In April of 2018, after the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, I wrote in AdWeek that “When individual privacy is at stake, something has to give, and something certainly will.”
Later, in analyzing changes that could either be forced upon or self-imposed by Facebook, I compared potential punitive measures for the social media giant to the lasting impact Tylenol’s cyanide scandal had on over-the-counter medicines.
And this week, with privacy scandals still haunting Facebook — as it’s done about as poor a job managing its reputation as any large company in recent memory — another shoe dropped.
In settling a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance and other civil rights organizations, Facebook announced new changes in a company post as to “how we manage housing, employment and credit ads on our platform.” In essence, Mark Zuckerberg stroked a $5 million check and announced changes to housing, employment and credit ads.
All of this comes on the heels of the Cambridge Analytica debacle, two reports by ProPublica citing discriminatory behaviors by the social media giant, and after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said Facebook allowed landlords and home sellers to block certain prospective buyers or tenants from seeing online ads based on race, sex, religion and other characteristics (which Facebook quickly followed by announcing it was updating its ad-targeting tools and “removing over 5,000 targeting options to help prevent misuse.”).
Of course, no one is paying attention to the reality that Google, LinkedIn and others have largely escaped scrutiny and penalty for similar behaviors. But all of Facebook’s woes serve as a stark reminder that transparency goes a long way, and the cover-up is often more damning than the crime itself.
When organizations or brands don’t get out in front of their mistakes — and Facebook has had to be dragged along, kicking and screaming — it compounds and worsens the damage and public trust.
As I wrote last year: “Tylenol was, and now is again, the best-selling, non-prescription pain reliever. Facebook is the largest social media platform by a longshot. You can smell the fallout coming.”
Tylenol bounced back because it took significant action. And as for Facebook, not only can we smell it — but we continue to see it — as one shoe drops, then another and then another until Mark Zuckerberg is forced out of the company he allegedly stole from the Winklevoss twins (Oh no he didn’t! Oh yes he did!).