The headline on The New York Times opus published yesterday on Facebook’s problems with fake news, racist posts, Russian trolls and the 2016 election posed the following headline:
Delay, Deny, Deflect: How Facebook Leaders Leaned Out in Crisis
Catchy, above the fold, playing on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s well-known “Lean-In” book and subsequent movement. After reading some 130 inches of copy, I’d say the headline exaggerates or miss-characterizes the story’s content and conclusion. But that’s Facebook’s fight.
What jumped out at me, as a crisis and reputation manager, is how close the headline meshed with what we call “the death strategy,” or, what you absolutely must not do in a crisis. We define it as Deny, Delay, Deceive. Pretty close.
Whether the Times proved that’s what Facebook did the last two years is for others to decide, though the paper’s reporters followed up hard on the story today, CEO Mark Zuckerberg reacted to it, and a Times columnist weighed in.
Again, I’m not trying to define or evaluate Facebook’s response to the many charges against it. But there on the front page of yesterday’s Times was the embodiment of the death strategy and at least one example of what happens when you employ it. No doubt, members of Congress who already saw Facebook as a powerful enemy in need of stronger regulation will pile on.
And, Facebook executives, already frantic about this possibility, will in the end lose this fight and see its business squeezed as well.
Whether it was Delay, Deny, Deflect, or Deny, Delay, Deceive, Facebook paid multiple crisis managers, lobbying and law firms to avoid the verdict it just received. No knock on those firms, since in my experience consultants give a range of alternatives with attached potential costs of taking one route or another.
My guess is that the Facebook executives wanted to delay, deny and deflect and they did.