We want the organ grinder not the monkey, Facebook

Paul Blanchard
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Another day, another scandal. Today, Facebook executive Richard Allan is to appear at a crucial hearing about disinformation and fake news. You know, Richard Allan? The bloke who... isn’t Mark Zuckerberg.

Lined up in front of the parliamentary firing squad, Not Zuckerberg is facing a grilling by 22 Members of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation from seven international parliaments. Brought by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the enquiry into disinformation and ‘fake news’ is the toughest scrutiny aimed at the social media giant since the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Regular readers, I’m sure, will know what I’m about to say. Sending anyone other than your head honcho for something like this is a huge mistake, especially as Facebook is in the middle of trying to pull off the most comprehensive act of whataboutery since Hillary’s emails. They hired PR firm Definers to investigate critics, including philanthropist George Soros after he called Facebook and Google a "menace to society" in a speech at Davos last year. When they were found out, they let the axe fall on another Not Zuckerberg – this time outgoing comms chief Elliot Schrage, who took the blame for hiring the firm via a disastrous statement issued just before Thanksgiving.

Filled with loaded language and issued at the 11th hour before the holiday weekend, the statement was a defiant gesture aimed at its critics which I think will ultimately end up biting the actual Mark Zuckerberg on the backside. Cornered like a bully in the playground, it seems Facebook is lashing out. Also not unlike a bully, the protagonist is in hiding, denying all knowledge. It’s clear he’s taking his lawyer’s advice – and saying nothing. But, as I’ve said before, an apology is not an admission of guilt, and there are plenty of examples where the lack of an apology has become a bigger story than whatever necessitated the apology in the first place.

To make matters worse, Saturday saw a serjeant-at-arms sent to a hotel to collect a bundle of internal Facebook documents from the founder of a software firm currently involved in a dispute with the social media giant. The paperwork apparently sets out details about Facebook’s privacy controls. Currently in a sealed envelope somewhere in Whitehall, its lawyers have requested it stays firmly closed, but I can say, with hand on heart, that trying to bury bad news never, ever works (though in this case that ship has probably sailed). Even this couldn’t get the boss out of Silicon Valley.

Facebook’s value has already reportedly plummeted by $100bn since the Cambridge Analytica story first came out, and by the looks of things it won’t be long before it goes the way of Blackberry, or MySpace. Hiring an underling to play the role of CEO at this point is, in my view, nothing short of stupidity. No one but Zuckerberg can save Facebook now, and it’s high time he faced the music.

So stop sending out the monkeys, Facebook. It’s time we heard from the organ grinder. Bring the facts with you (and an apology).

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