Tech Insider | opinion

Sheryl Sandberg would have known about Facebook's relationship with a mud-slinging PR firm if she had read her emails properly

Getty ImagesFacebook’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sheryl Sandberg.
  • Facebook’s outgoing communications boss Elliot Schrage has taken the fall for a controversial relationship with Definers Public Affairs.
  • But COO Sheryl Sandberg has now admitted that she received emails referencing Definers – after previously saying that she did not know Facebook hired the company.
  • In other words, she was made aware of the Definers partnership, but it just didn’t register.
  • Sandberg has been buffeted by a sequence of recent scandals at Facebook, but has the support of staff.

We’re now in week two of the news cycle on Facebook’s relationship with Definers Public Affairs, which resulted in the PR firm throwing shade on Facebook’s rivals and critics.

Both Mark Zuckerberg and his number two, Sheryl Sandberg, have denied any knowledge of Definers’ activities, including its efforts to link billionaire investor George Soros to an anti-Facebook movement.

Instead, outgoing Head of Communications and Policy Elliot Schrage has taken the fall. In an internal memo, published by Facebook on the eve of Thanksgiving, Schrage said he “knew and approved of the decision to hire Definers” but was not made aware of expanding the firm’s mandate into a smear campaign.

Read more: Mark Zuckerberg reportedly blamed Sheryl Sandberg for the Cambridge Analytica fallout, making her worry for her job

“I built a management system that relies on the teams to escalate issues if they are uncomfortable about any project, the value it will provide or the risks that it creates,” Schrage said. “That system failed here and I’m sorry I let you all down.”

Sandberg received emails referencing Definers

But following Schrage’s admission, we also now know that the relationship with Definers was referenced in messages that went right to the top of Facebook.

Responding to Schrage’s email, Sandberg admitted that she had received a “small number of emails where Definers was referenced” and some of the firm’s work was “incorporated into materials presented to me.”

It follows her statement on the matter last week, in which she said: “I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing.”

In other words, she was made aware of the Definers partnership, but it just didn’t register.

Sandberg said she accepted responsibility for the matter. “I want to be clear that I oversee our Comms team and take full responsibility for their work and the PR firms who work with us,” she said in her email this week.

Sandberg has been buffeted by a sequence of recent scandals at Facebook. Zuckerberg personally blamed Sandberg for Cambridge Analytica, leaving her rattled and fearing for her job, The Wall Street Journal reported.

But one Facebook executive said there has been a “huge upswell” of support for her internally. “The amount of support, and other executives who have worked with her within the company for so many years, who are rallying around this particular challenge has been remarkable,” said Patrick Walker, director of media partnerships in Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

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