Cyber Saturday—Facebook’s ‘War Room’ Is a Marketing Ploy

In response to mounting criticism from consumers, citizens, and lawmakers, Facebook is pursuing a public relations blitz. The media giant wants to change people’s perceptions about how it is handling the scourge of misinformation and concomitant threat to elections presented by its websites and apps.

Enter the “war room.” Facebook invited journalists from a number of publications—Fortune included—to visit a cramped conference room on the company’s Menlo Park campus inside which a squad of 20-or-so employees is tasked with valiantly defending democracy around the globe—from the U.S., to Brazil, and beyond. The walls and desks are cluttered with video screens and computer monitors. Around them, Facebook’s freedom fighters huddle, clattering away on their keyboards, stemming a tide of malicious, politically-motivated influence campaigns.

One moment in Fortune reporter Jonathan Vanian’s account of the war room made me grin widely. A Facebook executive, Samidh Chakrabarti, director of elections and civic engagement for the company, tells Vanian that having everyone in the same room allows for “face-to-face” communication and quick decision-making. A few paragraphs later, we learn why Facebook does not plan to invite collaborators from other misinformation-besieged Silicon Valley companies, like Twitter and Reddit, to take seats in the room. It is easier for these groups to collaborate “virtually” rather than physically, says Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy. Hmm…

Facebook’s war room seems, to this columnist, like a PR stunt. It is reminiscent of the cybersecurity fusion centers that banks and other companies set up to dazzle visitors. Such displays are “mostly for show,” as Jason Witty, chief information security officer at U.S. Bank, told the New York Times for an unrelated story about such flashy workspaces. They, you know, look cool.

I do not mean to denigrate Facebook’s efforts entirely. To be fair, the company is trying to address the many problems that plague its platforms. And the war room does serve an important purpose: making the company’s behind-the-scenes battles more tangible for its own employees, for regulators, and for the public. Hopefully it does help quench disinformation.

Still, the tidy image of the war room comes across as a bit of marketing misdirection. After all, the walls of this room extend far, far beyond Menlo Park. Ask any journalist. As the Times’ editorial board notes in a recent op-ed, Facebook effectively relies on news reporters as an army of unofficial, unpaid, outsourced content moderators, helping to root out spammers, trolls, and propagandists. Companies like Facebook “have all the tools at their disposal and a profound responsibility to find exactly what journalists find—and yet, clearly, they don’t,” the Times writes.

Indeed, the real war room has no walls.

***

Last week I warned readers about the many ways Bloomberg Businessweek’s recent report about Chinese spy chips smells foul. Just yesterday Apple CEO Tim Cook took the unprecedented move of personally calling for Bloomberg to retract the story. So far Bloomberg has not backed down. We’ll continue to track this story and its fallout.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett

@rhhackett

[email protected]

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

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McDonald's Was Just Accused of Doing Something Very Unhealthy. Its Response Is Eye-Opening

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

The headlines were menacing. 

They seemed to tell of a dirty little secret, one that many fast food joints had shared.

22 out of 25 had been deemed unacceptable. They got an F-grade.

Only Shake Shack, BurgerFi and Wendy’s passed. (And Wendy’s only just.)

The rest, said the collaborative Chain Reaction report — from the Center for Food Safety, Consumer Reports, Food Animal Concerns Trust, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Friends of the Earth, and Natural Resources Defense Council — were a disgrace.

What was their sin? Serving beef raised with the routine use of antibiotics.

Surely, you might think, antibiotics are good for you. At least, if you have a sinus infection. 

But no. As the Center for Food Safety told me:

Public health experts warn that the widespread use of antibiotics for meat production is rendering these medications less effective by contributing to the creation and spread of drug-resistant bacteria, sometimes known as superbugs.

No one wants a superbug, save for the few people on reality shows who appear to enjoy eating them.

Still, McDonald’s is the biggest name criticized in this report. It was the name most used in headlines, such as: Chain Reaction antibiotics report fails 22 of 25 burger chains, including McDonald’s.

So I thought I’d ask the burger chain whether its feelings were hurt at being failed so publicly.

A McDonald’s spokeswoman didn’t sound amused. She told me: 

Preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics for future generations is highly important to McDonald’s. In 2016, McDonald’s fully implemented its pledge to no longer serve chicken treated with antibiotics important to human medicine in its US restaurants, which led to the 2018 implementation of an antibiotic use policy for broiler chicken in markets around the globe.

So you see, McDonald’s isn’t unaware of its social responsibilities.

Where’s the beef, McDonald’s? The spokeswoman again: 

McDonald’s is currently finalizing a global antibiotics policy for beef, to be announced before the end of 2018.

Why did it take so long? Isn’t it painful that Wendy’s is above you, even if the witty-Twittering chain only scored a D-?

McDonald’s final words were these:

Our ‘Global Vision for Antibiotic Stewardship in Food Animals’ provides guidance for the development of policies, and utilizes antibiotic categorization established by the World Health Organization. 

Look, McDonald’s seems to cry, we’re working with the WHO. What more do you want?

McDonald’s has much going on in just about every aspect of its business. It’s a cumbersome organization that’s desperately fighting more nimble and more modern competitors.

So now it bristles at accusations of being unhealthy.

Now, about all the calories in those fries.

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