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This year has been a hot mess for Facebook. It’s actually getting tough to keep track of the controversies! The latest came this week, as the social media giant admitted that photos of up to 6.8 million users could have been disclosed because of a software bug.
Granted, Facebook continues to grow its user base, despite the privacy problems. Yet Wall Street is getting antsy. Since July, the shares have plunged from $210 to $144.
“Facebook rose to success at a time when most people made clear how little they cared about privacy – we would post anything, and we enjoyed the freedom and the sense of connection,” said Dr. Mike Lloyd, who is the CTO of RedSeal. “Unfortunately, like a vine growing up a building, Facebook has spent years attaching itself to the way people used to behave. Its business model depends on people remaining incautious, and insensitive to privacy issues. But people are changing as we encounter more of the downsides of social networks. We are getting more suspicious and less trusting.”
Yet all this is not to imply that things are hopeless for Facebook. The fact is that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has – since 2004 – been quite adept at dealing with major challenges. He has fended off many fierce competitors (like MySpace, Friendster and Snap), pulled off smart acquisitions (such as for Instagram and WhatsApp) and made a wrenching transition from the desktop to mobile.
Then what should Zuckerberg do now? What are the strategies to pursue? Well, first of all, he needs to focus much more on transparency. A good start would be to provide a full accounting of what happened in the 2016 election.
“Facebook’s response to this crisis — described by reporters as ‘delay, deny and deflect’ — is where Facebook crossed ethical lines,” said Eric Silverberg, who is the CEO and co-founder of SCRUFF. “There is only one way out of this: Own your mistakes, apologize, and publish a complete and candid account of what happened, who knew what, and when. Rather than openly explain what went wrong, Zuckerberg and Facebook have chosen instead to allow all bad news to drip out one story at a time, each time ignoring or attacking the story. This strategy simply adds fuel to the fire of skepticism and prolongs the public shaming they now endure.”
Next, Facebook needs to focus on clarifying and enforcing its censorship policies. For the most part, the company has been too reactive and even random – which only adds to the problems.
“Facebook needs to recognize that its mission of ‘connecting the world’ can have disastrous — even if unintentional – outcomes,” said Silverberg. “A clear content policy is the only way to achieve lasting stability for their platform, even if this means that some people will be alienated and leave. If that means radical openness with persistent harassment, fine; if that means a sanitized and restricted ‘walled garden,’ fine. Just decide.”
Finally, Facebook should aggressively leverage its technology infrastructure and talented engineers in a “moon shot” effort. In other words, look at the current situation as the company did with the challenges of transitioning to mobile.
“Facebook, like so many of the other social media giants, continues to dig itself into a hole too deep for human hands to dig themselves out of,” said Richard French, who is the CRO of Kryon. “Utilizing AI and robotics would mean that Facebook will reduce the room for human error. The company is facing a global crisis of mistrust yet still largely relies on humans to flag and review content. A quick solution would be to implement AI to automate processes and take appropriate actions without human error.”
Tom serves on the advisory boards of tech startups and can be reached at his site.
December 15, 2018 at 12:20PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs