Under a new initiative dubbed “Project Amplify” and approved by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook has begun harnessing the full power of its News Feed as part of a broader, aggressive strategic push to reshape its image that emerged this year, according to the New York Times.
While Facebook has previously used the News Feed to promote its products and social causes, it is now using it to “openly push positive press about itself,” says the report, based on information from current and former employees.
Project Amplify, which has been tested in three U.S. cities since Zuckerberg signed off on it last month, employs a “Quick Promotes” system to place posts in users’ News Feeds. The posts, bearing a Facebook logo, link to positive stories about the Facebook platform — some written by the company, others from third-party local news sites.
In response to the Times, Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne described Project Amplify as “a test for an informational unit clearly marked as coming from Facebook,” that is “similar to corporate responsibility initiatives people see in other technology and consumer products.”
Osborne also denied that the company has changed its overall approach to messaging. “People deserve to know the steps we’re taking to address the different issues facing our company — and we’re going to share those steps widely,” he said in a statement.
The Times, however, reports that a conscious pivot to taking the offensive began early this year, after Facebook executives concluded that the company’s usual approaches to trying to quell criticism — promising transparency, providing access to some of its data, and apologizing as damaging stories tying Facebook to privacy violations, misinformation and hate speech have emerged — were not working.
The new approach, which came out of a virtual internal meeting in January, has included efforts to distance Zuckerberg from controversies, in part by having him cease public apologies in favor of focusing on innovation and new products in posts and media appearances, reports the Times, adding that Zuckerberg has approved all of the image initiatives.
In new developments not mentioned by the Times but appearing to dovetail with its report, on Tuesday, Facebook used a post and other messaging to tout that it had invested more than $13 billion in addressing safety and security issues since 2016, and to promote its latest consumer products.
The timing coincided with a post by the Facebook Oversight Board announcing that it would review a Wall Street Journal report about high-profile users being exempted from Facebook’s posting guidelines.
Facebook’s strategic image-control shift has also been behind public pushback from the company — including COO Sheryl Sandberg’s public assertion in January that Facebook was not a primary contributor to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, as well as other executives’ counter-attacks in response to President Joe Biden’s charge that Facebook-disseminated COVID vaccination misinformation was “killing people,” and to last week’s series of WSJ exposés on various Facebook practices.
The “multipronged effort” to change the company’s narrative has also included curbing releases of its data (releases previously touted as evidence of its dedication to "transparency") and staunching employee leaks, per the Times.
However, some of those efforts have resulted in more bad press.
For instance, negative headlines ensued last month after it was revealed that Facebook had disabled the personal accounts of researchers at New York University who had been studying political ads on the social media platform.
Another PR fail, also occurring last month: After Facebook heavily touted its release of what it called its first quarterly “Widely Viewed Content Report” — stressing that “transparency is an important part of everything we do” — the Times revealed that the company had suppressed an earlier report that its executives feared would have underscored the platform’s role in the spread of vaccine misinformation.
Facebook has in recent months also “worked to stamp out employee leaks,” including by shutting down comments on an internal forum, notes the Times.
In addition, the report notes that the company has upped its marketing investment since the new brand image strategy began to be deployed this year. Facebook spent a record $6.1 billion on sales and marketing in this year’s first half, up 8% versus 1H 2020.