Facebook’s 2018 Apology Campaign Examined

Oh, the things we learn to do when managing social media!

By Kassandra Lopez, Global Strategic Communications graduate student at the University of Florida

I came about a very through article recently, that examined more in depth the 2018 Facebook scandal. This article, “Public Penitence: Facebook and the Performance of Apology” by Kimberley Hall, dissects the situation and it’s long term effects by analyzing “the five key moments of apology against the broader cultural discourse produced by the social media giant in order to argue that the campaign is actually quite successful

Within the article, Hall claims that “Facebook uses the performance of apology to create a divided perception of the company that allows it to reroute the expected transformation of the penitent into a strengthening of its brand identity, pointing to the immense discursive power of Facebook.” At first, this claim felt lofty. But after reading her points, and realizing I heavily dislike the company in question but use their platform daily, I shifted my tone. I hope by breaking this article down, you too, can get a feel for appropriately apologizing after robbing people of their precious data!

The Intimate Apology

As all communications professionals know, the first thing to do during a crisis is to make a statement. While Zuckerberg did that, his statement was dubbed as lackluster. He crafted an idllyic story that chronicles, “… an almost Edenic vision of what data access could facilitate — a more integrated version of Facebook reality. Not only would such features as mapping of friends’ locations provide a greater experience for users, it should provide that experience. Access to data is an imperative with an idealistic undertone, and the entire statement proceeds from this premise.” In this way, all future apologies take the tone of “sorry but not sorry- it happens!”. Almost insinuating that issues like this are the negative in search of his halcyon vision.

The Public Plea Apology

In a bold turn of events, “.. just 4 days after Zuckerberg’s initial post on the subject, Facebook took out full-page apology ads in 10 major newspapers in the United States and the United Kingdom”. This action was bold and reminiscent of John Cusack’s boom box scene in “Say Anything”. They further expanded on this apology campaign, by trying to prove through propaganda they were there for users. Much like a bad boyfriend on his P’s and Q’s after the latest riff. Those ads felt like a thin and superficial attempt at an apology. At this stage it is important to note that just as with the subpar boyfriend, Facebook does not divulge how they plan to “…address these issues is as vague in these ads as it is in the previous statements.” Tsk Tsk Tsk.

I’m not the bad guy!

As their “Sorry but not sorry” campaign continued, a calm and composed Zuckerberg crafts his apology on trial. Within these proceeding, his tone and diction indicate little empathy. Instead, he bargains that no one is at fault, ultimately stating that “The broadest mistakes that we made here are not taking a broad enough view of our responsibility . . . the “move fast” cultural value is more tactical around whether engineers can ship things, and . . . and different ways that we operate.” While he is keen to say “we” he is leaving fault up in the air. Accountability is sexy, and in this situation Facebook and more directly, Zuckerberg lacks it.

An History of Lackluster Apologies

While Hall’s articles look to the 2010 Facebook movie as a guide to Zuckerberg, using it to claim he’s always been gung-hu and unfeeling. I can’t help but wonder if he truly believes he isn’t responsible, as if Facebook took on an identity of itself, “his grasp of how his manipulation of that network caused real harm to people on that network escapes him.” Overall Hall notes the company is still doing just fine, and much like the girl taking back the not-so-awesome boyfriend in “Say Anything”, we took back Mark Zuckerberg’s creation. Why? Well, as my grandma says “it’s more the routine than the love”. What I’ve come to learn from this is a lot of something is better than nothing. A barrage of their semi-heart felt apologies was enough to keep their name afloat and retain their audience. A true lesson I will carry into my strategic communications career.

First-gen Cuban and Argentine. Full-time Marketer. BA in Humanities/Cultural Traditions, Art History + Anthro. MA in Global Communications + Social Media