Facebook's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg isn't happy with the reputation of the company he founded in a dorm room 17 years ago. Despite the fact that it has earned him unthinkable wealth, it has come at a cost, and it's making him look bad.
Over the past few years, Facebook has been at the center of an increasing number of scandals, controversies, and legal battles over how it handles content on its platform and the personal information of its users. Time and time again, the company has issued public apologies as it tried to explain its perspective on what went wrong, and how it was trying to make its platform better.
Lately, however, Facebook has taken a different approach. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the company has embarked on what it calls Project Amplify. The plan involves using the News Feed to show users pro-Facebook content and news stories, in an attempt to burnish its image and reputation against its critics.
In addition, The Times reported that the company has intentionally decided not to apologize anymore because some executives and company leaders believed it had left the company "more exposed" than its tech brethren, especially Google and Facebook.
Interestingly, the move comes alongside a week-long series of scathing reports from The Wall Street Journal that Facebook knows exactly how bad it is for people's mental health and self-image, as well as society at large. Still, Facebook choose not to make changes because changes would affect the company's bottom line.
I can remember, as a child, my mom telling me that she didn't want me to keep apologizing. Instead, she wanted me to think before I acted, and change my behavior. If my brothers and I (there were four of us) were a little too rambunctious and broke things, it really did no good to apologize. Instead, she wanted us to be more responsible and not run through the house like crazy people.
The point is that if you find yourself apologizing all the time, but you aren't actually changing your behavior, not only are you clearly not sorry, you're also acting like a child. The thing is, we expect bad behavior from teenagers who haven't fully matured. On the other hand, we expect a little more from grown adults who happen to run the most influential platform on the planet.
In a blog post over the weekend, the company's head of global affairs, Nick Clegg, took issue with The Journal's reporting, writing:
Facebook understands the significant responsibility that comes with operating a global platform. We take it seriously, and we don't shy away from scrutiny and criticism. But we fundamentally reject this mischaracterization of our work and impugning of the company's motives.
Except, no one who doesn't work for Facebook believes that to be true. Facebook doesn't behave as though it understands its responsibility. It seems to think that its global platform is an idyllic place where people's lives are made better through community and connection, as opposed to a festering pool of hate, controversy, and misinformation.
Perhaps, even worse, it does all of that while monetizing the activity and information of its users.
The thing that never ceases to amaze me is that Facebook genuinely doesn't seem to get it. It seems to think that its decision not to apologize is some version of taking the moral high ground, as if its image problem isn't that it was wrong in the first place, but that it looked weak for apologizing.
"These stories have contained deliberate mischaracterizations of what we are trying to do," wrote Clegg about The Journal's reports. Interestingly, that sentence alone highlights what might be Facebook's biggest problem. It thinks that it is misunderstood--that it isn't getting credit for what it's "trying to do." Instead, it is facing criticism for the consequences of what it is actually doing, whether that's what it intended or not.
If Facebook is sincerely concerned that it is getting bad publicity for its behavior, perhaps it's time for a little self-reflection. Perhaps it's time to look at how the thing it built is affecting the world and change it for the better. That doesn't seem likely, but if Facebook is tired of being criticized or having to apologize for its "move fast and break things" mentality, it might want to try, you know, not breaking things for a while.