Often when someone has a PR problem, they call people like me to help them fix it.
More often than not, somebody has done something bad and has been found out. The media are reporting on it. People are talking about it online. Customers stop buying. Share prices fall. Regulators come in. And there could be about a million other bad things that come from getting a bad reputation.
In such cases, the ‘Mea Culpa’ is the tried and true communications strategy of choice. “Admit your failings,” PR pros (like me) tell our clients. “Take on all the blame and promise to make things right. Be contrite. Be responsible. Make changes. Then start anew.”
Last week, the Wall Street Journal, arguably one of the highest profile news organizations in the world, published an article by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and not before time! After almost a year of bad press, multiple scandals and falling share prices, it’s well past time for a Facebook ‘Mea Culpa’.
Or is it?
His Facebook Facts
In the article, Zuck tells ‘his side’ of the story. He starts with explaining that he wants everyone to have a voice. He wants people to connect with friends, family and community. And, he explains that the best way to achieve this is to give away Facebook for free to users while selling ads to fund it. It all sounds very reasonable.
He addresses criticism by explaining how and why Facebook works the way it does while reassuring readers that, ultimately, control of personal data remains with users:
“Based on what pages people like, what they click on, and other signals, we create categories … and then charge advertisers to show ads in that category,” he writes. “You have control over what information we use to show you ads, and you can block any advertiser from reaching you.”
He cites surveys and feedback from users to shore up his arguments:
“When we asked people for permission to use this information to improve their ads as part of our compliance with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, the vast majority agreed because they prefer more relevant ads.”
He takes a pot shot at the media for reporting that Facebook sells user data, a claim he disputes. “We don’t sell people’s data, even though it’s often reported that we do.”
He says that Facebook gathers user data for operations and security, and users decide if it can be used for advertising. Surprisingly, he openly invites Internet regulation to codify the principles of transparency, choice and control (despite having lobbied against privacy regulations in many jurisdictions).
Where’s the Mea Culpa?
As an editorial, it’s a very pretty piece. Only one thing is missing. And, it’s essential to restoring Facebook’s good reputation. Where’s the Mea Culpa?
Where’s the apology? The admission that he got things wrong? The undertaking to change? The promise to make things better?
Instead, as readers, we are offered condescension, obfuscation and justification. There is no acknowledgment that Facebook, or any of the people running it, have anything to feel sorry for. There are no promises to do better. Zuck never concedes that Facebook has had a negative impact as well as a positive one. He doesn’t give us even one crumb of contrition.
All he gives us is hubris. And until Mark Zuckerberg offers Facebook’s billions of users a genuine Mea Culpa, the company remains in big trouble.