After a three-year string of scandals, Facebook finds itself staring down four separate antitrust investigations, a former co-founder who wants the company split apart and a front-runner presidential candidate who has made the breakup of the company a key part of her campaign.
It’s a far cry from a few short years ago, when people viewed Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg as prime examples of tech innovation and an inspiration for other business and tech leaders.
Here’s a look back at the events of the last three years that could force Zuckerberg to go to the mat to fight a breakup.
Nov. 10, 2016 — Zuckerberg rejects idea of Facebook’s fake news problem
Following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a number of journalists criticized Facebook for how it handled false and misleading news stories and propaganda in the run-up to the election.
In Zuckerberg’s first public appearance after the election, interviewer David Kirkpatrick asked him about the issue. He dismissed it outright.
“Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way — I think is a pretty crazy idea,” Zuckerberg said.
This was the moment when sentiment toward the company began to sour.
April 27, 2017 — Facebook confirms election interference
Facebook confirmed its critics’ fears when it issued a case study of the 2016 election. Though the paper was vague in detail and made no reference to Russian interference, it confirmed that groups had attempted to use its social network to sway the outcome of the 2016 election. This reduced trust in Facebook and highlighted the company’s outsize influence on its users.
March 17, 2018 — Cambridge Analytica
Facebook’s fake news problem was a black eye for the company, but it was nothing compared to the Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke in March 2018.
The Guardian and the New York Times reported that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly accessed the data of 50 million Facebook users, and had used that data to target voters on Facebook to get them to support Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign. The number was later revised to 87 million Facebook profiles.
Although the details were not that damning — it’s not clear whether Cambridge’s tactics actually worked — they bolstered the public impression that Facebook had undue influence over elections.
Facebook’s public response made matters worse. The company tried to get ahead of the reports by publishing a Friday night blog post on March 16, saying it was suspending Cambridge Analytica for improperly accessing user data. After the reports went live on Saturday, the company remained silent for five days without addressing the public.
March 20, 2018 — FTC opens investigation
U.S. regulators wasted no time looking into how Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest user data. The Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation into the matter days later, according to the Washington…