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Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘’the ultimate measure of a where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy’’. This quote can be related to Facebook as the strength of the company will be judged based on how it responded to the Analytica scandal. This essay will describe the positives and negatives of the Facebook Analytica scandal and illustrate the steps Facebook took to recover from the scandal.
The conceptualization of Facebook as a leading player in the social media industry has placed it under public scrutiny for since its inception in 2004 by its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Despite the fact that the organization has been involved in other scandals previously, the data breach involving Cambridge Analytica is considered to be the largest scandal in its history which affected more than 87 million users. The scandal of the data breach was accentuated by the fact that the data had been used by Cambridge Anaytica to influence the 2016 American elections between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Facebook was placed under intense public scrutiny and through its founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, it quickly moved to recover from the scandal.
From the outset, it is instrumental to note that the first step that Facebook had taken was to try and downplay the issue. Even though the scandal reached its full-blown scale in March 2018, Facebook had already learnt about the data breach in 2015. Interestingly, despite these claims, Mark Zuckerberg publicly dismissed the idea that there might be a data breach in Facebook which is being utilized by external entities to spread inaccurate information popularly referred to as fake news. From a general perspective, it can be noted that after having knowledge of the impending scandal, Facebook’s CEO had the impression that it would eventually be sorted out internally without exposing the organization’s weaknesses. However, containing the scandal became impossible after Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, came out publicly in regard to the Facebook data breach.
After the information went public, Facebook started taking significant steps to recover from the scandal. Its second engagement with the Cambridge Analytica issue was to quickly accept accountability. After Christopher Wylie came forth with the information, Mark Zuckerberg held a press conference where he admitted Facebook’s mistake and highlighted the incident as a ‘breach of trust’. According to Fitzpatrick and Bronstein (2006), the concept of taking responsibility is the pivot of public relations in the case where the organization knows that the allegations made in public are true. Therefore, admitting accountability by Facebook was a significant step toward recovery from the scandal since it created a platform upon which the organization can move to the step of rectifying the mistakes that were pointed out. This step included engaging the public in a congressional hearing which was held on 11th April, 2018. Mark Zuckerberg utilized every available platform to accept accountability and offer an apology.
In a bid to accentuate the level of goodwill from its part, Facebook took the step of informing users whose data was involved in the breach. The organization set a system that would send one or two messages to its users in regard to the scandal. More than 97% of its 2.2 billion users received a message explaining how to identify which third-party applications and/or websites are actively harvesting the users’ data. On the other hand, for the 87 million users, Facebook sent a message notifying them that their data has been directly affected through an online quiz. Such messages were an instrumental aspect in recovering from the scandal since it helped Facebook gain further advantage in seeking the forgiveness of its users.
Acceptance of responsibility and issuing carefully-worded apologies were not enough since people shifted their interest into what should be done in future to avoid a similar breach of data and privacy. The message sent to Facebook users not only aimed to alert the users about the extent of the data bridge but also informed everyone using the organization’s services that the company is moving toward rectifying the issue in coalition with the users. This step involved conducting an audit that was to be implemented from a three-pronged perspective. From the outset, Facebook as an organization was to investigate all applications that had large data access before 2014 and ban such applications from Facebook’s platform. Secondly, Facebook would move to design a framework that would restrict developers’ data access to avoid similar kinds of abuse in future. Finally, in coalition with Facebook users, Facebook provided a review of the applications which had been allowed data access. Therefore, users were able to go through the applications and revoke access to applications they felt accessed data which they were not willing to share.
By actively taking the aforementioned steps, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, ensured that the organization was on its path to recovery. Arguably, the main advantage that accrued from the scandal is that it prompted Facebook to implement measures that would ensure that users’ data remain safe and void of any kind of breach. The organization was forced to rewrite its data policy and ensure that all its systems are under control. From a critical analysis of the issue, Facebook did not actively seek to implement such policies even after they gained knowledge of the problem in 2015. It was only after the scandal went public that Facebook admitted responsibility and acted to ensure that data was safe. Other social media giants such as Google and Twitter also changed their data policies in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
However, one cannot summarily overlook the significant disadvantages that emanated from the scandal. From the outset, the scandal was actively linked to the 2016 American elections. It was a blatant breach of the American law and thus, it cast a major shadow over the credibility of the elections, and the effects that social media can have on a democracy. Regardless of the steps that Facebook had taken, these are issues that are still being questioned and Mark Zuckerberg is yet to provide tangible solutions. In some cases, people deleted their Facebook accounts in order to make a statement and threatening Facebook longevity. However, it was later noted that the deletion of Facebook accounts was not very major issue but trust for the platform had plummeted. Generally, the main negative advantages of the scandal are yet to be specifically determined but different entities are actively providing oversight as America heads toward the mid-terms.
In conclusion, the Cambridge Analytica scandal not only affected Facebook but also sent a ripple effect in the social media industry prompting organizations to review their data policies. From a general perspective, Facebook’s containment of the scandal would have been more effective if the organization had acted on it and informed the public promptly when they noticed the data breach in 2015. Even though it took major bold steps to contain the problem when it went public in 2018 through another source, there are still clouds of doubt of whether users can trust the platform with their data.
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