In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is in some seriously hot water.

The scandal - in which data mining firm Cambridge Analytica gained improper access to more than 50 million Facebook users' data, which they may have used to unethically influence voters during the 2016 election cycle - broke on Saturday in The New York Times and The Guardian, and it had immediate and epic results for Facebook.

The social media platform's stock value went down 8%, and then another 5%, while a "Delete Facebook" movement started and gathered momentum around the globe.

After 5 days, on Wednesday Zuckerberg wrote a Facebook post addressing the scandal on his personal Facebook page, and then did the interview rounds on a series of media outlets, including CNN.

He offered a true mea culpa, and for the most part, it was an excellent example of corporate leadership. Here's what worked, and the one thing that was missing.

Zuckerberg admitted fault

Zuckerberg didn't waste his listeners' time by being on the defensive. This is a huge deal, and it strikes right at the heart of something that's on countless social media users' minds: internet privacy.

Zuckerberg admitted fault right away, saying, "This was a major breach of trust, and I'm really sorry this happened."

Making this admission up front is not only the right thing to do - it's also a much more effective way of communicating. When you take ownership of what you did wrong, it allows those who feel wronged to let their guard down and actually listen to what you have to say.

He took "the buck stops here" attitude - mostly

Any good leader knows that "the buck stops here" - in other words, that if you're in charge, you're ultimately responsible for the ups and downs of your company.

Zuckerberg said on CNN, "We have a basic responsibility to protect people's data. If we can't do that, then we don't deserve to have the opportunity to serve people."

Now, he could have been more explicit about his own personal responsibility. Perhaps an "I" here and there instead of a "We" would have been a good choice. However, the fact that he appeared on camera and spoke with reporters, which is extremely rare for Zuckerberg, does go a long way toward showing that he wants to be accountable for the happenings at his mammoth company. He also said he would testify before Congress if that's "the right thing to do" (which I'll take to mean that he will, but he really doesn't want to. Then again, who is ever excited about being questioned on their business practices by the U.S. Congress?).

And, to be fair, Facebook has 25,000 employees, including a leadership team that works closely with Zuckerberg. The blame for the Cambridge Analytica scandal does go further than just Facebook's CEO.

He offered solutions

A vital element of any good reaction to a business scandal is to offer solutions and show how your company is going to learn from what happened.

Zuckerberg outlined several ways that Facebook is now being proactive in combating this kind of data misuse in the future. They're adding security staff, implementing AI that can identify bad actors, examining apps that have broad access to users' data, and automatically deleting apps that users haven't opened in three months, among other things.

Time will tell whether he and Facebook have gotten ahead of those bad actors who want to take user data and use it for their own nefarious ends. But these steps are an important start.  

He seemed sincere

During his CNN interview, Zuckerberg seemed sincerely shaken and sorry that Facebook users' data had been misused.

While this ought to be simply a given, consider the CEOs and business leaders you've seen give interviews who come off as cocky, unconcerned, or flip. Zuckerberg runs a company worth $500 billion in Silicon Valley, where the term "brilliant jerk" broke into our lexicon. It would be easy for him to assume that overblown demeanor - but thankfully, for us and for him, he didn't.

What was missing? Speed

While Zuckerberg, in general, did a good job discussing the Cambridge Analytica scandal and how Facebook is working to prevent something like this from happening again, there's one thing that was missing from his response: speed.

It took 5 days for us to hear anything from the CEO, and in this landscape, that's simply too long. While it's true that this is a complex issue that requires serious thought and a measured response, Zuckerberg could have offered at least something - perhaps a post stating that he was sorry for the breach of trust, and that the company was taking it extremely seriously - earlier on in the process.

Overall, Mark Zuckerberg gets an A- on his response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But words are cheap - it's what happens next at Facebook that will really matter.

Published on: Mar 22, 2018
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