Analysts described 3 main risks to Facebook from the Cambridge Analytica scandal

FacebookFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Analysts at Macquarie Research warned that there are three main risks to Facebook’s stock from the Cambridge Analytica scandal: Legal and political risk, people starting to distrust social media, and radical action from Facebook.
  • The analysts said that “headlines matter” for Facebook’s stock.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has so far been silent about the ongoing issue.

In a note published on Monday, Macquarie Research said that “headlines matter” for Facebook in the ongoing coverage of Cambridge Analytica’s alleged use of Facebook data in political targeting and profiling.

“In this case, headlines matter very much for the stock,” the analysts said in a note published on March 19. “While there will be plenty of journalists and others who can parse exactly what happened regarding this most recent issue involving Cambridge Analytica in terms of number of accounts and whether this was a ‘data breach’ or not, the details matter very little when looking at this through the narrow lens of an equity analyst. What matters for this stock, at this time, are the headlines.”

Macquarie Research outlined three areas of risk to Facebook and its stock from the ongoing scandal: Political and legal risk for Facebook, people starting to dislike social media, and the potential of Mark Zuckerberg taking radical action to respond to the Cambridge Analytica scandal which could reduce Facebook revenue.

There’s a looming political and legal risk to Facebook

The first risk is pretty obvious: The UK’s information commissioner has said she is seeking a warrant to raid Cambridge Analytica’s office. And two senators in the US, a Republican and a Democrat, have called for Zuckerberg to testify before Congress.

So the threat of political and legal risk is clear for Facebook. It may not have been directly involved in what Cambridge Analytica did, but lawmakers want an explanation of how it happened.

And that’s setting aside the broader worry of increased regulation for large technology companies. Several high-profile technology figures have now called for increased regulation. The creator of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, recently said that “a legal or regulatory framework” may be needed for technology companies.

It’s possible that people are starting to feel differently about from social media

The second risk outlined by Macquarie Research is one that’s harder to define. It suggested that “the negative connotations around social media ‘feel’ like they are growing.” And the Cambridge Analytica story won’t do anything to fix that.

It’s become common to read lengthy criticisms and explorations of the role of social media in large publications. Last year, the London Review of Books published a long article about Facebook, titled “You are the product.” And New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo attempted to avoid finding out news from social media for two months (“It has been life changing.”)

Macquarie Research admitted that it didn’t have hard data to back up this risk. But some surveys do back up its fear. In October, a survey found that nearly two-thirds of schoolchildren would not mind if social media hadn’t been invented.

Mark Zuckerberg could take ‘radical’ action

Finally, the analysts are worried about how Zuckerberg is going to resolve the Cambridge Analytica issue.

“We think [Facebook] could take more radical actions than it has in the past to limit the use of audience segmenting, ad targeting, data sharing, and other privacy related issues that could lower the monetisation of FB data,” the analysts said. “That is our concern for the financials.”

Zuckerberg could crack down on political advertising, or limit how much data is shared with advertisers. That would likely help Facebook fight back against the negative press coverage, but it would reduce the amount of money the company makes.

Right now, Zuckerberg has far done nothing to respond to the issue. Both Zuckerberg and his deputy, Sheryl Sandberg, have been silent. Instead, the company released a press release on Friday evening ahead of stories by The Observer and The New York Times.

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