Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis

from NYTs

Sheryl Sandberg was seething.

Inside Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, top executives gathered in the glass-walled conference room of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. It was September 2017, more than a year after Facebook engineers discovered suspicious Russia-linked activity on its site, an early warning of the Kremlin campaign to disrupt the 2016 American election. Congressional and federal investigators were closing in on evidence that would implicate the company.

But it wasn’t the looming disaster at Facebook that angered Ms. Sandberg. It was the social network’s security chief, Alex Stamos, who had informed company board members the day before that Facebook had yet to contain the Russian infestation. Mr. Stamos’s briefing had prompted a humiliating boardroom interrogation of Ms. Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, and her billionaire boss. She appeared to regard the admission as a betrayal.

“You threw us under the bus!” she yelled at Mr. Stamos, according to people who were present.

The clash that day would set off a reckoning — for Mr. Zuckerberg, for Ms. Sandberg and for the business they had built together. In just over a decade, Facebook has connected more than 2.2 billion people, a global nation unto itself that reshaped political campaigns, the advertising business and daily life around the world. Along the way, Facebook accumulated one of the largest-ever repositories of personal data, a treasure trove of photos, messages and likes that propelled the company into the Fortune 500.

More here.

, , ,

8 Responses to Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis

  1. Brandon Ruiz November 16, 2018 at 4:54 pm #

    Social Media has the ability to connect people in a way that no other avenue can. On social media people can connect with others who are in other countries and share their life with others in a unique way not possible before the invention of social media. The problem is that by allowing people to interact with each other and share their personal life to such an extent the privacy of the information that those people share can be jeopardized. Social Media also offers a substantial opportunity for people to express their political opinions. People can buy ads on social media sites in order to promote their political opinions, post comments expressing that opinion to a multitude of people, and even message people in order to cajole others into their political way of thinking through persuasive discussion. This is a legal and ethical thing for people to do thanks to the right of free speech, but when other countries make a concerted effort to start trying to influence the politics of another country for their own benefit it becomes something that’s unethical and dangerous.

    Both of these two potential problems became a reality for the social media giant Facebook in recent years, but the way that the company handled these problems was ignorant, dangerous, and unethical in every way. The biggest situation concerning both of these problems first appeared in the spring of 2016 when a company expert on Russian cyberwarfare spotted something worrisome. He reported this to his boss Alex Stamos who then used his team to delve further into what had been seen. They discovered that Russian hackers had appeared to be probing Facebook accounts for people connected with the presidential campaigns. He then told Facebook’s heads, including its founder Mark Zuckerberg, about what he and his team had found. The heads were angry at Stamos for exploring the Russian activity because they claimed that it had left the company legally exposed. Therefore essentially the heads of Facebook thought it would have been a good plan to ignore the whole situation all together so that when someone finally found out about it they could claim that they were not aware that it was even happening. They decided to expand the team that was charged with researching the incidents. The new team found out that the Russian activity on Facebook was worse than they had originally thought and wanted to release a public paper to release their findings. However, top Facebook executives wouldn’t allow them to. They finally decided to go public with the a generalized abridged version of their findings in August of 2017, several months after they had first discovered Russian involvement. Through the tactics that Facebook used in this we can see that their strategy is to delay and deny the differing aspects of the situation.

    In March, The Times, The Guardian, and the Observer of London prepared to release a joint investigation into how Facebook user data was being used by Cambridge Analytica in order to profile American voters. Facebook was warned of the publication’s release a view days before and subsequently cut all ties with Cambridge Analytica. Upon its release the public became extremely outraged at Facebook for allowing this to happen. Therefore in response to this Facebook decided to, through an affiliate of one of the companies it owns called Definers, release dozens of articles that bashed Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. Through this Facebook tried to deflect attention away from its own unsavory business practices that were in the public eye.

    In conclusion, Facebook dealt with its privacy issues by delaying, denying, and deflecting and have gotten away with it so far as little action has been taken against Facebook in order to try and regulate it. If other social media companies begin to use the same approach that Facebook has it could be dangerous to the privacy of millions of people around the world. Facebook’s issues need to be brought further into light in order to set a precedent for other social media companies in the future.

  2. Henry Steck November 16, 2018 at 5:58 pm #

    No comments yet on this SW Blog post, so I thought I would hop in. I have written a lot about the “Zuck” on the SW Blog. He and Musk have become memes over the past two years it seems. Whether it is the Zuck smoking meat in his backyard or Musk smoking weed in an interview, this new wave of CEOs seems very different, and in the Russia situation for FB as an example, they face an entirely new wave of crises in their businesses. The question today remains: how will Zuck, Musk & co react as political pressure mounts?

    For some CEOs, the pressure has resulted in partisanship. When it comes to many issues such as immigration reform, this New York Times article mentions how Zuckerberg has leaned to the political left, disagreeing with the president. Musk has also encountered such pressure. One example that comes to mind is Tesla’s plant in Shanghai… Probably not Trump’s favorite Tesla project.

