Is Facebook Too Big to Care?

The folks at Facebook are finding Washington D.C. to be anti-social, if not openly hostile, these days. Regulators at the Federal Trade Commission recently tagged the social media network with a five billion dollar fine – and no, that’s not a misprint – for privacy lapses that allowed app developers to scrape data from some 87 million user accounts and use that information for political purposes. Remember Cambridge Analytica?

Despite the record-setting levy, dwarfing the $22.5 million Google paid in 2012 for privacy violations, it wasn’t enough to appease some lawmakers. More than a few characterized it as a “slap on the wrist.” One stock analyst described the massive fine as “the cost of doing business.” Others minimize it by comparing the penalty to losing one month of revenue. Even Wall Street seems to have let out a collective yawn, with shares dropping a mere .5 percent in the four days that followed the announcement.

So, does anybody really care – starting with Mark Zuckerberg? Here’s why I think he does. Facebook is looking to disrupt the cryptocurrency market in much the same fashion they’ve taken the rest of the world. At scale. And with 2.38 billion users they’ve got the numbers to launch their bold new offering, Libra. Think Bitcoin, only backed – in this case by the Swiss Financial Markets Supervisory Authority. Haven’t heard of it? You’re not alone.

To pull it off, they’re going to need a wave of regulatory and congressional approvals. Lobbyists will no doubt use their influence and plenty of behind-closed-door briefings to argue their case. But, Facebook can’t win this fight simply through legislative advocacy.

They must turn the tide of public opinion, which exerts great influence over people in those wood-paneled meeting rooms. And it’s going to take more than lofty and aspirational statements about changing the way in which the world conducts its finances to get their likes.

Facebook’s communications strategy must revolve around transparency and proof of performance to address congressional concerns including terrorism financing and money laundering – to name just two. Then, there’s the impact on other currencies and central banks. It’s not easy being a disruptor.

They have the intelligence and resources to make their case – and certainly the incentive. Can they keep their perceived hubris from undermining their message?
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Michael Shepherd

Michael serves as Managing Partner of The Shepherd Group, a brand and communications firm with offices in Seattle and Newport Beach. A former journalist, he specializes in building narratives through discovery, design, and development of branded editorial and visual content.

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