For the past two years, Facebook Inc. and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg were the public face of the “techlash,” a feeling among some in the general population and in government that tech companies were too big and occasionally damaging to society. Zuckerberg stayed on the defensive, apologizing to Congress for Facebook’s leaking of private data on millions of users and vowing to do a better job of rooting out misinformation and protecting elections from foreign meddling.
Then came Covid-19. And Facebook was suddenly no longer tripping over its mistakes—it was on the offense, using lessons learned from past failures. After being heavily criticized for Russian interference in the last presidential campaign and the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Facebook moved quickly to get its teams preparing for bad things that could happen, instead of waiting for the media to dig them up. They expected to find a challenge similar to Russian election interference. Instead, they face a worldwide public-health disaster.