- Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, has responded to the bombshell New York Times report on mismanagement at the company.
- In a Facebook post, Sandberg said she had no idea Facebook hired a public-relations firm to smear the company’s critics, including the billionaire George Soros.
- CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook’s communications team was to blame.
- Sandberg also denied suggestions that she blocked internal investigations into Russian election interference.
Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, has responded to the 6,000-word New York Times exposé on the company’s chaotic leadership.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, Sandberg joined CEO Mark Zuckerberg in saying she had been unaware of Facebook’s involvement with a public-relations firm called Definers Public Affairs, which The Times said disseminated research to journalists linking the billionaire George Soros to anti-Facebook movements.
“I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have,” she wrote.
Facebook cut ties with Definers less than 24 hours after The Times’ story broke. Zuckerberg said he found about the relationship only by reading The Times’ report. In an 80-minute call with journalists on Thursday, he said someone on Facebook’s communications team “must have hired them.”
The USA Today reporter Jessica Guynn summed up the exchange:
So, who did know on your team about Definers?
Zuckerberg: "I think someone on our comms team must have hired them."
Comms team, meet the bus that just ran you over.
— Jessica Guynn (@jguynn) November 15, 2018
Facebook’s communications team was led by Elliot Schrage until he quit this summer. He has been succeeded by former British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. While announcing he was stepping down, Schrage said Zuckerberg and Sandberg had asked him to stay on as an adviser and that he had agreed to do so.
A subsequent article from The Times delved deeper into the tactics Definers employed to push negative press about Facebook’s critics. Apart from Soros, Definers also sent information to journalists about the US senators who grilled Sandberg along with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in September.
Definers sent reporters a list of the tracking tools the senators’ websites used as well as how much cash each senator had spent on Facebook ads – the aim being to push journalists into portraying the senators as hypocrites for scrutinizing Facebook.
Elsewhere in Sandberg’s post, she denied suggestions that she blocked internal investigations into Russian election interference. “Mark and I have said many times we were too slow,” she said. “But to suggest that we weren’t interested in knowing the truth, or we wanted to hide what we knew, or that we tried to prevent investigations, is simply untrue.”
You can read Sandberg’s full post here:
“I want to address some of the claims that have been made in the last 24 hours.
“On a number of issues – including spotting and understanding the Russian interference we saw in the 2016 election – Mark and I have said many times we were too slow. But to suggest that we weren’t interested in knowing the truth, or we wanted to hide what we knew, or that we tried to prevent investigations, is simply untrue. The allegations saying I personally stood in the way are also just plain wrong. This was an investigation of a foreign actor trying to interfere in our election. Nothing could be more important to me or to Facebook.
“As Mark and I both told Congress, leading up to Election Day in November 2016, we detected and dealt with several threats with ties to Russia and reported what we found to law enforcement. These were known traditional cyberattacks like hacking and malware. It was not until after the election that we became aware of the widespread misinformation campaigns run by the IRA. Once we were, we began investing heavily in more people and better technology to protect our platform. While we will always have more work to do, I believe we’ve started to see some of that work pay off, as we saw in the recent US midterms and elections around the world where we have found and taken down further attempts at interference.
“I also want to address the issue that has been raised about a PR firm, Definers. We’re no longer working with them but at the time, they were trying to show that some of the activity against us that appeared to be grassroots also had major organisations behind them. I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have. I have great respect for George Soros – and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent.
“At Facebook, we are making the investments that we need to stamp out abuse in our system and ensure the good things people love about Facebook can keep happening. It won’t be easy. It will take time and will never be complete. This mission is critical and I am committed to seeing it through.”
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