On one side, a media outlet controversial for misleading readers, running sleazy ads and misappropriating private letters. On the other, a British tabloid. Facebook is in a big teen-sex-scandal feud with the Daily Mail — ironically, its old-media doppelgänger.
The Daily Mail Wednesday reported that its correspondent posed as a 14-year-old on Facebook and was solicited for internet sex by older men "within 90 seconds" of setting up n account. It turns out the correspondent was using a different social network, and purportedly told Daily Mail editors as much, repeatedly, before publication. Whoops.
Facebook is threatening to sue, despite an apology from the paper and a rewrite of the online story to eliminate reference to Facebook. No wonder: The social network is especially touchy because some British politicians say it could have done more to prevent the death of a 17-year-old recently murdered by an older man who lured her with a false Facebook profile.
But the Daily Mail is an old hand at fighting off lawsuits and navigating controversy. The tabloid faced a storm of criticism over a column raising questions about the "sleazy" death of gay musician Stephen Gately, even though the death was officially chalked up to natural causes; it published Ian Halperin's epic account of the last days of Michael Jackson; uncovered the identity of Banksy; and cataloged the troubled childhood of Christian Bale.
So we're thinking Facebook has met not only its mirror image but its match. As shocked and angry as the social network's soft Silicon Valley flacks might be, they'll eventually realize that a loud fight over which sex predators are on Facebook and which aren't is not to its PR advantage.
And, more important, a company that finds itself apologizing as frequently as Facebook can't afford to tell another indiscreet media entity that "sorry isn't good enough." That would be a very costly stance.