The Media Today

The media today: The Mark Zuckerberg apology tour kicks into gear

March 22, 2018

“This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened,” Mark Zuckerberg told CNN’s Laurie Segall. “Our responsibility now is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.” Speaking on camera for the first time since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke over the weekend, Zuckerberg’s appearance on AC360 capped a whirlwind media blitz that included several print interviews and a personal post on his social media platform.

Throughout the day, Zuckerberg repeatedly apologized for Facebook’s failures and promised that changes were already underway. He stressed his willingness to testify before lawmakers, and acknowledged that some level of regulation may be necessary. In many ways, he said all the right things. But after five days that saw serious concerns raised and the company’s stock plummet, while Zuckerberg and other Facebook top execs remained silent, it’s fair to ask why it took so long.

In addition to CNN, Zuckerberg spoke with The New York Times, Wired, and Recode, making plenty of news along the way. He told the Times that Facebook had used new technology to identify and eliminate a significant number of accounts based in Macedonia spreading fake news during the Alabama special election. He told Recode that Facebook needs to develop standards for content that reflect the values of various communities, adding “I feel fundamentally uncomfortable sitting here in California at an office, making content policy decisions for people around the world.” And he acknowledged to Wired that he couldn’t say whether the personal data of American voters had made its way into the hands of Russian operatives.

RELATED: The Facebook Armageddon

Facebook’s post-election fumbling was already a major story before reports on Cambridge Analytica’s use of the platform by the Observer and The New York Times dropped. Wired’s most recent cover featured a bruised headshot of Zuckerberg over a story about the tech giant’s “two years of hell.”

With each new revelation about manipulation on its platform, it becomes increasingly clear that Facebook has, at least to some extent, lost control of its technology. It’s also apparent that users, by and large, aren’t aware the privacies they’re forfeiting when they sign up for the service or click through any number of third-party apps. Zuckerberg’s openness to oversight is welcomed, but it comes as legislators in the US, and especially in Europe, are already circling. If Facebook is to rebuild any of the trust it has squandered, yesterday can’t be a one-off.

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Below, more on Zuckerberg’s media tour and the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica controversy.

  • Changes underway: The Verge’s Jacob Kastrenakes breaks out the news from Zuckerberg’s Wednesday afternoon post, noting that Facebook will further restrict the personal information that third-party apps receive.
  • The big picture: The New Yorker’s Adrian Chen looks at our lives inside the surveillance machine. “You don’t need to believe Cambridge Analytica’s own hype about the persuasive power of its methods to worry about how data-obsessed political marketing can undermine democracy,” Chen writes.
  • A whistleblower’s story: The Washington Post’s Craig Timberg and Karla Adam speak with Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower whose revelations launched the Cambridge Analytica reports. “I didn’t set out to attack Facebook. Facebook has just been incredibly uncooperative,” Wylie tells them. “It hasn’t respected the role of the media and scrutiny and embraced this scrutiny and worked to improve itself.”
  • A familiar script: Last fall, The New York Times’s Farhad Manjoo explained the Zuckerberg apology playbook. “Scandals involving Facebook tend to follow a well-worn pattern,” Manjoo wrote at the time. Though Zuckerberg’s media blitz on Wednesday seemed to signal that the company is taking this controversy seriously, it’s worth looking back at how it has handled issues in the past.
  • Trust issues: “Facebook is staring down the barrel of impending regulation….People are describing its algorithm-driving News Feed as a Frankenstein-like monster that even its creators can’t control.” Those words could have been written at any point in the past five days, but they actually come from last fall, when Wired’s Jessi Hempel wrote about Zuckerberg’s trust problem.


Other notable stories

  • In an expected decision, Meredith officially acknowledged that Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and Money are up for sale. “Our main portfolio that we built over time at Meredith has been focused on a different audience type, company CEO Tom Harty told The New York Times’s Sydney Ember. Ember also reports that the company plans to immediately lay off around 200 employees, with about 1,000 about more cuts coming over the next 10 months.
  • “As traditional media have scaled back coverage of the country’s conflicts abroad, a new crop of online publications gives voice to veterans and military journalists,” reports Jack Crosbie for CJR. Sites like The War Horse and Task and Purpose join The New York Times’s recently relaunched “At War” blog in providing coverage of America’s wars and the people who fight them “with an unvarnished blend of personal experience and investigative reporting,” Crosbie writes.
  • Breitbart’s readership has plunged, reports Politico’s Jason Schwartz. The right-wing site that saw its profile skyrocket during the 2016 campaign and early months of the Trump presidency garnered just 7.8 million unique visitors in February, down 49 percent from the same period a year earlier. “It’s no surprise that Breitbart’s influence is waning as the country grapples with the harsh realities of a Trump presidency, particularly when Fox News already fills the Trump-can-do-no-wrong niche,” writes Splinter’s David Uberti. “It turns out that shilling for someone in power offers only so many opportunities for good content.”
  • Longtime Fox News analyst Lt. Colonel Ralph Peters left the network in a blaze of glory on Tuesday, writing that he felt the channel had “degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration.” CNN’s Oliver Darcy spoke with employees at Fox News, who he reports were “rattled” by the charges Peters levied. “The thing hit like a bombshell,” one staffer told him.

ICYMI: Facebook under fire following data-breach reports

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.