Anatomy Of A PR Spin (AKA How To Lie Like A Pro)

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How do you know when a Facebook PR person is lying? When their lips move (or they issue a statement!) ba-dum ching!

We’ve been taking a beating today on our story about Facebook working on a branded mobile phone. Just like last year with the Google Phone, lots of people threw tantrums about how we made the story up right up until Google launched their own branded phone, the Nexus One.

And that’s what’s happening today, due in no small part to Facebook PR issuing what looks like a blanket denial of the story this morning. “The story is not accurate!”

Except the story is accurate. Facebook has been working with hardware manufacturers to explore building their own phone. We don’t know the timing, and we don’t know how deep the software stack is that Facebook is contemplating building, but we know that as of very recently the project was alive and well.

Here’s how Facebook is able to issue a blanket denial to a true story and get away with it:

First, give a solid soundbite that everyone will love. “The story is not accurate. Facebook is not building a phone.”

Note that those two sentences sound like they’re supposed to go together, but they aren’t. Technically what they’re saying is that at least one fact in the story is wrong. Also, Facebook is not going into the hardware building business. But what most people read is a flat denial. The story is wrong! Tabloid journalism!

Except, uh oh.

Second, Insert a ton of additional sentences that seem to support the initial dramatic statements. But what they’re really doing is putting in language that they can point to later that shows they weren’t technically lying. “Deeper integrations!” “INQ Phone!”

Third, and this is purely optional, add a good kick in the nuts on the way out. Maybe something about how people tend to exaggerate things to get headlines.

This is the statement that Facebook sent to everyone in the news business today, except us. Despite us asking for it.

So why did Facebook do this? Normally they would just say “we don’t respond to rumors and speculation” when anyone talks about leaks around future products. But this was different. Here’s the reason – they don’t want to freak out Google and Apple and everyone else. They work closely with these partners on Facebook’s existing applications. A Facebook branded phone may disrupt those discussions. Case in point.

Also, this project is likely just getting started. Two of the three rock stars just joined the company (Tseng and Papakipos from Google, Hewitt has been with Facebook since 2007). It could be a year or more before the phone hits the market. And any number of things could happen to make them kill the whole project off.

All we learned today was that the mobile space is so important that Facebook was willing to lie (while technically just spinning) about their plans. And they were so pissed off about the leak that they took that final shot at us as well. Nicely done Facebook.

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