Facebook, You're Going To Need A Better Answer For Your Slimeball Stunt

At this point, I think it’s pretty clear what Facebook’s strategy for this whole Burson-Marsteller caught-with-their-pants-down situation is going to be: say as little as possible and move on. And it will work.

Like it or not, Facebook is too integrated into the fabric of the web now for everyone to just walk away. As has been proven time and time again, people will get really angry with them for some misstep, and then totally forget about it a week later. So this is the smart play by Facebook.

But it doesn’t mean it’s the right one.

While Burson-Marsteller came out and gave a bone-headed statement that essentially threw Facebook under the bus, Facebook has only given a one paragraph canned answer in response to publications like LA Times and The New York Times (which sure was soft in their headline on the matter, huh?). The statement:

No ‘smear’ campaign was authorized or intended. Instead, we wanted third parties to verify that people did not approve of the collection and use of information from their accounts on Facebook and other services for inclusion in Google Social Circles — just as Facebook did not approve of use or collection for this purpose. We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst. The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way.

I’m not sure I’ve ever read something so disingenuous. With every point, they go out of their to deflect from the key questions:

  1. Why use Burson-Marsteller for this matter and not your own internal PR team? Or even the PR team that you keep on retainer for other work (Outcast)?
  2. Why not authorize Burson-Marsteller to say your name when asked?
  3. Why do this behind-the-scenes at all? Why not just write a blog post about it if it’s such a clear problem that everyone is missing?
  4. And if you really feel Google is in the wrong here, and you can fully make that case, why not just block them — or sue?
  5. Why is Facebook resorting to this nonsense? Isn’t this kind of thing weak companies do when they’re scared?
  6. For a company so concerned with real identity, isn’t this all a bit ironic?

Earlier today, we reached out to Facebook to ask all of these questions. They declined to comment on the record for any of them. Instead, all we have is the lame paragraph above. So I’m going to take this opportunity to answer them myself, based on my assumptions — again, since Facebook isn’t talking.

Here we go:

  1. Facebook clearly did this in an attempt to remove themselves from the situation. They wanted this information out there, but did not want to be associated with it. They sort of allude to this in their statement, but they don’t address how slimy this is. If you’re going to call someone out on something, call them out. Don’t anonymously hire a PR firm to talk to journalists to call them out on your behalf. It’s cowardly and a scumbag move.
  2. This is obviously related to the first question. Facebook did not want to be associated with this situation. Of course, by going out of their way to make sure they weren’t even named when Burson-Marsteller was asked, is again, slimy. If you’re going to put something out there, have the balls to attach your name to it.
  3. Again, they did not want this tied to them. But had they come out in public, it would have been much better received (to say the least). Sure, much of the press would have focused on the war between Facebook and Google, but that’s happening now times a million worse because of the way this all went down. Publicly calling a rival out would have taken some guts, and Facebook clearly didn’t have any here.
  4. This is where the hypocrisy really kicks in. Facebook has been pushing and pushing users to open up more of their data to share with everyone. As a result, Google can see it and use it in products like Social Circle. Danny Sullivan has a great rundown of this hypocrisy. Facebook wants it both ways here. And they can’t have it both ways. Too bad. And if they feel Google is actually doing something malicious with this data (which the journalists pitched rejected the notion of), they should sue. (Don’t expect that to happen.)
  5. That’s the most surprising thing here. Facebook is the prince of the Internet at the moment. The widely held perception is that their ascension to the throne seems inevitable as Google descends. They simply did not need to pull this stunt. Yet they clearly felt they had to. Interesting.
  6. Yes. Yes, it is. Very.

Make no mistake, this entire maneuver by Facebook was about manipulation. Whether or not they had malicious intent, Facebook’s aim was to quietly manipulate both the press and the public into seeing things their way.

In their ideal world, Burson-Marsteller would have taken this, pitched it to a group of journalists/bloggers, stories questioning Google’s tactics would have been written, and Facebook’s name would have only been brought up as the victims.

Instead, the opposite happened. Karma is a bitch.