The NYT article exposing the poor leadership at Facebook regarding its failure to do anything about the election interference in 2016 despite reports that some people in the company had an idea that something fishy was going on is just another example of how the company continues to abdicate its responsibilities to its users. This abdication of responsibility by Facebook isn’t really much of a surprise if you think about just how many times the company has neglected user privacy and well-being in its quest for higher levels of engagement and ARPU (Average Revenue Per User).
At its core, Facebook wants you to spend as much time on the site (and its properties) as possible. They want you to be highly engaged so they can sell more ads and make more money. That’s in their DNA. As Om Malik so eloquently put it earlier this year:
At its very core, every policy, every decision, every strategy is based on growth (at any cost) and engagement (at any cost). More growth and more engagement means more data — which means the company can make more advertising dollars, which gives it a nosebleed valuation on the stock market, which in turn allows it to remain competitive and stay ahead of its rivals.Om Malik, OM.co
Data is the name of the game for Facebook. That’s how its business model works and until that changes, that will always be the case.
Now, all that said, it doesn’t excuse the lack of [good] leadership at Facebook. Both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg should be embarrassed by the company’s handling of the election meddling issues as well as its handling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And to be honest, based on the NYT reporting, I think Sandberg should be fired. But that’s a different topic than I want to delve into right this minute. What really is bugging me about Facebook lately is how it takes bad news being published about the company to get any kind of reaction or progress.
For example, it was only after the NYT piece that Zuckerberg announced in a 5,000 word letter that Facebook will change its News Feed algorithm (the change has yet to fully rolled out for the entire user base) to demote content that comes close to violating its policies prohibiting misinformation, hate speech, violence, bullying, clickbait so it’s seen by fewer people even it’s highly engaging.
This is actually a much welcomed change and one that does indeed break Facebook’s DNA. Here’s why: the change could massively reduce the reach of incendiary political groups, fake news peddlers, and more of the worst stuff on Facebook. It allows the company to hide what it doesn’t want on the network without taking a hard stance it must defend about the content breaking the rules.
Here’s my question: clearly Facebook has been working on these News Feed improvements for some amount of time (I mean, I doubt Zuck just whipped it up out of thin air), why did it take the NYT report to be published for it to be announced?
And here’s my cynical answer (this is purely speculative): They wanted to go as long as they could without announcing it and rolling it out across the entire site. Why? Because of the reasons we talked about earlier: higher engagement means more money.
We’ve seen this type of reactionary response by Facebook all too often. It didn’t matter as much when it was a smaller company. But it’s not a small startup anymore and its reach is so vast that it matters now more than ever. It matters that the site was involved in data breach affecting millions of users. It matters that site was the breeding ground for election interference in 2016. It pains me to say this but while we’re at it, it may be time for Zuckerberg to go too (at least as CEO, he can remain Chairman of the board).
Facebook leadership is currently cancerous and something needs to change, if for no other reason than it would be beneficial for the company’s long-term survival.