Facebook’s Image Problem

Now may be a good time for friends and families to rekindle their broken Facebook relationships since it appears Russia was behind much of the hostile engagement on the social network during the 2016 presidential election.

Apparently 10 million people on Facebook saw 3,000 Russian-backed sponsored posts before and after Election Day, fueling racial, religious and political divisiveness. Initial investigations also show that content was geo-targeted in key swing states that may have tipped the scales in favor of the GOP.

Photo credit: Cnet

The frenzy forced many to take action. Thirteen percent of Americans reported blocking or “unfriending” someone on social media because of their political postings, according to a survey by PRRI, with Democrats nearly three times more likely than Republicans (24 percent vs. 9 percent) to shut off opposite-minded friends and family.

It’s hard to quantify the actual impact of the ads. The bottom line is that Trump supporters came out in full force on Election Day, and Hillary Clinton failed to win over white women and female voters without a college education.

Whether the “news” was fake or not, the content fueled an inherent bias on both sides of the proverbial aisle. Moreover, after the 2012 presidential race, the Republican Party ignited its online presence and get out the vote operations that most likely help propel Donald Trump to victory.

No doubt Facebook has an image problem. Shares of the $500B social media giant started to rise from earlier in the week when the stock took a hit from its 52-week high of $175.49, closing at $172.23 on Friday.

The brouhaha led Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg to post a Yom Kippur-inspired mea culpa, writing, “For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better.”

Things may only get worse for Facebook if and when Zuckerberg testifies before Congress or the slew of investigations into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election show the social network at fault. Zuckerberg, however, has repeated many times Facebook’s platform for candidates to communicate directly to voters had a much greater impact that any misinformation on the network.

Facebook fosters engagement unlike any other social network. That engagement needs to be free of any censorship for it to work best. But with more than two billion active monthly users, and more than 200 million in the U.S. alone, there certainly isn’t any shortage of opinion.

Most times people believe what they want on social media regardless of any fact checking. The paradox is that that two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) say they get at least some of their news from social media. In the end, Facebook will recover from this so-called crisis. The network is engrained in the social fabric of American politics, sort of like the ubiquitous seatbelt. People need to be more open-minded to determine what’s fake “news” and what’s not. Unless that changes, stand by for more of the same in 2020.


Putin’s $50B Ad Campaign

It’s just a few days until the XXII Olympic Winter Games will come to an end and the world will then turn its eyes away from Sochi as host to the 2014 Olympiad.
Russian President Vladimir Putin forked up nearly $50 billion to make Sochi Olympic-ready, apparently spending more on infrastructure improvements than all the Olympiads combined.  To most outsiders, the move seems somewhat impetuous given Russia’s slowing economy and areas of poverty.  However, many hosting countries see the Olympics as a huge business opportunity and branding campaign.

Opening Ceremonies for the XXII Winter Olympics

Rightly so, but is it working?  The final payoff has not yet been tallied, but the event certainly provides a worldly stage to tout Russia’s key attributes, whether it’s the people, natural resources, or the products and services the federal semi-presidential republic offers.  For Putin, it is Russia’s new deal, a reborn and growing economy with renewed promise and hope.
Much of the world, however, have unfavorable or mixed views of Russia, at least according to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Global Attitudes survey.  People in only nine of 38 countries surveyed say they have a positive view of Russia, while 43 percent of Americans express a negative opinion toward the former Soviet Union powerhouse.  These attitudes are dwarfed by recent worries of terrorist attacks, as well as deadly riots in the Ukraine, which apparently are a result of Putin’s alleged influence over that country’s economy.
Still, positive stories about Russia continue to emerge as picturesque views of Sochi’s mountainous landscape provide great visuals for this new narrative about a stodgy regime transforming itself into a 21st century economy.  This concept seems mostly driven by Russia’s people, at least according to one story that recently aired on American national TV about Moscow’s bustling new economy, where a person interviewed said, “Nothing is allowed in Russia, but everything is possible.”  Seems like the unofficial tagline for today’s Russia, don’t it?

It’s a pretty safe bet that hosting the Olympics will yield some kind of positive results for Russia, not including its medal count, however, especially given the disappointing loss from its men’s hockey team who were defeated by Finland 3-1.   While Putin had high hopes for bringing home a medal in men’s hockey, he continues to be engaged in these Olympics, promoting the country’s goodwill and hospitality while staying on message.
No doubt Putin will leverage this Olympic buzz both from a political and economic perspective, portraying Russia in a favorable glow.  Actually, the $50 billion spent on the Olympics is a relatively small price tag when compared to Russia’s $2.7 trillion economy, so it’s probably money well spent, although it may take much more than money to manage negative perceptions when it comes to Russia’s tough anti-gay laws.