Tag Archives: Facebook

Learning from the mistakes of Facebook

If you search any search engine –Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc– for Plano Facebook, you’ll get various random pages for the city of Plano Texas and a news story that broke nationally today:

A Texas man stabbed his girlfriend to death and posted photos of her nude, dead, bloody body on his Facebook page. Her mother saw the pictures and called 911. Other relatives contacted Facebook and asked the social media giant to remove the pictures. Facebook left the pictures up for roughly 36 hours before finally removing them.

Let me repeat that.

A woman’s daughter was brutally murdered and Facebook couldn’t be bothered to take the pictures of the body down for 36 hours.

Let me repeat that.

Facebook left pictures of a young woman’s naked murdered bloody body up for the mother, the family and the world to see for 36 hours AFTER they found out.

 

I have a daughter entering High School. I can’t imagine getting calls and emails and txts for 36 hours along the lines of “uhm… I don’t know how to put this but uhm… do you daughter is dead and there are pictures of her uhm… body uhm… like uhm… without clothes uhm..” for 36 hours. See your pictures of your child’s dead bloody naked body is bad enough.

 

Facebook’s official response is that they didn’t realize, at first, that the pictures were a violation of their Terms of Service.

Excuse me? How does anyone with a bit of empathy not know the right thing to do in a case as clear-cut as this. No one should have to dig through Terms of Service or Corporate Policy books to navigate a situation like this. This is not a Terms of Service issue. It’s an issue of basic humanity.

If I had been the person at Facebook who got this request, I would’ve told them how sorry I was for what happened. I would’ve told them how sorry I was those pictures were there for their family and the entire world to see. I would’ve made sure she understood that I, personally, wasn’t going to stop until the pictures were removed.¬† I would’ve made sure she had my personal cellphone number.

And I would’ve gotten out of my chair, gone to my supervisor and stood there until my supervisor removed all of them. If my supervisor didn’t have the authority, I would’ve gone to the next person up the chain. And I would’ve kept going up the chain until the pictures were down. If mysteriously, I had gotten all the way to the Zuckerberg and he tried to have me thrown out of the building with orders to shoot my butt if I tried to re-enter the building, I would’ve walked right back in and dared them to shoot me.

 

I’ve seen companies who don’t know how to admit they blew it and they let people twist in the wind. Weirdly, even when I’ve tried to explain to them how to handle these situations in the future, all I hear is excuses. There’s no sense of “oh… we did blow that… how did you say we could do better?” I’m pretty clear about what a company or organization needs to do in the middle of a Crisis. It’s knowledge I’ve picked up by osmosis simply by having a Father who spent his entire working life in Public Relations, handling Crisis Communication and saving Generals from committing professional harikiri when things blew up at places like the US Air Force Academy, NORAD Cheyenne Mountain (yes the War Games General was based on the jerk who ran the Mountain at the time) and SAC Omaha. He literally, wrote the book on ethics for the Public Relations Society of America.

When I called him and told him what Facebook had done and his reaction was “Oh my god”.

 

In 1982, a twelve year-old child died of cyanide poisoning after taking Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules. Cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules killed six more people in quick succession.

Johnson & Johnson¬†took responsibility and focused on doing the right thing. They sent warnings to hospitals and distributors, halted both production and advertising and, within a week, recalled all 31 million bottles worth (worth a third of a billion dollars at today’s prices), ran an ad campaign to warn the public and offered to exchange all Tylenol capsules that people had purchased.

And they figured out how it happened. Someone had simply bought bottles of Tylenol, opened the tops to poison them and then returned to put the tainted bottles back on store shelves. And they made sure it would never happened again by making changes in manufacturing and so on. But, the most important change they made was one that meant people didn’t have to take their word on it: every bottle of the re-introduced product had the then revolutionary tamper-proof seal. How do you know someone hasn’t tampered with a bottle of Tylenol: the seal isn’t broken.

 

In the world of public relations, he Tylenol case is, literally, the text book example of how to handle a crisis, including how to do Crisis Communications right. So far, Zuckerberg and Facebook’s handling of their crisis fails at every point. And, out here, people can close their accounts and walk away. Getting people in the door original is expensive (ask anyone who knows retail customer development) but getting them back after they walk away is brutal. And investors know ads don’t sell if no one is there to see them.

From Footnotes to the Shared Information Aether

With Google’s search parties reporting they’re close to capturing the one remaining wild piece of information known to exist (rumors indicate it has something to do with a blue dress and birth certificate), we’ve gone from a world where lots of information was precious and hard to get at to one where we’re swimming in an ocean of it. We swim in it, we breath it.

If I said the sky is blue and backed it up with a wikipedia link, most of my readers would read the wikipedia article and agree with it. There was no need to prove the sky is blue: we all “know” that.

There is a vast amount of information that (essentially) all of us know. Sometimes it’s literally in our heads. A lot more information is so easy to access that it’s still common knowledge. How to avoid a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant is not a mystery as I’m connected because I can have the address of every Chuck E. Cheese in moments.

Knowledge is power. As long it can effectively be used, more and “better” information is a huge advantage because, generally, individuals and groups will better decisions and carry those out more effectively.

And, shared knowledge is shared power. Humanity organically developed a whole series of adhoc mechanisms for sharing information: storytelling, papyrus, word-of-mouth, books, magazines, posters, magazines, cartoons, billboards, bumper stickers, advertising…

That pool of ad-hoc mechanisms has been mirrored in the online world. Everyone is contributing to this knowledge constantly. Sometimes, it’s simply by the act of being connected to the online world and sometimes, it’s through a facebook post (say on growing peaches at 8,000) that 35 people repost and then gets cited in Wikipedia. Each of us, by being online, both passively and actively increases our pool of knowledge.

This pool of information has been growing exponentially for long enough that is many orders of magnitude larger than what one person (or perhaps all of us) can read, let along memorize. There is more information in this shared pool than in all the human heads on this planet.

When you look at humans as a group you see things that are not possible without a group: the collective unconscious, consensus reality (e.g. we agree that black is not white), the wisdom of the crowd (groups make higher-quality decisions than experts). We, as a group, share an unconscious framework, develop agreement about reality and make better decisions. These are naturally occurring characteristics of humans as a group.

But our shared pool of information, what I call the Shared Information Aether, is qualitatively different precisely because it is not naturally occurring. We, as a group, decided to build it. Essentially, we have evolved our group brain by intentionally choosing to evolve the species as a group

 

After physicists figured out that light was a wave, many went looking for the sea that was waving. Something had to be waving and it had to be all around us, like air, so that light could shine. Someone called it the aether and went looking for it. Eventually, they decided there was no aether, just the waving. Our information is like that now. It’s what the term ‘Cloud’ is trying to get at.

The online world was built from the beginning with lots of redundancy. Most specific bits and pieces of data are protected by error checking, backups, monitoring software, server mirroring and so on. And there’s a lot of additional redundancy because of how we share information. We gossip and paraphrase and report that and summarize and analyze and recombine into a million copies in a thousand languages.

If you look at the internet as a collection of computers, you miss the point. Of course we’ve filled the world with computers and connected them all together. Without them, the Shared Information Aether would not be possible but the computers are not what’s waving. With a book, information is tied to a physical place; it’s as if the pages are what the ink (and information) is waving. But there is no physical books in the Shared Information Aether. Words are not written on little pieces of paper. They arn’t even “written” in specific places. Information is not static; especially in the Shared Information Aether. It changes, grows, lives, flows. The information is literally flowing all around us

We have made ourselves the collective to change our future as a species.

What’s waving is us.