Facebook's chief flack is beyond apologetic in his extraordinary Q&A with New York Times readers: He admits he's failed at his job. But why should users allow Elliot Schrage to take a bullet for his bosses?
Schrage basically cops to his own professional failure. The communications and public police VP's introduction on nytimes.com reads like he's just filled out a ruthlessly critical job evaluation form:
Another painful element comes from professional frustration. It's clear that despite our efforts, we are not doing a good enough job communicating the changes that we're making. Even worse, our extensive efforts to provide users greater control over what and how they share appear to be too confusing for some of our more than 400 million users. That's not acceptable or sustainable. But it's certainly fixable.
An easy way to "fix" the situation might be to fire Schrage, who as the top flack at Google drew some critics who said he was a disastrous manager, and shoe tenure at Facebook has been controversial and politically charged, to say the least.
But why let the top ranks—the real power players, aka CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg—off so easy? It's Schrage's job to fall on his sword for them, to catch all the criticism for Facebook's repeated accidental privacy breaches, intentional privacy breaches, and eroding image. That's why he's called a "flack."
And it's why statements like this, which would be hard to believe coming from the shot-callers at Facebook, ring so hollow when Schrager throws them at the Times' lacerating questioners:
We know we could have done a better job explaining all of this ... I'm sorry we didn't do a better job.
Facebook wants to be more like Twitter and publicize more of its users' content. So kill two birds with one stone: Have Mark Zuckerberg explain his position directly, addressing the issues raised in the Times Q&A via the social network he himself created, and outlining once and for all his true feelings about privacy and where it's headed in this socially networked age. VentureBeat's Kim-Mai Cutler has a great cheat sheet all ready to go for him, complete with examples of Steve Jobs doing the same thing at Apple and Sergey Brin doing the same thing at Google, and reminding Zuckerberg of what he's said about privacy in the past (spoiler: not a fan, but aware he needs to offer some privacy controls). Then present a clear roadmap for how Facebook is going to improve its privacy safeguards and controls as the network opens itself up more and more, as it inevitably will.
Then, if Zuckerberg feels like it, he can apologize. It won't solve any of Facebook's trust issues, but at least it will be backed up by a believable plan for reform, which will make infinitely less pathetic than the empty bought-and-paid-for apology Schrage—the professional apologizer—just delivered.