Week in Media: imagine a world without Facebook scandals
After yet more leaks and revelations, there must be change in leadership that enables all this talent within social media companies to build something better, writes the editor
"We just don't learn anything. There's no arrow of progress in the advertising world," the Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman remarked in a video interview we ran last week.
It’s a harsh verdict, but what other conclusion is there when it comes to social media?
Ella Sagar’s in-depth report into what the social media companies have done (or not done) in response to the Conscious Advertising Network’s demands to tackle online racism is disappointing, but predictable.
It seems these companies are not even willing to run a joint marketing campaign showing how seriously they take the issue of online racist abuse. Even the supermarkets managed to do this last November – during the most competitive sales period of the year!
Three months ago, I warned that our industry is in need of serious medical intervention when it comes to social media, such is the apparent unwillingness to demand better policies and content moderation (for a start).
The cycle of scandal – to outrage – to apologies – to collective forgetfulness – to another scandal – has become so routine that Facebook PR and lobbyist Nick Clegg could set an alarm by it. He could then automate his questionable responses to each incident and call it the Clegg Timer.
Following last week’s reporting in the Wall Street Journal, a former Facebook product manager, Frances Haugen, revealed herself as the source of the Journal’s reporting. She then testified to the US Senate about how Facebook gives celebrities special privileges to leave content unmoderated and knew full well how harmful Instagram can be to teenagers.
By some strange apparent coincidence, Facebook experienced one of its worst-ever outages on the day that Haugen’s identity and evidence to the Senate committee was revealed.
Haugen comes across as an extremely smart and earnest person whose integrity drove her to be a whistleblower.
It reminded me of how many smart and capable people I’ve met in this industry who left agencies to work at Facebook (and, for the most part, were never seen or heard of again). Many of them are still indeed at Facebook and haven't been poached by Snap or TikTok.
Sure, they will be extremely well paid and no one should feel sorry for them despite working in a business that attracts scandal so efficiently you wonder if it's being orchestrated by a machine-learning algorithm from another dimension.
As I wrote in July, it’s the leadership that is to blame. Facebook’s market cap is still well over $900bn, despite a steady share price decline since the end of August. Can you imagine what new and improved leadership could do with Facebook without a constant stream of scandal?
Speaking of leadership, Martin Woolley’s Cautionary Tales series for Mediatel News, in which he interviews media leaders about learning from challenging moments in business, threw up a timely reminder this week.
I remember the incident well in 2017 when Paul Frampton-Calero, then CEO of Havas Media, was caught in a media firestorm and there was speculation he might even be sacked by Yannick Bolloré.
His crime? Making a big, but sensible, decision and being open about it when approached by a journalist.
Havas Media pulled ads by its client, the BBC, from Google platforms because YouTube had become embroiled in a brand safety disaster.
It's the kind of disaster that would have destroyed broadcasters and publishers that are legally bound by higher compliance standards but must compete for the same eyeballs.
As Frampton-Calero later admits, Havas would later go on to remind prospective clients about the Google decision in future pitches as a sign of its media neutrality.
Yes, there are smart, earnest people all over this industry who do want to do the right thing as well as have a successful and lucrative career in media.
Whether it's social media or user-generated video platforms, there is more than enough talent knocking around to turn these businesses into something better.
It's time for these companies' leaders – particularly Facebook – to unleash the talent they have collected in recent years. The market, and journalists for that matter, must also stop idolising tech founders as being new media geniuses.