    The New York Times put it perfectly, saying: “Even so, trust in the social network (FB) has sunk, while its pell-mell growth has slowed.” This has been reflected in FB’s stock price, currently $139, far from it’s peak at over $200 per share this passed summer. The public image of social networks is changing both in the US and beyond. All of the sudden the light “a way to connect with friends” message once embodied by FB has transformed into “could proliferate enemy ideas”. $139 per share represents a 31% decline from highs of around $203 obtained in July. Perhaps this market price signifies that the public has lost nearly 1/3 of their trust in FB over the last 5 months. Obviously this is an exaggeration as there are other factors at play, but a perfectly, or at least mostly, efficient market erased 31% of FB’s market cap for a reason.

    Facebook’s leaders may have plugged the leaks for now, but in the future it will be Zuckerberg’s job to protect US interests, even if he disagrees with the president. It is not about democrats and republicans coming together, it is about Americans coming together. There can be no more “deny and deflect” when we hold elections again in 2020.

  3. Joseph Capouch November 16, 2018 at 6:42 pm #

    The story of Facebook has been without a doubt an interesting one, and the part of that story discussed in “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis” is no exception. The efforts put forth by Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg to protect the company, through its various scandals and other events are described here, detailing a side of the social media platform that many users do not pay much attention to. Facebook was founded in 2004, at which time I was about 7 years old. For as long as I can recall, it has been the most popular form of social media among people I know, used for messaging, sharing interests, organizing events, remembering and celebrating birthdays, and simply keeping in touch with the people you know. In my generation, if you do not have a Facebook account, there must be something wrong with you in the eyes of your peers, it has become as necessary and commonplace as having a photo ID, maybe even more so. Details such as these are why the company has become so large. A big side effect of this immense growth is the data that the company has gathered on its users, something that has gained a lot of attention in recent times.
    A part of the story detailed in this article, is with regards to how user data gathered by Facebook has evidently not been as protected, or private as many people seem to have thought. This has been a source of scandals for the company, and is a large part of what put them on the defensive, requiring their leaders such as Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sanders to take action. Attention around this, with this article serving as an example, showcases a more political and business side to Facebook that many users have not, or at least had not been very aware of, including myself. The revealing of this side of the platform has in some ways removed the personal aspect that many users had attached to it. They have been revealed much more as a gigantic company fighting against competitors, involving themselves politically, and just trying to get and maintain a profit like any other company. This, along with the scandal regarding user data, has caused Facebook to lose a lot of trust from the public. In my eyes this is the biggest hit the company has, and could have, taken.
    While Facebook may still be useful for its messaging, sharing, birthday celebrations, and more it is hardly as fundamental as it once was. Other social media platforms, such as Twitter, have grown greatly in popularity. Now a days if someone confesses to not having an account with Facebook, rather than being met with “you’re crazy”, they may just as well be told things such as “you’re probably better off”, or other likewise statements from people who feel as though they’ve been cheated by the company, or simply no longer see them as trustworthy or necessary anymore.

  4. Nicholas Stefanelli November 16, 2018 at 7:54 pm #

    Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and most of all other forms of social media platforms have one common denominator. The platforms they run on are unsecured and do not have the interest of keeping their user’s information private. After reading through the article, I decided to go through some comments from other people to see their perspective on the topic. After reading a few ones that stood out to me was some person said: “they should all be entirely shut down until the software, business models and companies are entirely restructured, reorganized and regulated.” I figured this was not a bad idea if a company could actually do this without harming themselves or us detrimentally. In theory, it would be smart but if it were to happen, actually there would be chaos. The reasons that they never have been shut down is because of the know how to talk and hide things under the carpet. The founders of these companies were all young, naive technologists eager for wealth and recognition who do have the knowledge in national security threat perspective and understand the potential implications of their new app and its possibilities of being hacked. They also know how to weasel their way out of not affecting them though and this is how the save money and put us at risk. Facebook quick adopted the advertising-based traditional media business models to grow their customer bases and wealth quickly, without giving any thought or consideration to the potential downside implications of how others might be able to use this against their platforms users. Now why the government has stepped in but has not really done anything? This is because if they put regulations on companies then they are going to have to abide by them too. The last thing the government wants to do is restrict themselves from private data because how else will they be able to see everything we do without us really recognizing our rights being taken away. The companies know this so their ultimate defense is to “Delay, Deny and Deflect” because they have learned from the best and it is the government.

