Facebook is using the oldest PR trick in the book

Image: Reuters/Charles Platiau
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It’s a classic PR strategy: If you have bad news to deliver, drop it on the eve of a holiday, or in the middle of a massive news event. Not only will it garner less attention, but no one can accuse you of a lack of transparency.

Twice this month, Facebook appears to have used this strategy when releasing consequential, less-than-flattering news about its internal operations.

First up was news released on Nov. 5, the eve of America’s extremely divisive midterm elections. The company released an independent report (pdf) it commissioned (which was completed in October) about how the social media platform had been used to incite violence against the Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority group in Myanmar.

In a Nov. 5 statement, product policy manager Alex Warofka admitted the company wasn’t “doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence. We agree that we can and should do more.” Meanwhile, much of the US—and world’s–eyes were glued to election polls.

Then came this week, when on the eve of the long weekend Thanksgiving holiday, outgoing communications head Elliot Schrage confirmed that Facebook had, in fact, engaged a PR firm to dig up information on philanthropist George Soros and other critics. The news of Facebook’s involvement with Definers Public Affairs was first revealed by the New York Times in an investigation published Nov. 14 (paywall), which the company said “had a number of inaccuracies,” while not mentioning Soros. In addition, in press comments, both Marc Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg said they had been unaware the firm was hired. On Wednesday, Sandberg admitted in a statement appended to Schrage’s that, actually, she had “received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced.”

In doing so, Facebook was “joining a long tradition of companies and campaigns that drop bad news on holidays,” the New York Times wrote in their followup.

Many other tech companies have engaged in the practice, with Apple famously using Mondays to announce new product releases and Friday afternoons for product delays and recalls. In late September, Facebook announced 50 million accounts had been affected in its latest hack on a Friday. In politics, it’s called the “Friday news dump,” or, as referenced in a West Wing episode, “take out the trash day.”

Quartz reached out to Facebook for comment, and will update this post if they respond.