Is now the time for Mark Zuckerberg to face the music?

In a tumultuous week that saw the accusations of a Facebook whistle-blower all but drown out the platform’s unprecedented six-hour outage, Sean O’Grady unpicks the profile of social media’s troubled behemoth

Monday 11 October 2021 10:21
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<p>The damage done: Will the social media platform have to change its ways to survive? </p>

The damage done: Will the social media platform have to change its ways to survive?

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How was your week? Arduous enough no doubt, and we all have our challenges, large and small, but you most likely didn’t end up $7bn poorer than you were last Monday, have your public reputation shredded – again – with allegations of deliberately stoking online hate, and you didn’t let down a significant proportion of your 3.5 billion customers with an unplanned six-hour outage (the entire population of the world being about 7.8 billion, that is, just for context).

Of course, that was the week that was for Mark Zuckerberg, the 37-year old chief executive and chair of Facebook, the corporate behemoth that includes WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger services, among others. Though nothing new in a sense – Facebook has been coming under fire ever since its launch from Zuckerberg’s dorm room at Harvard in 2004 aroused interest from the college authorities – these new accusations were somehow more acute, more personal, more tragic than the previous scandals about data harvesting and political interference.

In fact, “whistle-blower” is an inadequate term for the now-famous former employee turned whistle-blower, Frances Haugen, 37 (coincidentally the same age as Zuckerberg). She’s been tooting her flute in leaks to The Wall Street Journal, an interview on 60 Minutes and a respectful hearing at the United States Congress. She had some great tunes, too. She declared her old boss “morally bankrupt”; research conducted by Facebook itself, she claimed, proved that Facebook knew the damage that can be done to teenagers from their use of social media, but that its various platforms continued to exploit their insecurities, building traffic and thus advertising revenues, enhancing the $30bn a year or so it makes in profit.

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