About the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal:
In late 2015, Facebook learned about a data breach involving Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis and strategic communications company. A university professor created an app on Facebook that asked users who downloaded it a series of questions. Unbeknownst to users, once signed up, the app accessed their list of friends and other parts of their profiles including email, birthday, education, and photos. This app would end up compiling data on over 50 million Facebook users. Eventually, Cambridge Analytica came upon the results from the app’s survey. What happens next with the data is still speculation, but the end result was not good for the social media network.
After Facebook was notified about this, it requested that both the third-party app and Cambridge Analytica must delete the data – which they later learned was never deleted. The incident sparked national news last week when The New York Times and The Guardian published articles that raised controversy about the now infamous data analysis firm, Cambridge Analytica, claiming that the data was possibly used to influence the 2016 United States presidential election.
From a PR point of view:
Politics aside, the Cambridge Analytica data breach has put the social media giant under public scrutiny. This situation brings up ethical and procedural questions for the PR industry such as:
Should message accuracy be valued over timeliness?
What is an appropriate timeline for crisis response?
What can PR pros learn from this?
Regardless of company size or status, the news cycle waits for no one. It is generally best practice to get ahead of a news story by preparing a crisis communications response before an actual crisis occurs. Public relations professionals should be well prepared with a variety of responses ready to go in case of a crisis. Adequate preparation ensures timeliness, transparency and accuracy in reactive and proactive messaging.
It is our inherent job to create messaging for our clients. We have a responsibility to be proactive, transparent and timely. We can learn from the backlash Facebook has received regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal and adapt our execution to match the rapid pace of the media and the ever-changing news cycle.