Former Microsoft exec Steven Sinofsky knows what Facebook is going through.
He was at the giant when it was the undisputed leader of the tech industry, and when sentiment turned against the company and everybody — from federal regulators to competitors to the press — was attacking it.
Now Facebook is going through a similar phase. A couple years ago, Mark Zuckerberg was viewed as a wonder-kid genius who had built a tech company worth hundreds of billions in less than a decade, and was making a well-studied turn into philanthropy.
Then came the 2016 presidential election. Facebook users watched as their feeds were filled with polarizing political posts, including fake news and ads, including some that the company later admitted were bought by Russians in an attempt to influence the election.
Now, the company is being forced to testify before various committees on Capitol Hill about the Russian ads, and Zuckerberg is getting raked over the coals for tone-deaf moves like showing flood-stricken Puerto Rico to demonstrate its virtual reality platform. All the while, commentators slam it for being too powerful and insufficiently apologetic, calling it one of the “Four Horsemen” or “Frightful Five.”
Sinofsky captures the disorienting feeling Facebook employees probably have right now, where they thought they were on top of the world and can’t quite figure out why everybody suddenly seems to hate them.
As he put it, “We were just trying to make software. The more ppl said we were trying to be bad and do harm the wider the gap became. Surreal to us.”
But he says this is a normal part of the growing-up process for companies, and he offered some recommendations on how Facebook could handle it using a framework called Tuckman’s stages of group development.
In the end, he’s confident Facebook and other social networks will make it through the other side.