As a communications firm, we use our robust capabilities overwhelmingly to defend the positions and messages of companies and countries. Of course, like most defense law firms in a parallel profession, we handle plaintiff work as well, but after 21 years, it is safe to say that most clients hire us to defend their truth. So it is exceedingly rare that we would use these pages let alone a series of articles and opinion pieces to excoriate Facebook, a company so important to the global town square that in some countries, it is the Internet.
When the AP asked me this summer to follow and opine on the Senate testimony of Mark Zuckerberg, there were two things that impressed me: A) Mr. Zuckerberg largely did an adequate—though not particularly transparent—job for that day, exceeding the remarkably low expectations he had been able to establish; and B) The Senate Committee was strikingly unprepared. Or, as the Sacramento Bee opined, Grandpa vs. the Tech Guy.
Nowhere in this or subsequent testimony in the UK, EU or on last week’s Sheryl Sandberg European apology tour is any recognition of the damage Facebook has been associated with in election after election. In India, Germany and the Philippines to name a few; and especially in Myanmar, where 43,000 Rohingyas have perished at the hands of a government using Facebook as its primary propaganda tool.
Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg communications and lobbying strategy over the past year and a half has not included any responsibility for the damage in their wake. Nothing less than democracy is at stake in the West, but in Myanmar, we are approaching a holocaust. History will judge if Facebook is culpable or just naïve. As a communications professional, I am struck by the supreme absence of leadership. Our jobs are to help companies race to the truth, amplify the right and fix the wrong. We cannot do that when a company chooses to be blind, deaf and dumb.