Mark Zuckerberg marked his return from paternity leave Thursday with a concerted effort to put lipstick on the pig of Facebook’s role in swaying the 2016 presidential election. In a Facebook live address from an earth-toned, glass-walled office, the chief executive laid out a series of steps the company will take to “protect election integrity and make sure that Facebook is a force for good in democracy”. This proactive approach to a growing public relations problem is par for the course for Facebook. The company has a tendency to respond to negative press, and with US lawmakers making noise about the $100,000 in Facebook ads purchased by a Russian influence operation during the election, Zuckerberg may hope that he can pre-empt regulation. But the problem for Zuckerberg is not just that pigs don’t look good in lipstick. The problem is that more and more people are waking up to the fact that Facebook is less little piggy than it is out-of-control Tyrannosaurus Rex whose creator thought he was building a fun and profitable theme park until it was too late.
Facebook did not grow into a $500bn business whose CEO’s statements have become this century’s fireside chats by being “a force for good in democracy”. Nor was it by “making the world more open and connected” (its first mission statement) and “bringing the world closer together” (its new mission statement).
Facebook grew to its current size, influence and wealth by selling advertisements. And it sold those advertisements by convincing users to provide it with incredibly intimate information about our lives so that advertisers could in turn use that information to convince us to do things.
Some advertisers want us to buy things. Some want us to attend events. And some want us to vote a certain way.