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NYTimes exposé reveals how Facebook handled scandals

Delay, deny and deflect were the strategies Facebook has used to navigate scandals it's faced in recent years, according to the New York Times.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Key Takeaways
  • The exhaustive report is based on interviews with more than 50 people with ties to the company.
  • It outlines how senior executives misled the public and lawmakers in regard to what it had discovered about privacy breaches and Russian interference in U.S. politics.
  • On Thursday, Facebook cut ties with one of the companies, Definers Public Relations, listed in the report.

A new report from The New York Times provides a behind-closed-doors look at the tactics Facebook used to suppress, muddle and counteract the widespread criticism that’s hit the company in recent years.

The report details how Facebook executives handled their discovery of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election and large-scale privacy concerns, among other publicity crises. It suggests, as others have before, that Facebook’s unrelenting desire for expansion caused myriad problems, some arguably predictable, others not so much.

The NYTimes‘ report is based on interviews with more than 50 people, including former Facebook executives and employees, lawmakers and government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members. “Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed confidentiality agreements, were not authorized to speak to reporters or feared retaliation,” the report states.

Here are some of the most alarming takeaways from the exhaustive report published Thursday.

Facebook executives misled the Senate on Russia’s attempt to influence U.S. politics

In 2017, Facebook officials “repeatedly played down Senate investigators’ concerns” about the company and claimed there wasn’t any significant Russian effort to influence U.S. politics. Meanwhile, Facebook was tracing “more ads, pages and groups back to Russia,” amounting to what executives later called a “five-alarm fire.”

Facebook’s chief operating officer insisted a 2017 blog post on Russian interference be watered down

On Sept. 6, 2017, the day of the company’s quarterly board meeting, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg insisted a blog post, set to be published that day, about Russian interference “be less specific” than the draft company officials had first presented.

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“It said little about fake accounts or the organic posts created by Russian trolls that had gone viral on Facebook, disclosing only that Russian agents had spent roughly $100,000 — a relatively tiny sum — on approximately 3,000 ads,” the report states.

Facebook hired a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit protesters

Facebook hired Definers Public Affairs, an opposition-research firm founded by Republicans, to push negatives stories about the social media company’s critics and rivals, including Google. Definers also circulated a document “casting Mr. Soros, the billionaire liberal donor, as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.”

Facing public backlash as a result of the publishing of the new report, Facebook cut ties with Definers on Thursday without citing a reason.

​Facebook “relied” on Sen. Chuck Schumer to defend the company in Washington

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, whose daughter Alison works for Facebook, has “long worked to advance Silicon Valley’s interests on issues such as commercial drone regulations and patent reform,” according to the NYTimes.

“In July, as Facebook’s troubles threatened to cost the company billions of dollars in market value, Mr. Schumer confronted Mr. Warner, by then Facebook’s most insistent inquisitor in Congress,” the report states. “Back off, he told Mr. Warner, according to a Facebook employee briefed on Mr. Schumer’s intervention. Mr. Warner should be looking for ways to work with Facebook, Mr. Schumer advised, not harm it.”

Facebook responds

On Thursday, Facebook published several blog posts, including a direct response to TheNew York Times report. You can read them here.


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