It took four days for Mark Zuckerberg to finally produce a statement regarding his company’s links to the unravelling and telling expose of Cambridge Analytica.
The Facebook status, a lengthy piece of 935 words had already received 7200 comments from his followers within the first hour of posting, as the world eagerly awaited for the Facebook CEO to then also step up to an interview with CNN late yesterday evening. By this morning, Zuckerberg had completed three interviews, finally apologised for his company’s mistakes, racked up over 51,000 likes on his post and probably much to his relief, saw #DeleteFacebook stop trending on twitter.
The dust has far from settled however and his public appearances brought into question a number of new issues that will, no doubt, press ever deeper into the already alarmed ranks at Facebook.
Firstly Zuckerberg’s Facebook post, though not explicitly apologising for his company’s actions, set out future plans aiming to ensure that there isn’t a repeat of the Cambridge Analytica leak. Zuckerberg relayed promises of forensic investigations into all the platform apps (which is in the millions) whilst also turning his entire attention to the users, claiming ‘we have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you’. It was all very straightforward and direct, yet kind enough to evoke some sympathy from the Facebook cohort imagining a CEO who really cares.
However, he continued:
‘The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today, we have already taken years ago.’
Although it had been acknowledged that Facebook contacted Cambridge Analytica and requested the data to be deleted, of which they were informed it had, this statement is enough to leave you wondering why these important actions were only admitted to in 2018. It also plays into allegations the company had often turned a blind eye to data abuses and backs the reports that Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former Security Chief, who is leaving his position amidst internal conflicts, had pushed for further security transparency – whereas others opposed him.
From unwittingly digging a small hole, Zuckerberg is quick to bounce back and close with yet another empathetic statement that, to a great extent, plays to the image of Facebook making one big, silly mistake – just with the privacy of millions of people – oops.
‘While this specific issue involving Cambridge Analytica should no longer happen with new apps today, that doesn’t change what happened in the past. We will learn from this experience to secure our platform further and make our community safer for everyone going forward’.
With one user responding with a ‘Look Mark, we want to like you. You need to start putting more into protecting the users of your service and not focus on profits so much,’ the innocent, accidental approach played into his hands incredibly well.
However this quickly switched into more aggressive calls from his worldwide audience, as people looked past the seemingly transparent, do-gooding statement and more at speculating how it was impossible for Facebook not to know exactly what had been going on under their noses all this time. By the morning, the top comments in response to Zuckerberg called the CEO out for waiting for a technical disaster before acting on things that were always known about, and questions regarding Facebook’s damage to democracy.
Stripping the tech mogul of his keyboard, the later CNN interview with Laurie Segall also saw a similar discussion detail the company’s steps to how this can be prevented yet also the admittance of how mammoth a task this is. This point actually resounded within all of his interviews, like with Wired, despite the very unusual metaphor:
‘There’s a certain amount of dust that can get into the chicken as its going through the processing, and it’s not a large amount, it needs to be a very small amount, and I think there’s some understanding that you’re not going to be able to fully solve every single issue if you’re trying to feed hundreds of millions of people — or, in our case, build a community of 2 billion people’.
Throughout his CNN interview, Zuckerberg spoke of transparency, of scouring through data apps to oust and forensically investigate other suspicious contenders and constantly reiterating his company’s planned efforts to prevent yet another data breach. Finally, he ‘was really sorry that this happened’.
The fifteen-minute piece was polished and made clear that in 2015 that the data had been acquired by Cambridge Analytica and Facebook certainly knew about it. Resultant probing about why the company didn’t act quicker was met with a suggestion that he had placed too much trust in the developers. Zuckerberg then attempted to tease a little more empathy – of course, he never thought his college dream would eventually make him a contender to ‘protect the integrity of elections from fear of other governments’.
The continuing conversation reached an interesting pause when Segall asked whether the CEO would testify in Congress, should the issue reach that point. ‘I’m happy to if its the right thing to do’, replied Zuckerberg, before reeling off that there are also other people who are up to that specific job. What’s interesting is the complete, almost word for word reiteration of this answer he also gave to Recode journalist Kara Swisher.
‘Typically, there is someone at Facebook whose full time job is going to be focused on whatever the area is. Whether it’s legal compliance, or security. So, I think most the time if what they’re really focused on is getting access to the person who is going to be most knowledgeable on that thing, there will be someone better.’
Having rehashed the statement a number of times for different publications, you’ve got to give credit to the public speaking tips that had been drilled into him. What comes from this is that it’s incredibly unlikely that he will step up to the mark and testify in Congress – he’s even explicitly said this to every interviewer – let’s not hold our breaths.
In closing comments with the Facebook CEO, Segall quite frustratingly faltered with probing and instead asked about how Facebook had changed since he had become a father. Alas, a faint smile lights up at the corners of his face as the audience is lured to the personable, amiable Zuckerbergian image rather than one that shows him as the overseer of one of the world’s most powerful political weapons.
Alongside appearing to dodge answers about whether Facebook had an impact on the 2016 American elections, his approach to future regulation within the majority of interviews also illuminated an interesting insight into the mentality of the Facebook team. Rather than explicitly suggest that there was a demand for more or less regulation, instead he brought up the question of what ‘is the right regulation’ for technology. Whilst failing to mention important data protection legalities such as the GDPR that will be introduced to European companies later this year, his statements however doesn’t mean he opposes the notion of regulation entirely.
‘I feel fundamentally uncomfortable sitting here in California at an office, making content policy decisions for people around the world’.
By looking once again at Zuckerberg’s response to Kara Swisher, it can be read through his reluctance to make gradiose decisions that effect vast swathes of the world, that a call for the decision making to be divided between regulators and Facebook might apply the right amount of leverage to appease all of the involved parties.
One final note to consider is that all of yesterday’s interviews in reality were tinged with the awkward, once arguably a likeable, trait of a college graduate who created Facebook turned billionaire and CEO and who should, by now, have grown out of that phase. In short, Zuckerberg’s statements were enough to appease the hungry dogs for a short while, but the company should still batter down its hatches as the storm continues to relentlessly pry at the platform.
The interviews and statement ticked most of the right boxes and truly allowed his avid interview training to shine through. Though what this really speaks to now, is the blatant binding of technology and politics. The open admittance that Facebook is a contender in political decisions around the world, although always quite obvious, has now been sealed in stone and so has Zuckerberg’s role as one with hefty political weight. As a globally connected, internet-savvy society we are already deep into a politically fuelled realm, that even the technology giants weren’t really prepared for. More action will certainly be demanded across all technology platforms, but so too will be the rise of new campaigning methods, new apps and a formidable – ever enduring battle – to oust the bad agents before they profit from changing the world.
Is Facebook really up to the task? Let’s get Zuckerberg in front of a TV camera again, atleast.