It’s pretty rare for a story to be one part sad, one part fascinating, and twenty parts sleazy. Luckily, Facebook and Burson-Marsteller have just handed exactly that to us on a silver platter.
As you’ve undoubtedly seen by now, last night The Daily Beast’s Dan Lyons’ broke the story wide open about how the social network hired the PR firm to plant negative stories about rival Google in the press. As Mike wrote last night, it’s “not just offensive, dishonest and cowardly. It’s also really, really dumb.” And it keeps getting better.
Now one of the sleazy companies in this sordid affair, Burson-Marsteller, is throwing the other sleazy company, Facebook, under the bus.
In an email sent to PRNewser this morning, the PR firm is confirming their involvement (as if that was still in question), defending themselves and their actions, and blaming Facebook for bringing the work to them in the first place.
In other words, they took the job, fucked it up, then blamed the client. Brilliant.
Let’s break down the Burson-Marsteller’s statement:
Now that Facebook has come forward, we can confirm that we undertook an assignment for that client.
If they hadn’t come forward, we wouldn’t have either. But since they’re potentially ruining us, screw you too, Facebook.
The client requested that its name be withheld on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media. Any information brought to media attention raised fair questions, was in the public domain, and was in any event for the media to verify through independent sources.
Facebook was asking us to do something shady, which we were totally fine with at the time. After all, this information is public, so why not do humanity a favor and pitch it to journalists for a smear campaign? We were really just doing journalists a favor — how’d they miss this golden information anyway? Maybe we should be journalists. At least we know to do our homework when getting pitched something sleazy. Oh wait, the journalists didn’t bite. So our argument trying to throw journalists under the bus doesn’t work either. Shit.
Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle.
After we just fed you that bullshit excuse, here’s the real deal: we shouldn’t have done this. Or perhaps more accurately, we shouldn’t have agreed to terms under which we were likely to be caught. Next time we take one of these assignments, we’ll simply throw the client under the bus immediately so we look like the good guys to the journalists and public. Or we’ll cover our asses better. And ask for more money.
Scummy. Sleazy. Sordid. A true class act.
Facebook secretly hired a PR firm to plant negative stories about Google, says Dan Lyons in a jaw dropping story at the Daily Beast.
For the past few days, a mystery has been unfolding in Silicon Valley. Somebody, it seems, hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.
The plot backfired when the blogger turned down Burson’s offer and posted the emails that Burson had sent him. It got worse when USA Today broke a story accusing Burson of spreading a “whisper campaign” about Google “on behalf of an unnamed client.”
The source emails are here.
I’ve been patient with Facebook over the years as they’ve had their privacy stumbles. They’re forging new ground, and it’s not an exaggeration to say they’re changing the world’s notions on what privacy is. Give them time. They’ll figure it out eventually.
But secretly paying a PR firm to pitch bloggers on stories going after Google, even offering to help write those stories and then get them published elsewhere, is not just offensive. It’s also really, really dumb.
First, it lets the tech world know that Facebook is scared enough of what Google’s up to to pull a stunt like this. Facebook isn’t supposed to be scared, ever, about anything. Supreme confidence in their destiny is the the way they should be acting.
Second, it shows a willingness by Facebook to engage in cowardly behavior in battle. It’s hard to trust them on other things when we know they’ll engage in these types of campaigns.
And third, some of these criticisms of Google are probably valid, but it doesn’t matter any more. The story from now on will only be about how Facebook went about trying to secretly smear Google, can got caught.
The truth is Google is probably engaging in some somewhat borderline behavior by scraping Facebook content, and are almost certainly violating Facebook’s terms and conditions. But many people argue, me included, that the key data, the social graph, really should belong to the users, not Facebook. And regardless, users probably don’t mind that this is happening at all. It’s just Facebook trying to protect something that it considers to be its property.
Next time Facebook should take a page from Google’s playbook when they want to trash a competitor. Catch them in the act and then go toe to toe with them, slugging it out in person. Right or wrong, no one called Google a coward when they duped Bing earlier this year.
You’ve lost much face today, Facebook.
Stoobalou writes “Dan Lyons, who has been lampooning Apple’s Steve Jobs for many years, has posted his last item as Fake Steve Jobs and signed off. Lyons, who has been impersonating the messianic Apple supremo in the notorious tech blog since 2006 and even managed to maintain his anonymity for quite some time, despite being a well-known tech hack, has parked his vitriolic pen for the last time.” Most people expect FSJ to return if RSJ does.
And then when we find out that Google is actually working on some seriously science fiction type stuff (self driving cars), New York financial analyst and blogger Henry Blodget asks “Why is Google developing this technology?”
I get what Lyons and Blodget are saying. Lyons thinks Zynga, Twitter and Facebook are a waste of engineering resources. Those people could be working on “more important stuff.” And Blodget isn’t anti-self driving cars, he just wants Google to focus on its core business.
I say this – who cares!
Everyone has a fix for Silicon Valley, but what tends to work best is when people just leave Silicon Valley alone. The crazy (perhaps diseased) manic pipe creams of entrepreneurs, guided by basic market forces, has gotten us this far. And it will work just as well from now on, too.
I love the fact that Google is working on cars that drive themselves. I’m not a shareholder, but if I was I’d still love it. If Larry Page decides this is what he’s passionate about right now, Google definitely doesn’t want him starting some new company to pursue it.
Keep it at Google. If it doesn’t work, he’s scratched his itch. If it does, they can spin it off later. In the meantime, Google benefits because people know they’re working on new technology that can change the world, not just how to make more money from keyword ads. There are engineers that may take jobs at Google just knowing that they’re doing stuff like this that otherwise take jobs at one of those companies that Lyons is mocking just to get pre-IPO stock.
We want our entrepreneurs to try crazy new things. In a hundred years who knows, Google may be thought of as a car company, not a search company. Crazier things have happened. It wasn’t all that long ago, for example, that Nokia was known as a manufacturer of rubber galoshes. If Blodget had his way, they’d still be at it.
Source: Why? Because They Can!
g0dsp33d writes “Fake Steve Jobs, the alter-alias of Newsweek’s Dan Lyons, is calling disgruntled AT&T users to protest comments from AT&T’s Ralph de la Vega that smart phone (specifically iPhone) usage is responsible for their network issues and his plan to end unlimited data plans. The post, dubbed “Operation Chokehold” wants AT&T customers to use as much data service as they can on Friday, December 19th at noon. While Fake Steve Jobs is notable for its satire, many Twitter and Facebook users seem to be rallying to its cry. It is unclear if there will be enough support to cause a DDOS.”
theodp writes “Newsweek’s Dan Lyons doesn’t know who will be the winner in Google and Microsoft’s search battle, but that’s not stopping him from picking a loser — consumers. As we head towards a world where some devices may be free or really cheap, consumers should prepare to be bombarded by ads or pay a premium to escape them. ‘The sad truth is that Google and Microsoft care less about making cool products than they do about hurting each other,’ concludes Lyons. ‘Their fighting has little to do with helping customers and a lot to do with helping themselves to a bigger slice of the money we all spend to buy computers and surf the Internet. Microsoft wants to ruin Google’s search business. Google wants to ruin Microsoft’s OS business. At the end of the day, they both seem like overgrown nerdy schoolboys fighting over each other’s toys.’”