Really what’s the big deal? So Facebook hired a PR firm to smear Google, and it got caught. So what? PR firms everywhere are scrambling to make sense of this, Inside Facebook, a well know blog, called it “a spectacularly failed attempt at undermining the competition.”
So Facebook is scared that Google will be able to beat them at their own game and it wanted to defame Google’s Social Circle. So Google’s overtures into Facebook’s world was perceived as a real threat by Facebook. Like HuffPost, Facebook’s content is not generated by others, so any attempts by Social Circle to pull content from Facebook is perceived as an attack on Facebook’s core business. So Facebook hired global PR giant Burson-Marsteller to spread false information about Social Circle’s privacy policies to ultimately defame it and cause doubt in the minds of current and potential users.
I’ve now devoured about 50 articles about the subject in a couple of days. The PR world is filled with condemnations and abuzz with horror to discover that Burson-Marsteller engaged in this type of behavior. In the New York Times, “Paul Cordasco, Burson-Marsteller’s spokesman, said that the firm made a mistake. He said “The mistake clearly was not being transparent about the client,” He added that employees would receive additional training to make them “fully aware of our code of responsibility that emphasizes full transparency.”
Let’s make some safe inferences based on Mr. Cordasco’s statements. First, he did not apologize for the covert tactics, but did addressed “client transparency.” Second, he talked about some “code of responsibility” that emphasizes “full transparency.” So they will be talking to their employees about this. No where did I get a feeling of regret or contrition about their strategies and actions?
Look, I am not condoning Burson-Marsteller’s behavior, nor Facebook’s. But this happens in virtually arena where PR plays a role. Politics, finance, medicine…and I go on. In addition, the idea of front-running false stories to destroy a political or business opponent’s credibility is only part of a larger epidemic of content distribution, true or false, to affect search rankings along with reputation. It’s in the DNA of of some pr and marketing firms to do this work. Yelp, Google Reviews are only some examples where people create false identities to promote or destroy a business’s credibility. Blogs are set up under false pretenses and micro-sites too.
Business on the internet is simply business. The business of defaming the competition existed way before the internet, and will continue to thrive as long as there is a need, PR and marketing firms not withstanding.