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.
Turns out it was our favorite social networking company, Facebook, that hired the PR firm to do its dirty work. Burson-Marsteller fessed up about its arrangement with Facebook, and threw Zuck’s company to the wolves. Hence the divorce.
So which company takes the hardest hit, Facebook or Burson-Marsteller? The PR company lost a big, powerful client, and looks quite sleazy. But it’s hard to work up outrage, mostly because shady behavior seems to be, at least occasionally, part of the fabric of PR (not that journalists are always morally pristine). It’s worth noting too that Burson-Marsteller has had a few unsavory clients in the past.
But our opinion of Facebook should probably drop a notch or two. The campaign makes Facebook look just a little scared and weak, and capable of questionable corporate behavior. But the company will probably get through this mess just fine, according to MG Siegler on TechCrunch:
Like it or not, Facebook is too integrated into the fabric of the web now for everyone to just walk away. As has been proven time and time again, people will get really angry with them for some misstep, and then totally forget about it a week later.