What No-one Is Talking About: Zuckerberg And The Senate Inquiry

Here’s what no-one is talking the Facebook Senate hearing: Mark Zuckerberg’s outstanding public relations.

The Facebook senate inquiry has been hard to miss. News media outlets are literally having a field day, yet very few of these articles are taking a step back and looking at the actual outcome for Facebook and our data.

If I was in the Facebook PR team, I’d personally be quite proud, they literally turned a PR nightmare into a trading frenzy for FB shares. So, what was so great about Zuckerberg’s responses and composure during the Senate inquiry? Well for starters, he knew his audience… (ironic, I know).

Know Your Audience

It’s almost a shame really, a perfect opportunity to hold Facebook accountable and Capitol Hill was instead left looking out-dated, confused and seemingly further from solving the issue than when it all started on the 10th of April (Honestly, who thought the chocolate analogy was a good idea… I’m looking at you Senator Nelson).

When you are as big as Facebook, you have the resources to acquire the best, and the Senate hearing highlighted this. If you don’t know who was sitting directly behind Mr Zuckerberg during the Senate hearing, you should. Myriah Jordan and Joel Kaplan are basically to PR what Beyoncé is to singing.

The Strategy

If I’m being perfectly honest, the only fault I could find in the Facebook team during the senate inquiry was that both Kaplan and Zuckerberg were wearing the same coloured shirt and tie.

The ‘Facebook PR Dream Team’ that was behind Zuckerberg had done their research and have extensive experience with how D.C. hearings work. In short, they were overprepared.

Every question thrown at Zuckerberg he addressed with a formal thank you to the Senator and then proceeded to perfectly dodge the question. While this wasn’t the case with all the questions thrown at Zuckerberg, Senators often had to repeat their question multiple times, in different ways, never getting a straight yes or no answer from Zuckerberg. (FYI this is a age-old PR tactic used to numb and disarm hard-hitting questions). So, verbal ping-pong matches ensued where Senators got frustrated and Zuckerberg usually ended with a composed answer something along the lines of, “I couldn’t do the question justice giving a simple yes or no answer”.

Tired of reading? Here’s A Summary Video Of The Key Moments Of The Senate Inquiry (Please keep reading after… :D)

I’ll Have My People Talk To Your People

Now, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t quite say: I’ll have my people talk to your people but it was pretty damn close:

I’ll have my team follow up with you, so that way we can have this discussion across the different categories where I think that this discussion needs to happen.”

What he was referring to here was in reply to Senator Graham’s question regarding Zuckerberg’s willingness to work with the Government to discuss some form of regulation on Facebook.

Another point for Mr Zuckerberg and his team here. What Zuckerberg agreed to was nothing more than a discussion regarding regulation. There was no agreement that the U.S. government should regulate Facebook.

This is important because it suggests Zuckerberg’s ‘openness’ to regulation, but not really. He didn’t agree to any specific regulatory actions, all he said was that he agrees there should be a discussion.

The Good, The Bad And The Apology

So, how did Facebook get here? Well they carried out their vision to make “the world more open and connected”, yet they did it a little too well.

Facebook currently has around 2.2 billion active users per month. Given there is roughly 7.6 billion people living on our planet, they quite literally have connected the world.

In light of this connectivity, Facebook can be seen for the good it’s done as well as the bad. It has been a key facilitator, enabler and communication platform for the #MeToo movement and the March For Our Lives demonstration as well as a lot of other great social movements.

However, it can also be seen in light of the bad. Fake news, foreign election interference and hate speech have all been given a voice and have been indirectly proliferated by Facebook.

So what did Mark Zuckerberg apologise for? Well, not much and this was deliberate:

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility and that was a big mistake and that was my mistake and I’m sorry.”

Clever right? In the legal/PR world, everyone knows an apology spells big trouble. Formal apologies (especially during a Senate Inquiry) can make you accountable for whatever you are apologising for, and this can create substantial grounds for legal action.

However, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t apologise for selling our data, he apologised for his view on Facebook’s responsibility. What does that even mean? Well, in terms of accountability nothing really.

In fact, Mark Zuckerberg’s ambiguous apology helped him more than anyone else. He used it as an opportunity to establish an emotional plea to portray him as more human (not a lizard).

He’s not a lizard and Facebook is here to stay.

So, what’s the future of Facebook? I think it’s honestly here to stay and I think it’s going to continue to be hugely profitable. Whether they are forced to change their current income structure or not is hard to say, but I doubt it.

The Senate Inquiry kicked up a lot of dust but when it’s settled, Mark Zuckerberg and his social media empire will still be standing, stronger than ever.