Facebook’s trust crisis—Americans say it has harmed democracy

by | Mar 23, 2018 | Public Relations

Already slammed with accusations of spreading divisive fake news—and now, facing new allegations that it handed over personal information on up to 50 million users without their consent—Facebook is losing the faith of the American people, according to a new survey from Digital Citizens Alliance, a coalition of consumers, businesses, and Internet experts focused on educating the public and policymakers on the threats people face on the Internet.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally broke his silence on Wednesday, following the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Though he eventually apologized and said a few of the right things, it wasn’t enough, as Facebook’s stock price has fallen hard—some estimates have the company’s market value having dropped by $60 billion. As is typical in crisis-response situations, Zuck’s delayed commentary may have exacerbated the drop.

“An apology is an important start, but it’s reactive,” said PRSA 2018 National Chair Anthony D’Angelo, in a statement. “If there is unpleasant news about what has happened, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg [should] share it completely and quickly for Facebook’s benefit as well as the public’s. You do not want it to come from other sources, as has been happening since 2015 with this matter.

“Crises can have huge magnitude as one-time events, or they can have protracted, steady-drip effects,” D’Angelo continued. “Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal has both. Zuckerberg finally answered the urgent question, ‘Where are you on this?’ Henceforth, he and other Facebook leaders must spell out what they’re doing to fix every aspect of every relevant problem and report steadily on progress.”

Can Facebook win its trust back?

According to the survey data—which was gathered before Zuckerberg’s comments—almost 4 out of 10 Americans (39 percent) said: “Facebook is not a responsible company because it puts making profits most of the time ahead of trying to do the right thing.” Less than 1 in 3 (31 percent) said that Facebook is a “responsible company because it tries to do the right thing most of the time even if that gets in the way of it making profits.” The rest were unsure.

By a 7-1 ratio (54 percent to 8 percent), Americans say that Facebook has had a negative influence on political discourse. Sixty-one percent said that “Facebook has damaged American politics and made it more negative by enabling manipulation and falsehoods that polarize people.”

The survey of 925 Americans was conducted as new revelations surfaced that Cambridge Analytica inappropriately harvested personal information on millions of Facebook users.

Fake news responsibilities remain a huge issue

The sharp rise in negative feelings is a significant departure from Facebook’s standing prior to the 2016 election, when the rise of so-called Fake News and polarizing content led to calls for the company to take greater responsibility for the content on the popular social media site—or face government regulation.

By a 2-1 margin (53 percent to 26 percent), Americans said it’s Facebook’s responsibility to remove or warn about posts that contain false or misleading information. And 59 percent reported that the company is not doing enough to address the issues of false and inflammatory information that appear on its site.

“Facebook is at a crossroads because of its inability—nearly a year-and-a-half after the election—to get a handle on its divisive effects on society,” said Tom Galvin, executive director of Digital Citizens, in a news release. “From spreading fake and manipulative information to becoming a ‘Dark Web-like’ place for illicit commerce, Facebook seems to losing the trust of the American public. Regulation will not be far behind for social media companies if things don’t change.”

This declining trust reflects a growing concern about the impact Facebook and other social media sites have on young teens

In the survey, more than two in five Americans (42 percent) said that the minimum age to have a Facebook account should be at least 18 years old.

In a time of increased calls for greater digital platform responsibility, Digital Citizens has proposed that Facebook, Google and other companies:

  • Commit to greater investment in a diverse workforce that can monitor online content to determine whether it’s illegal or inappropriate.
  • Work together to identify bad actors and create a clearinghouse to share that information across digital platforms.
  • Give consumers the ability to set privacy settings across platforms.

“Digital platforms have to rise to the occasion and assure Internet users that their personal information will be safe, that the content will be legal, safe and not contrived to manipulate. In short, they have to demonstrate they will be the positive influence on our society that they espouse to be,” said Galvin.

The survey of 925 Americans was conducted between March 15-20 by the Digital Citizens Alliance using Survey Monkey and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

As the Facebook crisis unfolds, we’re reminded again that no brand is immune. It’s best to be prepared for your next crisis. Media monitoring can help you at every stage of it.

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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