Can Facebook Conquer Crisis?

Jack Manning

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Facebook, founded on the 4th of February 2004 in a Harvard dorm, turned 15 last Monday. Facing uphill battles and outright hostility on all fronts, it has little time to celebrate. Volatile share prices, data leaks, data breaches, tightening regulations, threats of exorbitant European fines, propaganda-peddling and election-meddling accusations – how did the revolutionary firm that disrupted our understanding of communications become embroiled in such chaos? How is it to go about saving face and initiating a much-needed recovery?

The origin of its current woes can be traced back to the Cambridge Analytica data scandal early last year. On March 17th, details first emerged about Cambridge Analytica’s broad access to tens of millions of users’ personal information. Such data was then subject to illicit exploitation in order to influence public perception of the Trump campaign and Brexit, amongst others. This generated a public discussion regarding users’ privacy, and given its political nature, saw Zuckerberg testifying in US congress. It led to a fall in the giant’s share price of some 17% and a wave of mass account deletions, sparked by Whatsapp co-founder Brian Acton’s tweeting #DeleteFacebook.

As if this wasn’t enough to warrant upheaval at Facebook, late September of 2018 year saw it victim to the worst data breach to have yet struck the firm. Hackers gained access to some 50 million users’ accounts and all the associated private data held therein, of which a whopping 14 million had data stolen. The EU was quick to levy threats of a $1.6 billion fine for GDPR violations, and the Irish Data Protection Commission opened an investigation into Facebook on October 3rd.
More recently an international grand committee, including Ireland, have called for Mark Zuckerberg to testify on alleged data misuse. Facebook declined citing the CEO’s attendance of US Congress and EU Parliament hearings. Of course none of this was good for the social media giant’s share price, which saw it plummet to a nearly two year low on Christmas Eve, at 124.06 USD.

 

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Figure 1: Facebook, Inc. Common Stock share price six months to Feb 1, 2019.

 

Buffeted on all sides, Facebook remains staunchly forward-looking and relentlessly expansionary. On the 8th November it was revealed that Facebook had secured the lease of AIB’s Bank Centre in Ballsbridge, Dublin, with the intention of establishing a 14 acre campus with the capacity for some 5000 new employees. The company refuses to be held back by these crises but instead clings steadfast to its onwards-driven philosophy.

Nor is the firm plugging its ears and praying the hardship away. On November 12th, French president Emmanuel Macron announced a partnership between Facebook and French regulators which will see civil servants gain access to the firm’s moderation processes. The six month agreed cooperation will see governmental agents working alongside Facebook’s employees to better police hate speech circulated on the site, and to combat the spread of propaganda-disseminating pages.

It is inevitable that trailblazing firms will encounter unprecedented difficulties – it is how they react that render such incidents deadly or instructional. Facebook seem keen to thoroughly solve these globally consequential issues – individual privacy, hate speech, digital propaganda etc – while remaining focused on their mission of connectivity. Perhaps reports of strong earnings in Q4 of 2018, and growth of about 20% in share price so far this year, will alleviate some of that teenage angst.  The coming months will surely uncover their ability to prevail.

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