- A new book about Facebook reveals new details about Russian interference in the 2016 election.
- “Oh f—, how did we miss this?” Mark Zuckerberg said during a security brief, according to “An Ugly Truth.”
- Russia-based operatives published about 80,000 posts over two years, Facebook admitted in 2017.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Mark Zuckerberg was shocked to learn the Russian government had infiltrated Facebook during the 2016 election.
“Oh f—, how did we miss this?” he said in a December 2016 meeting with Facebook’s top brass, according to an upcoming book about the company, excerpted in Axios.
The Facebook CEO had just been briefed on information that nobody – including the US government – knew at the time, The New York Times’ Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang write in their book, “An Ugly Truth,” which comes out Tuesday.
The book excerpt reveals additional details about what exactly went down when Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg first learned about Russian interference on the platform, one of the company’s biggest scandals. “An Ugly Truth” is based on existing reporting by The New York Times.
Russia’s goal, Facebook’s chief security officer at the time, Alex Stamos, explained to the room of executives was to influence the 2016 US presidential election.
The revelation was a shocking one. The book details that “no one else spoke as Zuckerberg and Sandberg drilled their chief security officer.” The two executives asked why they were being told this now, nine months after Facebook’s security team first spotted Russian activity.
“Yup, Sheryl Sandberg yelled at me,” Stamos wrote in his 2018 account of the discovery for the Washington Post.
According to “An Ugly Truth,” “Stamos felt that he had been trying to sound the alarm on Russia for months.”
“It was well within my remit to investigate foreign activity within the platform,” Stamos said. “And we had appropriately briefed the people in our reporting chain … It became clear after that that it wasn’t enough.”
Frenkel and Kang write that “no one at the company knew the full extent of the Russian election interference,” according to Stamos, and that it could be much worse.
In response to demands made by Zuckerberg, executives then “promised to devote their top engineering talent and resources to investigate what Russia had done on the platform,” according to the excerpt.
The next year, Facebook would testify before Congress, saying that Russia-based operatives published about 80,000 posts between June 2015 and August 2017 – which may have reached as many as 126 million Americans – in an attempt to influence the presidential election.
Facebook’s board later issued a statement that it pushed Zuckerberg and other leaders to “move faster” in tackling Russian election interference on the platform.
“In 2016, we and those in the government and media did not fully recognize the nature and scope of foreign interference in our elections,” said Elana Widmann, a Facebook Company spokesperson. “Since 2017, we have removed over 150 covert influence operations originating in more than 50 counties, and a dedicated investigative team continues to vigilantly protect democracy on our platform both here and abroad.”
The 2017 federal intelligence report accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering “an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.”
The declassified investigation concluded “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” Insider’s Brennan Weiss reported.
Facebook told Insider that the company is different than it was in 2016, applying the lessons learned from the incident in more than 200 elections around the world.
Leading up to the 2020 US presidential election, Facebook took down multiple influence operations coming out of Russia, Iran, China, and within the US. The company said it also removed more than 4.5 billion fake accounts and displayed warnings on 180 million pieces of content debunked by third-party fact-checkers.