As you know, I’m something of a Facebook skeptic. A Journal article from last night gives me more reason to think the company’s future is considerably darker than most people realize. According to Deepa Seetharaman, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is now telling top executives that the company is now “at war” and he needs to run the company accordingly. From the article …
During times of peace, executives can move more slowly and ensure that everybody is on board with key decisions, he said during the June meeting, according to people familiar with the remarks. But with Facebook under siege from lawmakers, investors and angry users, he needed to act more decisively, the people said.
If Facebook is “at war,” who exactly is it at war with? According to that passage, it seems like the answer is basically everybody. Regulators, lawmakers, investors, users. This gets to what seems like an essential problem. Facebook has long presented itself as a platform about friendships and community, one that in the nature of things revolves around trust, since that is the glue that binds those two amorphous things together.
Only months ago, Facebook launched a new advertising campaign on its own behalf called “Here Together.” The point was to remind everybody what they liked about Facebook before it became synonymous with fake news, Russian information operations, facilitator of ethnic cleansings or semi-genocides and pervasive privacy violations.
You don’t have to be a Facebook groupie to see some real truth in this. For many of us the first experience with Facebook was a way you could keep in touch with people you might never have been in touch with again — friends from high school, college, different phases of your life you’d separated from because of a move or a change of a job. You get the idea. This was a real thing about Facebook, all the other shortcomings or schlockiness notwithstanding. Unsurprisingly, Facebook wanted to get back to that, or at least wanted to get back to people thinking of Facebook like that.
Apparently, that didn’t take. So now it’s “war.” “War” I would humbly submit is simply not brand consonant — to use the ad world lingo — with a company that says it’s about keeping you in touch with your friends and your grandparents, let alone one that aspires to bring the world together in some sort of high impact kumbaya.
Facebook’s core problem is that it was a platform based on trust. I don’t mean it acted in a trustworthy way. But it facilitated things that were at core about trust and relationships. So it was in the trust business, regardless of what its corporate culture may actually have been about. Having failed at that and not convinced people it’s trustworthy it now seems committed to a corporate version of acting out, going to war with its own stakeholders, whether those are users, investors, the governments of the countries in which it operates. Fundamentally, this is a company at war with itself.