Facebook continues to suffer the consequences of two years of crisis Y drama internal The last bad news has been a long reportage of the New York Times -prepared for six months by five journalists and with more than 50 interviews- where it is evident that Facebook, despite its rhetoric, behaves like one more great company: growth and its prestige, above all.
The New York Times He revealed that the reaction of the company's number 2, Sheryl Sandberg, to the Russian investigation was to minimize it. I wanted to avoid linking the name of Russia with the success of Donald Trump so as not to anger Republicans. At the beginning of 2017, the intelligence agencies had already announced that President Putin himself had ordered a influence campaign to help choose Trump. Facebook published a report in April 2017 and did not cite Russia. It was not until September, when the Russian campaign on Facebook with advertisements and viral posts was already blatant, when Zuckerberg decided to face it.
The company disputes the intensity and deadlines of the New York Times: "I have said many times that we were too slow to stop the Russian interference, suggesting that we were not interested in knowing the truth, or hiding what we knew is simply not true," Zuckerberg said at a telephone press conference on Thursday.
Facebook's former security chief, Alex Stamos, said on Twitter that no one had prevented him from investigating the Russian campaign. But the real question is whether his work was diluted. its thread on Twitter it does not clarify the background, although it distributes faults for all, also for the media for publishing stories about the emails of the campaign of Hillary Clinton without caring that they came from the Russian intelligence. Stamos also did not clarify if his settlement agreement with Facebook includes avoiding criticizing them.
The reaction to the Russian campaign was not the worst revelation of the report of the Times. The most disastrous news was the hiring of a public relations firm, Definers Public Affairs, to publicize the alleged dark funding of activists against the company – Freedom from Facebook, for example – or criticize some of its rivals, such as Apple.
Zuckerberg said he learned that Facebook worked with Definers when reading the New York Times: "Those are typical Washington tactics," he said. That same day he broke the contract with Definers. The information is, at best, embarrassing. Definers works at the limit of misinformation. It has a website, NTK Network, with 120,000 followers on Facebook, where it publishes stories that often replicate other conservative publications with more traffic. Facebook therefore fought with one hand on its platform the expansion of fake news and, with the other, encouraged them against their rivals.
The great rival they allegedly accused of funding Freedom from Facebook is George Soros, a constant target of anti-Semitic campaigns. In his statement on the report of the New York Times, Facebook admitted this goal with Definers: "The intention was to show that it was not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as they said, but supported by a critic of the well-known company. [Soros]. To suggest that this is an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and false. "
The president of the Open Society Foundation, Patrick Gaspard, funded by Soros, had already responded to the information of the Times with a letter to Sandberg, number 2: "There is a concerted conservative effort to demonize George Soros and his foundations, which I direct," he wrote. "The idea that your company was actively involved in that same behavior to discredit people exercising their right to protest the role of Facebook in disseminating vile propaganda is frankly amazing to me," he added.
And now that?
The revelations are serious, but their consequences can be worse. Sheryl Sandberg had worked in Democratic administrations. The report suggests that Democratic politicians had been less aggressive with Facebook. The news caused on Thursday an avalanche of criticism from Congress that can lead to the greatest fear for Facebook: regulation. If politicians dare, there are two ways to stop Facebook: a more complex one, which is getting involved in legislating the functioning of the social network. Another more direct and definite one: forcing Facebook to dismember itself and get rid of its future gold mines, Instagram and WhatsApp.
Until now, the argument was that the best option was to pressure Facebook to regulate itself. That was partly the content of the Zuckerberg press conference on Thursday. He announced two novelties that can change the direction of the company, but that were buried by the questions about the Times.
First, his algorithm was going to stop rewarding the most sensational content, which he explained with this remarkable admission: "One of the great problems of social networks is that, when left unchecked, people get disproportionately hooked on the most sensational content. It is not a new phenomenon, it is widespread on cable TV and has been a basic feature of the tabloids: if it is scaled, it can undermine the quality of public discourse and lead to polarization. quality of our services. " It remains to be seen how artificial intelligence detects and degrades these contents on each user's Facebook page, but the intention is to change the network as we know it. Zuckerberg compared, in fact, the operation of Facebook to a tabloid.
The second news that gave Zuckerberg is the creation of a Supreme Court of Facebook that is the one who decides on the withdrawal or not of content debatable. The intention of Zuckerberg is to publish the opinions of this new body. The goal is to be up and running during 2019.
The case of Facebook illustrates the maturity of the technological giants. They can no longer defend that their great mission is "making the world more open and connected" is intrinsically good. More when it is obvious that the company is focused on doing what companies do best: make money. When Facebook has had to choose between growing and growing or being more transparent, sincere or humble, it has chosen the first option. Now Facebook receives the treatment reserved for governments or large companies: suspicions, suspicions, requests for responsibility. The new status It can harm you with the morale of its workers or the ability to hire young talents wanting to change the world.
But not everything is only bad: if you manage to get around the worst consequences, your relevance points which is closer to becoming a stable and dominant company for years.