  5. Jonathan Rodrigues November 17, 2018 at 5:41 pm #

    Facebook is falling. Between scandals and member activity, we no longer view Facebook as the innocent company it used to be. But maybe this is for the better. We have all become so addicted to validation, digital attention, and faux online relationships that life without all of this is hard to imagine, but we did live before and in many ways our online behaviors were far more balanced than they are now. They were meaningful and produced value.
    Let’s imagine what the Internet will be like with no newsfeeds and likes. It will most likely return to far more decentralized group of information based portals and community hubs. True, people will still fall into addictive online behaviors, but one platform will not control how these behaviors are manipulated and exploited. Most Facebook (and Instagram) users don’t know that the ads and posts they see are curated using AI in order to elicit responses and decisions that cause people to stay on Facebook and Instagram longer.
    Remember, Facebook and many of its spinoff companies like Instagram actually turned the Internet into something it was never intended for and that is one giant centralized and controlled platform.
    When all of this is gone, the Internet will once again be decentralized and yet interconnected. In a very eerie sense, this movement towards Internet decentralization will remove a sort of digital veil from upon us. With our decisions and minds returned to us, what will choose to do? In a sense, we may actually use the Internet for something more than just likes, shares, and senseless comments in the hope that we feel more appreciated.
    Perhaps we will simply use the Internet as a tool to enhance real life activities like direct communication, retail, financial services, education, and research, leaving socializing to the real world.

  6. Shaunak Rajurkar November 27, 2018 at 3:47 am #

    Facebook’s resilience through the course of its scandals may not only be the result of it’s internal strength and strategies, but much more likely is the combined result of this and the fact that global markets have emphasized growth in market value over anything else. Investors have been incredibly forgiving of breaches, scandals, and other illegal activity; Elizabeth Holmes’ Theranos is a great example of this. Theranos had their (private) valuation inflated to nearly $10 billion by venture capitalists after many signals of fraudulent behavior from the company in both their financials and in their technology. They claimed specifically to have designed economical hardware capable of conducting blood tests with significantly less blood (requiring between 1/1000th and 1/10000th of the volume currently used). Elizabeth Holmes’ stake in the company was valued at $4.5 billion, but by 2016, this was revalued to be $0 after the FDA found the technology to be completely undeveloped.

    Facebook has been much more competent in its dealings with the federal government – this is much easier when a legitimate product is on the market. The article title perfectly describes the company’s strategy. “Delay, Deny, and Deflect” seems to be the motto. Considering that the average of Senators is 62, it is easy to understand why many older senators had trouble grasping the concepts of Facebook’s structure and breaches. This is no excuse, however. Congress’ incompetence in Facebook’s hearings have demonstrated that they are grossly unqualified to lead the charge on tech regulations. Facebook has been easily able to veer through the lack of scrutiny by both government entities and investors by fostering growth by beating earnings estimates quarter over quarter.

    The greatest trick that Facebook plays on consumers is obfuscating their problems to the public. To this day, the details of the role of Russian hacking and meddling in the 2016 election are still unclear. Facebook has made minimal statements regarding prevention of this in the midterms, and has kept their responses for bad news behind closed doors. One thing is clear though – Facebook is not to be blindly trusted after all of these scandals. Profits and power stand in the way of the consumers’ best interests.

  7. Wilnir Louis November 30, 2018 at 9:01 am #

    This Facebook issue is a prime example of how it might be so easy to initially gain someone’s trust, but it is also easier to destroy and hard to rebuild once it is destroyed. Facebook was once a powerhouse. Everyone loved to go on Facebook and people used it with no care in the world. They would give their data, post pictures, and share their location on the social networking app. The reason that users would do this is that they had a false sense of hope. Users believed that what they did online would be trusted and secured by Facebook and that they would be protected. That hope that users had would be shot down. With speculation that there was Russia-linked activity amongst other issues and concerns throughout the company, the trust in the company by outside users began to decrease. In turn, Facebook’s stock price plummeted and there was a whole backlash. However, even though this issue was more native to Facebook, this is an issue that could affect social media platforms across the slate.
    With the rise of technology and the rise of social media almost being hand and hand, the amount of information that could be received has increased ten-fold. Many apps are including a social aspect within the app one way or another. This could be a good thing because it allows people to connect with friends and family 24/7, no matter the distance. However, it also could be a bad thing because there could be more issues that could happen with the leak of information. Week by week there is another data breach or another case of information being released, and all of these issues are due to the lack of care by companies.
    More times than not, companies are only trying to make a quick buck from consumers. When cases like these happen, you question if the company care genuinely, or if they just care about rebounding for the money. It is up to the consumers to make that distinction. It is also up to the consumers to make sure that they protect themselves as much as possible. Consumers have to make sure that they understand the risks that they are getting into when they use these social sites and put their information out there. That’s the only way that it could work.

  8. Michael Martini November 30, 2018 at 11:42 am #

    This example of Russian activity on Facebook’s site is only another form of proof that social media is very dangerous. It seems as though these foreign invaders taking action on our well-known businesses is proving that it is only a matter of time before things fall through. Facebook is a highly beneficial site to users because it allows us to be well-connected to our family and expand our knowledge highly, but the drawbacks that come with it are quite a risk. This comes into play with Facebook’s care for its users and how far they will go to make sure its users are protected and can safely use what they have to offer. It may not seem like the Russian invasion is a threat to specifically Facebook, but to our country and the people in it itself. Targeting specific people is made easy through sites like Facebook and it can easily allow foreign countries to find out plenty of information about our country. With that being said, Facebook is a great site but just needs a higher form of protection against the outside and unwanted.

Leave a Reply