In mid-March, when allegations surfaced that Facebook had facilitated the unethical mining and distribution of up to 87 million users’ data, many saw it as a hovering second foot in the grave of the social network. While platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube continue to mature and evolve, Facebook had seemingly become the antiquated grandfather of the social media family; respected for its longevity, but ultimately, somewhat dated as a platform and well past its glory days. But, despite this seemingly serious blow to both the image and reputation of the brand, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have proven that wisdom is a quality earned through age.
As we now know, Facebook users’ data was collected through an app on the site managed by a University of Cambridge professor, which allowed him to collect and store data on users’ locations and interests. This information was later distributed to third parties like Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm based in the United Kingdom, which was a violation of Facebook’s rules. It was eventually revealed that Cambridge Analytica was one of the firms that worked on Donald Trump’s successful 2016 presidential campaign, causing many to cry foul that their information had been misused and prompting the hashtag #quitfacebook in protest of the scandal.
Despite all this, when Facebook’s first quarter earnings for 2018 were recently announced, they came in ahead of expectations, reporting a revenue of $11.97 billion, mainly from ad sales. This was far higher than the $11.4 billion revenue that had been previously anticipated by the company. It’s no understatement to say that a data breach of this size, involving such heated issues as online privacy and politics, had the potential to make Facebook’s first quarter a truly dismal one.
So why didn’t it? For one thing, Facebook acted fast. Shortly after the story broke, Zuckerberg himself apologized for not doing more to protect users’ information and acknowledged that Facebook also should have done a better job in doing so. He also took out ads in several British and American newspapers to express regret for the situation, with a promise to improve security measures and increase transparency.
Next, the Facebook CEO headed to Washington, D.C. where he was grilled by congress about everything from Facebook’s current competitors, to the protections provided by their user agreement, to the company’s business model. Coverage of Zuckerberg’s testimony was widespread, and aside from many pointing out his awkward composure, he managed to answer Congress’s questions candidly and to the best of his ability. He reiterated his business’s commitment to maintaining user privacy and noted that the company is still investigating how Facebook’s apps used the collected data and how improvements can be made in the future. He appeared to be honest in his answers, which in turn helped to humanize the enormous company and put a face to its continued apologies. By the end of what must have been an arduous hearing, Zuckerberg felt more comfortable being the center of attention. After a lengthy two-hour questioning period, he quipped that he could “do a few more” and was met with chuckles from surrounding attendees of the hearing, mainly reporters and members of the media. This comfort hopefully speaks to his cautious optimism for the future of his company.
Even with the relatively painless appearance Zuckerberg made in front of Congress, there are more than a few hurdles that Facebook will have to deal with in the near future. More hearings and investigations by both North American and British institutions are likely in Facebook’s future, and the company will have to work hard to continue to save face for both the sake of its advertisers (it’s main source of income) and its users, for without them, there would be no reason for advertisers to finance Facebook. The company will also have to keep a close eye on the situation so as not to feel the aftershock of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in its second quarter.
If anything is to be learned from the situation that Facebook is currently managing, it’s that time is of the essence in a crisis of this nature, and that honestly (or at least the perception of honestly) is always the best policy. Only time will tell if Facebook is able to properly bounce back and continue into the future alongside other social media heavy hitters of its age.