Despite his efforts at damage control in the last one year, or so, Mark Zuckerberg’s woes appear to be only compounding rather than easing up.
The Facebook founder, CEO, and chairman is under tremendous pressure from investors to relinquish his chairmanship in the wake of a recent NYT report accusing his social networking site of hiring a Washington-based consultant, Definers Public Affairs, to malign its critics and competitors.
One of the investors baying for the beleaguered CEO’s blood, is Jonas Kron, a senior vice president at Trillium Asset Management that has a stake worth £8.5 million in Facebook.
“Facebook is behaving like it’s a special snowflake. It’s not. It is a company and companies need to have a separation of chair and CEO,” Kron was quoted by the Guardian as saying.
Arjuna Capital’s Natasha Lamb – another Facebook investor – suggested that one man with two roles, that of chairman and CEO, meant that “Facebook can avoid properly fixing problems inside the company,” said the Guardian report.
“A company with Facebook’s massive reach and influence requires robust oversight and that can only be achieved through an independent chair who is empowered to provide critical checks on company leadership,” Facebook investor Scott Stringer – the New York City comptroller – was quoted by Business Insider as saying.
According to the NYT report, “Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros.”
The NYT investigation also revealed that the Menlo Park giant didn’t even spare its business relationships, “lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.”
The report went on to claim that a Definers affiliate called NTK Network – a conservative news site – ran dozens of articles attacking tech giants Apple and Google for indulging in “unsavory business practices.”
In fact, one particular story went to the extent of calling Apple CEO Tim Cook “hypocritical” for criticizing Facebook over privacy concerns, when the Cupertino-based company itself collects “reams of data from users,” said the NYT report.
Another story on the NTK site tried to downplay the Russian impact on the 2014 US presidential election through Facebook.
Definers also targeted billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros, portraying him as anti-Semitic and “the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.”
It was, presumably, in retaliation to Soros’ speech at the World Economic Forum in January, where he had unleashed a scathing attack on Facebook and Google, calling them “internet monopolies” with “neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions.”
A day after the NYT article was published, Facebook announced the termination of its contract with Definers but refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing on the company’s part as suggested in NYT article.
In a statement released on Nov 15, Facebook said:
“The New York Times is wrong to suggest that we ever asked Definers to pay for or write articles on Facebook’s behalf – or to spread misinformation.
“Our relationship with Definers was well known by the media – not least because they have on several occasions sent out invitations to hundreds of journalists about important press calls on our behalf.
“Definers did encourage members of the press to look into the funding of “Freedom from Facebook,” an anti-Facebook organization.
“The intention was to demonstrate that it was not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but supported by a well-known critic of our company. To suggest that this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue.”
While an embattled Zuckerberg was still reeling from the NYT assault, another damaging piece by Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan came along to add to the man’s miseries.
Calling him an incapable leader of “the broken behemoth that is Facebook,” Sullivan wrote that Zuckerberg hides, denies, blame-shifts and “speaks in the worst kind of fuzzy corporate clichés.”
Citing what she called “two stunning pieces of journalism,” including the NYT story and another by feature writer Eli Saslow in the Washington Post, she said that Facebook is like a “rudderless ship sailing toward the apocalypse — and we’re all along for the ride.”
All of this, essentially, goes back to the “data breach” scandal involving British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica which surfaced earlier this year.
The company, reportedly, harvested the data of some 50 million Facebook users to manipulate its client Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Cambridge Analytica, however, denied any wrongdoing on its part in regard to the alleged breach.
According to Facebook, Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge University professor, used an app on its platform to collect information from 270,000 users on the pretext of a “personality test” – which the users volunteered for – and then, in a clear breach of trust, shared the data with Cambridge Analytica.
The consultancy, in turn, used it to unfairly benefit Trump’s 2016 campaign; not only that, Kogan even shared the data of the volunteers’ friends.
“The claim that this is a data breach is completely false,” Facebook vice president and General Counsel Paul Grewal said at the time.
“Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent, he said.
“People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked,” he said in the company’s defense.
Despite investors calling for his head, Zuckerberg is adamant to stick around because he thinks it’s a bad idea and would be detrimental for the company.
“I think we’re doing the right things to fix the issues. I think, unfortunately, when you’re building something of this scale, oftentimes, putting in place the solutions can take a long time,” Business Insider quoted him as saying.
“And I don’t think that me or anyone else could come in and snap our fingers and have these issues resolved in a quarter or half a year. This is not the first time that we’ve had to deal with big issues for the company,” he told the financial and business news website
“This stuff is painful. I certainly don’t want to be – don’t love that we’re in a position where we aren’t delivering the quality that we want to be delivering every day.
“But to some degree, you have to know that you’re on the path that you’re doing the right things and then allow for some time for the teams to actually execute and get the stuff working the way that we all know that it needs to be and to the standard that people expect.”