Blaming the message won’t kill the story

Its the oldest PR trick in the book for times of trouble: blame the communication, not the activity.

And it can usually be smelled a mile away.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s attempt to dismiss the social network’s controversial psychological experiment into its users moods as ‘poorly communicated’ is a ready example.

In her words:

“This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.”

Two days earlier Facebook Data Scientist Adam Kramer had posted on a similar tack:

“I can understand why some people have concerns about [the study], and my co-authors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused.”

You’d probably not guess from these statements that Facebook had not garnered the consent of users. Which is unethical and possibly illegal in some markets. The social network is now being investigated in several jurisdictions for potential abuse of data privacy.

Facebook data science, as interpreted by Stephen Wolfram

Facebook data science, as interpreted by Stephen Wolfram

 

Was Facebook really unaware of its actions? After all, the study was conducted by professional researchers.

It seems unlikely, even if there was apparently little formal oversight of the social network’s data science team.

So it tried to spin its way out of trouble, blaming the description and communication of the study rather than its nature.

In today’s ultra-transparent environment, the truth will out.

Facebook should know this more than most. After all, it is a key protoganist of this open, borderless world.

It should practice what it preaches.

 

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