Sunday, May 15, 2011

Facebook secretly hires PR firm to throw mud at Google

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief, at a town hall-style meeting with President Obama last month. In the past, Mr. Zuckerberg has extolled the virtue of transparency.

Editor's note: Social media is all the rage. Micro-blogs like Twitter are increasingly popular and seen as alternatives to traditional news sources. Citizen journalism and social media are often pointed to as examples of how information will be both collected and disseminated in the future. But given what we have discussed and read in this class so far, is Facebook journalism? Or is it just a digital bulletin board? And would any self-respecting journalistic organization act along the lines of what is reported in this story? So what can we conclude about social media. It may be content and it may be popular - but is it journalism? Please respond to this post. - MT

NYT - For years, Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, has extolled the virtue of transparency, and he built Facebook accordingly. The social network requires people to use their real identity in large part because Mr. Zuckerberg says he believes that people behave better — and society will be better — if they cannot cloak their words or actions in anonymity.

“Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity,” Mr. Zuckerberg has said.

Now, Facebook is being taken to task for trying to conceal its own identity as it sought to coax reporters and technology experts to write critical stories about the privacy implications of a search feature, Social Circle, from its rival, Google.
The plan backfired after The Daily Beast revealed late Wednesday that Facebook, whose own privacy practices have long been criticized, was behind the effort. It didn’t help that some of the technology experts who were encouraged to criticize Google dismissed the privacy concerns around Social Circle as misplaced.

Facebook insiders, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, said the company hired the well-known public relations firm Burson-Marsteller to suggest stories about Social Circle to reporters because it did not want the issue to turn into a Facebook versus Google story. Social Circle is an optional feature of Google search that uses publicly available information from social networks to personalize search results.

In a statement issued Thursday, Facebook said: “We wanted third parties to verify that people did not approve of the collection and use of information from their accounts on Facebook and other services for inclusion in Google Social Circles. We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst. The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way.”

Companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere routinely approach reporters and analysts with stories about the so-called misdeeds of their competitors. But journalism and public relations experts criticized Facebook for doing so anonymously and insisting that Burson-Marsteller not reveal its identity.

Facebook, Foe of Anonymity, Is Forced to Explain a Secret -


  1. I don't think social media is any threat to journalism. If anything it is another medium to get the message disseminated. All the accounts that the tweets and posts come from are established media companies. There will not be a complete replacement of news with social media. Most social media posts contain a link back to the original story, just to grab readers attention.
    As for the way Facebook acted in that case, if anyone knows anything about Zuckerberg (or saw The Social Network) they would know that he can be a bit deceitful. Crushing the competition has its place in business but journalists have no place in doing so.
    Aside the point, I do think that the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world could be a great resource for creating a viable news model. Those of are types of people that know what works on the web and how to get an audience there.

  2. I agree with Evans' assessment above. I see Facebook as another platform for media -- and journalism -- distribution. If we're going to analyze Facebook from a content perspective, I think we all have a pretty good sense that knowing what TV show your friends are watching right now is not journalism. I think most people can also make this distinction. (Whether or not they see a reason to make distinctions, or can do so when the line between reporting and opinion gets blurred is a more interesting topic to me.)

    Beyond distribution, Facebook can also be a reporting tool. Some people gather sources via Facebook. Others promote their own work. It can also be a very convenient way to spark community discussion and input, which can lead to corrections, followups and the kind of engagement that can affect lasting social change. I don't think Facebook is even a very elegant tool for this, but its main power is in the sheer size of its audience. What traditional media source can boast a circulation of 500 million?

    As a side note, I saw an interesting presentation on how journalists use Facebook. Sadly, no audio, but the visual is pretty effective at illustrating the presenter's points:
    I'm also following a decent Twitter account that posts on this topic regularly, @FBjournalist:!/FBjournalist

    Re: Facebook's smear campaign
    We've discussed the role of advertising in media before, and in this, Facebook and traditional media seem to have much in common. Like traditional private media, Facebook is a business, and is heavily supported by ad revenue. It makes sense that they'd try and smear their competitors. I'm not saying their actions are justified or excused, but they're not abnormal. I don't know enough about the history of traditional media in this country to cite examples where media outlets smeared each other, but I would not be surprised.

  3. I don't think that Facebook is any threat to journalism, if anything, it can only help to spread the work of journalists. In the article about the Drudge Report, it stated that news sites get a fair amount of traffic from Facebook. The people you follow on Twitter and Facebook link to legitimate news stories as well as credited journalists. As we stated in class, Twitter is only a means of assisting journalists to spread their work and broaden the scope of the audience they reach.

