First, while I know it’s naïve to think that large respected PR firms like Burson-Marsteller wouldn’t take on a project that is an active smear campaign, they are just as much to blame in taking Facebook’s money to pull a stunt like this but I digress.
I think it’s very important to remember several things about this whole deal.
1. No one outside of Silicon Valley and the ‘industry’ will even know this is going on.
2. Facebook, at the end of the day, shouldn’t be trusted by anyone who is really paying attention but that still doesn’t mean people won’t still need and use the service
3. Positive stories about Facebook should be taken with as many grains of salt as anything else because, let’s face it, it’s not how they roll on most days
4. The company was founded by a person who brought the world this assessment of his Harvard classmates and their willingness to hand over their personal information to him
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask.
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb f**ks.
I don’t believe Facebook truly cares what we in the industry thinks about it because they realize that any rants are just part of the circle jerk that is the insular tech / social media community that doesn’t impact their actual business one iota.
So the question really is why would you expect anything less than the type of campaign that Facebook apparently has contracted for? Should we ever really be stunned by anything the company does?
The truth is that Facebook is somewhat bulletproof and they are well aware of it. Of the 600 million users of Facebook, I would wager that if 1/2 of 1 percent of that group (3,000,000) people know about this (for real as in more than just heard about it) and even were completely disgusted by it, the whole thing would still be a huge “So what?!” to Facebook and its most important metric: the bottom line.
Look, if people haven’t already been discouraged and disgusted by Facebook’s privacy antics, their “ask for forgiveness rather than permission” approach to account data usage and their sometimes seeming disdain for their users’ ‘rights’ then they never will be.
Industry heavies like Michael Arrington have always been soft on Facebook and cleared a wide swath for the company since all of this is new. They’ve taken the “they will figure it out eventually” stance. Even that has changed a bit in the wake of this revelation. Arrington on TechCrunch writes
I’ve been patient with Facebook over the years as they’ve had their privacy stumbles. They’re forging new ground, and it’s not an exaggeration to say they’re changing the world’s notions on what privacy is. Give them time. They’ll figure it out eventually.
But secretly paying a PR firm to pitch bloggers on stories going after Google, even offering to help write those stories and then get them published elsewhere, is not just offensive, dishonest and cowardly. It’s also really, really dumb. I have no idea how the Facebook PR team thought that they’d avoid being caught doing this.
But even this coming from Arrington equals a big nothing in the overall business of Facebook. Sure, some ‘important’ people might get upset but once the IPO rolls around and these folks suddenly find themselves gaining some benefit from their industry position (insider track on the IPO if you didn’t get it yet) they will ‘forgive and forget’ quite readily.
In the end, the masses will never know about it and thus they will never care. They are too busy looking at baby pictures and sharing stupid human tricks. Oh, and by the way, they are the ones that click on Facebook ads so they are really the folks that matter to Facebook. And if you think marketers will take the high road and not work with a company like Facebook because of principle? Well, then I have some oceanfront property in Kansas in you need to buy ASAP.
So, we will all yell and scream and point our fingers at Facebook saying they are evil etc, etc and the company will laugh all the way to the IPO bank (eventually) and no one amongst the remaining 597,000,000 account holders will know any of this ever even happened. And the 3,000,000 referred to earlier? They’ll update their Facebook page with rants about this stuff for years to come.