Facebook is experiencing a prolonged PR crisis centering on its use as a platform for fake news and hate speech. As the largest social media site, it is taking a sizable share of criticism stemming not only from its specific actions but due also to broad concerns about the effects of social media and mobile technology on society.
CEO/co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and COO/tech luminary Sheryl Sandberg have appeared before Congress to explain Facebook’s missteps and intended remedies. Per media reports, Facebook delayed revealing the extent of Russian infiltration into the site via fake accounts, ad buys, and group pages to spread disinformation and stoke extremism. The data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica employed an innocuous survey to obtain deep information on Facebook users; the ultimate goal was targeting users for political communications. Facebook’s public response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal was slow and piecemeal, per critics.
Amid its PR crisis, Facebook has launched aggressive lobbying and communications to repair its reputation. One particular action has had a reverse effect, further tarnishing the social media giant’s image. Facebook enlisted the firm Definers to collect information on senators’ tech usage and promote negative stories about Facebook’s major rivals, namely Google and Apple. Definers also pushed stories that liberal billionaire activist George Soros was funding protests against Facebook.
This is not the first time Facebook has employed smear tactics against perceived enemies. In 2011, Facebook hired prominent PR firm Burston-Marsteller to pitch stories that Google was gathering troves of data on its users, unbeknownst to them.
Psalm 101:5 NIV
Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate.
A public relations crisis can be chronic, as Facebook is showing. The story can “go quiet” only to re-erupt with new revelations and accusations. All the time, the brand erodes as the public loses trust. Such a crisis cannot be surmounted by undermining the reputations of rivals, in essence “lowering the bar” for an entire industry to equalize one’s relative position. Most importantly, such attacks violate Judeo-Christian principles for honesty and fairness. They backfire with God and man.
How can Christian public relations professionals defend an organization without resorting to counterattack for its own sake?
How can Christian public relations professionals teach their organizations that good PR begins with godly actions every day, well before a crisis can arise?
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