Sheryl Sandberg repeatedly tried to downplay Russia's involvement in misinformation on Facebook, report says

Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesFacebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg testifies during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing concerning foreign influence operations’ use of social media platforms, on Capitol Hill, September 5, 2018 in Washington, DC.
  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg reportedly tried to downplay disclosures of the effects of Russian propaganda on the social network.
  • Sandberg argued against singling out Russia in 2017 and called for public disclosures to be made “less specific,” according to a new report from the New York Times.
  • The revelations shed new light on how senior leadership battled to maintain Facebook’s image as it lurched from scandal to scandal.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg repeatedly pushed to downplay disclosures of the effects of Russian propaganda on the social network, according to the New York Times in a bombshell report.

The report looked at at how Facebook’s executive team reacted to the company’s chain of scandals, including the fallout from the spread of Russian misinformation on the platform, to the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s appearances in Congress.

A thread runs through the roughly 6,000-word investigation: Sandberg’s aggressive defence of the company reportedly involved repeated attempts to avoid implicating Russia for its role in spreading misinformation on Facebook.

In one incident in 2017, in the aftermath of Russian meddling during the US presidential election, the COO reportedly argued that Facebook shouldn’t single out Russia in a public paper it planned to published looking at “information operations” on the platform – agreeing with Facebook’s Washington DC-based policy boss Joel Kaplan that “if Facebook implicated Russia further … Republicans would accuse the company of siding with Democrats.”

Later that year, she asked then-security boss Alex Stamos to make a blog post about Russian interference on Facebook “less specific.” Stamos departed the company in August.

Sandberg and Stamos had clashed before. Back in 2016, Stamos assigned a team to investigate what the Russians had been up to on Facebook. It’s a decision that reportedly angered Sandberg: “Looking into the Russian activity without approval, she said, had left the company exposed legally,” the NYT reported.

And in 2017, Sandberg reported fumed at the security exec (reportedly shouting “you threw us under the bus!”) after he told Facebook’s board of directors that the company had not yet stamped out Russian interference on the platform. Stamos’ report reportedly resulted in Zuckerberg and Sandberg getting grilled by the board.

The revelations shed new light on exactly how senior leadership was involved in trying to protect the company’s image as it lurched from crisis to crisis. But it’s still having an impact: According to another report published Wednesday, Facebook employee morale has dropped dramatically in recent months.

In a previous statement about the report, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told Business Insider: “This has been a tough time at Facebook and our entire management team has been focused on tackling the issues we face. While these are hard problems we are working hard to ensure that people find our products useful and that we protect our community from bad actors.” He did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sandberg’s actions.

Read the full New York Times story here.

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