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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Tech giants, Facebook foremost, are learning a lesson politicians internalized decades ago: Bad news will always come out eventually, and it only gets worse the longer you sit on it.

Driving the news: Facebook spent Thursday fielding attacks from senators over its internal research into Instagram's negative impact on teen girls.

  • The research has been emerging in bits and pieces since the Wall Street Journal first reported on it earlier this month.
  • "60 Minutes" says it will air an interview Sunday with the anonymous whistleblower who leaked the research and other documents.
  • The same whistleblower will appear Tuesday before the Senate Commerce subcommittee that grilled Facebook's global head of safety Antigone Davis at a Thursday hearing.

Facebook insists that the research's conclusions are mostly positive and that the Journal and other critics are blowing it out of proportion.

  • "I want to be clear that this research is not a bombshell," Davis said at the hearing. "It's not causal research."
  • "For people who are struggling with these issues" like body image and eating disorders, she said, "actually more of them found their engagement on Instagram helpful than harmful."

Yes, but: Especially if that's the case, Facebook could and should have simply released a full accounting of its research the moment the Journal story ran.

  • That's crisis management 101: When under attack, get all your information out fast, or a one-day firestorm can spread into a weeks-long inferno.
  • You can tell your story all at once yourself, or watch your opponents retell it over and over with each new incremental revelation.

There's also an ethical case for Facebook to release its research, of course. No one else is in a position to study how the company's massive scale and informational power affect our society.

The big picture: Facebook's critics say the company has sat on its research in order to bury bad news. But secrecy is also simply a default at most large institutions.

  • At Apple, control of information has been a kind of religion for decades.

Between the lines: Facebook has shown a smarter hand at managing bad news in the financial realm.

  • In a blog post last week the company reiterated a warning that Apple's privacy changes in iOS would cause "increased headwinds" in the quarter that's just ending.
  • This kind of controlled, proactive disclosure is a smart way to manage investors' expectations. It's also sometimes required by securities laws.

Go deeper

Jul 27, 2020 - Technology

Big Tech's power, in 4 numbers

Data: FactSet; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The four Big Tech CEOs who will testify before Congress Wednesday command global empires with power and wealth that make them more like countries than companies.

By the numbers: Here are four very large stats for Facebook, Apple, Google/Alphabet and Amazon that tell the story of their value, scale and influence.

Ex-Theranos CEO describes alleged abuse by former boyfriend and company exec

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

On her fourth day of trial testimony, ex-Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes described her 10-year romantic relationship with former president Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani as controlling, and said he would sometimes "force me to have sex with him when I didn’t want to."

Why it matters: While Balwani has also been similarly charged with fraud, the two are being tried separately, in part because some of Holmes' defense hinges on blaming him.

Amazon ordered to redo union vote in Alabama

Photo: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images

A U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) official on Monday called for a re-vote in a union election at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.

Why it matters: The move could set the stage for another organizing drive at the e-commerce giant, which has, so far, fought off unionizing efforts in the U.S.