    As for the underhanded dealings of Facebook to make themselves look better, it shouldn't surprise anyone. The only difference is that Facebook got caught because of how popular and wide reaching they are. Since a majority of jobs will be in the public relations area when we graduate, knowing that things like this happen is beneficial to us because we'll have an upper hand on how to deal with them if and when they arise. As Brenda and Lauren stated, Facebook is a business and they rely on advertising to make their money and by doing what they did, they were trying to ensure their advertising revenue. As a Facebook user, it's getting scarier how they are able to use our information, yet they preach that their users' privacy are important.

  4. I agree with the previous commenters - Facebook and other social media sites aren't "journalism" in and of themselves. They are very effective as delivery systems. Like many of the people in class, the first word I got about the killing of Osama bin Laden came through social media (Facebook). But Zuckerberg didn't produce the actual information - media companies did. I highly doubt FB is interested in getting into the business of news production - they're making plenty of money doing what they're doing now.

    Lauren makes a good point about social media as a reporting tool. It can be a good (albeit at times limited) way for journalists to gauge the opinions of people they cover. But social media's most significant role in the media landscape is that of distributor. Think of them as giant, highly influential roadside billboards - sometimes they give us solid, useful information ... and sometimes they spew junk about the coming of the end of the world. It is up to us as consumers to parse out the good info.

    On the PR campaign: I am a big believer in journalism ethics, and I would argue that the vast majority of journalists and media workers act in professionally ethical ways. But I'm becoming increasingly skeptical of the idea that "business ethics" exist in our current corporate climate. Since we (or at least I) don't consider FB to be "journalism," it isn't really fair to hold them to journalism's ethical standards. If you look at it that way, what FB did shouldn't be that shocking. It is surprising, however, that such a well-known PR firm would engage in these types of shenanigans.

  5. To me, social media is a way to transmit information, but not to write about it in detail and analyze it. It’s a way to interact with readers and to direct them to information, but not a place to do actual reporting. It can also function as a place to aggregate opinions or information to get a feel for the climate in which a story exists, but Facebook/Twitter are not places where well thought-out reporting happens.

    One would certainly hope no “self-respecting journalistic organization” would sink to Facebook’s level because of competitive issues. The journalistic way to have gone about it would have been to use, as Facebook said, that information they found and report on it, rather than luring others to do the dirty work. If Facebook were a journalistic organization, it wouldn’t be “dirty work.” It would be simply a story written in the interest of the public.

  6. I agree with everyone above, social media is not journalism. It is a transmitter or distributer of journalism. I am friends with several companies on Facebook. I don’t feel that they are using that as their only platform. Every time I visit their page they redirect me to their site, where they use real journalism to inform the readers. One of the biggest reasons social media will not become journalism is the restraints on characters. Because of the restraint, writer are unable to show the facts they have that proved their message. If I see a status about something in the news, I normally go to news sites to look for the stories that verify the statement. As we have stated in class, people are lazy and don’t go through the trouble of looking up facts. Facts are the things that make journalism journalism, without those the news stories are just words on a paper.
    As for what Facebook is doing with Google I feel like this is a complete lack of integrity on the part of Facebook. Even if they are not held to journalistic ethics they should not have gone through this because it is business. Competition is about showing that your product is the best, not just trying to destroy the competition.

  7. In response to the article above, Facebook is not journalism by any means, but a digital bulliten board for journalists to preview their work to the public and a new medium for citizens to engage in community discussion. As a Facebook user myself, I follow my hometowns Facebook page, as well as United States congressmen from my area; this allows me to keep up with both the local and political news that could affect me. Although I do not view Facebook as being a news outlet, it is a great outlet for advertising, and I do agree with Lauren Hutchison in that it is a good way to contact sources for potential articles. In the past I have used Facebook and Twitter to find sources for stories, and this method has proven to be quite successful; I am still in close contact with these sources and have used many of them for multiple projects and stories.

    I strongly believe that both Facebook and Twitter are new “middle man” mediums for promoting the work of journalists. As an online writer, I have linked my blog and articles I have written for online magazines to both my Facebook and Twitter; in posting only a preview or link to my blog and other articles, I have developed a greater “fan base” because my link can be shared with over 500 million users.

