Facebook’s new PR disaster shows it has a lot of growing up to do

PR agency’s discrediting of firm’s critics by labelling them agents of Soros is dangerous

Behaving like a child: Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Photograph: Lawrence Jackson/The New York Times

Behaving like a child: Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Photograph: Lawrence Jackson/The New York Times

 

To say it has been a bad week for Facebook would be an understatement. The Guardian got it spot on when it described the social network as having turned into “a useful idiot of the right”.

This came after it was revealed in a New York Times article that the company had hired a PR agency to discredit its critics by claiming they were agents of the billionaire George Soros, a frequent subject of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which are ironically usually spread via Facebook.

Mr Soros has received a series of death threats in recent months and was one of those who had a pipe bomb sent to his home in late October.

In a letter addressed to the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, the president of Mr Soros’s Open Society Foundations, Patrick Gaspard, denounced Facebook’s alleged actions.

“The notion that your company, at your direction, actively engaged in the same behaviour to try to discredit people exercising their First Amendment rights to protest Facebook’s role in disseminating vile propaganda is frankly astonishing to me,” wrote Gaspard.

“It’s been disappointing to see how you have failed to monitor hate and misinformation on Facebook’s platform. To now learn that you are active in promoting these distortions is beyond the pale,” he added.

The revelations about Facebook having hired the Republican opposition research firm Definers to go after its critics came in a feature-length article into Facebook’s handling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the spread of false information linked to Russia.

The must-read piece catalogues just how badly Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Sandberg and other top executives behaved in the aftermath of those revelations, outlining a series of aggressive tactics against critics as well as a refusal to accept any fault.

Mark Zuckerberg may have only been a teenager when he founded Facebook but he has now led what is one of the most successful companies in the world for more than a decade. Sandberg, meanwhile, was specifically hired to be “the adult in the room” at the social network.

That both of them continue to behave like children rather than taking responsibility for their actions is not only intolerable but also extremely dangerous.