turned off the feature shortly thereafter. Was this request done by either campaign because they were large customer at the time?

This is not the first time Facebook has been caught with its hand in the proverbial cookie jar. The Zuck Doctrine of management is push to the extreme, see what you can get away with, and then apologize and try to shift attention elsewhere. It has apologized for Beacon, psychological testing, faulty ad sale metrics, India strategy that smacked on colonialism. I think you get the point.

Having followed Facebook for a long time, I know what really plagues the company is that being open and transparent is not part of its DNA. This combination of secrecy, microtargeting and addiction to growth at any cost is the real challenge. The company’s entire strategy is based on targeting, monetizing and advertising.

Common sense ideas such as being humane, understanding its impact on society and civic infrastructure — well that doesn’t bring any dollars into the coffers. Call me cynical, but reactive apologies are nothing but spin.

Letter from Om

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