What would you do if you were falsely accused--in front of almost 40 million people? That happened to Facebook yesterday morning when President Donald Trump tweeted, "Facebook was always anti-Trump." The tweet went on to claim that the networks, The Washington Post, and The New York Times were all anti-Trump as well. "Collusion?" it asks.
The tweet comes amidst revelations that fake Facebook accounts originating in Russia bought at least $100,000 of Facebook ads, and that Facebook is cooperating with federal investigators on the matter. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to respond via Facebook.
That response is a flawless example of how to respond to criticism, especially unwarranted and hostile criticism. Here's why:
1. He doesn't actually respond.
If you're like most people, your first instinct when faced with an accusation is to deny that the accusation is true. That instinct is usually the wrong one because it puts you in a tug-of-war with your opponent, with each of you claiming your position is true and the other person's is false. Since most of the time there's no proof one way or the other, this could go on forever, benefiting no one.
Zuckerberg's approach is much smarter. We know it's a response to Trump's tweet only because it begins, "I want to respond to President Trump's tweet this morning claiming Facebook has always been against him." But then, he doesn't respond. Instead, he goes on to discuss Facebook's overall role in the presidential election without specifically commenting on Trump's accusation.
2. He invites you to see the big picture.
One of the best ways to deal with criticism is to widen your viewpoint to take in the larger context. Zuckerberg does this beautifully with the rest of his commentary:
Every day I work to bring people together and build a community for everyone. We hope to give all people a voice and create a platform for all ideas.
Trump says Facebook is against him. Liberals say we helped Trump. Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don't like. That's what running a platform for all ideas looks like.
This is just brilliant. Zuckerberg is saying that the prevalence of fake news, outrageous claims, and bombastic opinions is a feature, not a bug. It's simply what happens when you give 2 billion people all over the world a voice of their own. He may be right about that.
3. He focuses on the positive.
The data-driven Zuckerberg writes: "The facts suggest the greatest role Facebook played in the 2016 election was different from what most are saying." He goes on to list how internet technology and social media made the 2016 election different from earlier ones, with billions of conversations covering every important topic and candidates able to speak to voters directly.
And then there was Facebook's get out the vote effort, which helped 2 million people register to vote. "To put that in perspective, that's bigger than the get out the vote efforts of the Trump and Clinton campaigns put together," he writes. "That's a big deal."
4. He apologizes for something else entirely.
Without addressing Trump's accusations particularly, Zuckerberg does offer an apology for a comment he made in the days right after the election. In an onstage interview at a technology conference, he said this:
Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way--I think is a pretty crazy idea. Voters make decisions based on their lived experience.
Now Zuckerberg seeks to walk back the tone of that comment, if not its substance, with an it's-not-what-I-said-it's-how-I-said-it apology.
After the election, I made a comment that I thought the idea misinformation on Facebook changed the outcome of the election was a crazy idea. Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it. This is too important an issue to be dismissive.
Then he reiterates his argument that Facebook's overall effect on the campaign was much more positive than negative. He ends with a promise to keep fighting fake news while giving more people a voice.
The whole message is a beautiful example of highly skilled communication and emotional intelligence. Some commenters on the post suggest that Zuckerberg would be smarter if he didn't rise to the bait and instead refrained from commenting or responding.
Perhaps they have a point. But if he had to respond, this was absolutely the best way to do it.