    In reaction to Facebook’s unethical behavior towards Social Circle, this proves how un-journalistic Mark Zuckerberg’s company truly is; I agree with both Evans and Cassie in that as seen in the “Social Network,” Zuckerberg has proven to be deceitful in order to gain fame and “#1” star status, and if his company truly believed they were a form a journalism, there wouldn’t have played dirty to oust their competitors.

  8. Facebook and Twitter are valuable tools for journalists, but cannot be called journalism by themselves. The information that goes up on these sites is not tested at all and must be treated as such.

    This being said, these sites do provide value. I believe that a person's credibility on this new medium is valuable and must be developed. If a person live tweets current events on an accurate and consistent basis, then their tweets should be treated as credible and double checked to be used as an official "source."

    The debate, to me, is about immediately reporting an event versus gathering sources and examining all aspects of a story.

    Most people learned of the bin Laden death by either Facebook and Twitter and traditional media organizations were stumped. It's looking to me like the trend will be live coverage via twitter and facebook complemented by more complete stories and analysis from the established organizations.

    Whether or not it is journalism is debatable, but you can't discredit the journalistic value each website has to offer.

  9. Just like Twitter, I think that Facebook can be used as a journalistic tool. Its versatility allows users to post links and videos of news content to their pages, so in this sense, I'd say that it's journalism. For example, I've posted links to a plethora of news-related content on my Facebook--from student publications to the New York Times' website. It's ultimately up to the user.

    Now, just because the user has the freedom to perform acts of journalism doesn't mean that he or she will always use Facebook for this purpose. I've always found it ironic that Facebook calls its live feed the "News Feed", because, more often than not, I'll see my fellow Facebook users posting about how drunk they were the past weekend. Maybe that's news to some people. To me, it's not. But the bottom line is that people don't strictly use Facebook for news; it's also used as your own personal fan page.

  10. Gina said it best when she used the word "can." Facebook can be journalism. There is a vast difference between "can" and "is." Let's explore one of the proximate aspects of journalism: Newsworthiness.

    It can be argued that much of the content on Facebook is not newsworthy. Justina putting on her makeup to go out on a Saturday night or Maxwell being annoyed at a neighbors loud music are not generally considered newsworthy. So, the notion that we can generalize the entirety of Facebook as journalism is a bit of a stretch.

    However, it is interesting to examine the journalistic value that Facebook has. So many people in this new age of journalism herald the idea of hyperlocal news (and journalism) that goes as condensed as the neighborhood level. If we are going to think that way, we could conclude that Facebook serves as "hyperpersonal" journalism.

    Thinking of it this way makes Facebook as journalism sound unduly intrusive. But in the end, most people love Facebook. Perhaps the best reporting Facebook has to offer is when an individual posts "news" about his or herself. It sounds selfish at surface level, and quite frankly, it may be. We all act in accordance to our own interests a good deal of the time, so that might explain why we love Facebook.

    Of course opinion, fabricated information, and defamation run rampant across status posts, wall posts, and comments. You would think the only surefire thing about Facebook that aligns with journalism is the pictures. But even those are often altered (sometimes painfully with quotes, hearts, and abhorrent photo editing).

    Lastly, hiring a PR team to go at Google is fine. Facebook is a business, and business is competitive. Our politicians engage in this kind of competition all the time. AND our very own college town has it. The Athens NEWS ran two ads on Monday directly challenging the Messenger.

  11. I agree with everyone. Facebook itself is not journalism, it is a platform to be used by journalists. Facebook is a great way for journalists and news organisations to get content to readers. It offers an opportunity for journalists to get content to people that would not have visited their website on their own. It's becoming more common for people to use Facebook and other social media sites to get their news headlines in one spot.

    I think Facebook can also be a good place to find a story. Robg43 had a good point in that the challenge to journalists in this social media era is to sort through the plethora of information and find what is factual and what is newsworthy.

    Facebook and other social media platforms are also a way to find sources for stories. Social Media offers the opportunity to network and connect with sources that you would not have been able to find before.

  12. Social media can be journalism if you attempt to use it as such, but who's actually going to, and who actually wants to use it for that purpose? To me, social media is more effective as a middle man toward the actual journalistic content, if we're to use it in journalism at all. Post stories on your Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr or whatever, but leave it at that.

    Social media can also be used to assist journalism, I think--but once again, it's still not 'journalism' in the purest sense. As mentioned in the above comment, it can be helpful to use social media to find sources for stories. I know I wasn't so sure about doing this at first, but once I realized that contacting someone via Facebook or Twitter actually can be highly effective and efficient, I use it far more often (though email/phone is still my first).