Facebook responds to the explosive New York Times report


mark zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark
Zuckerberg.

Reuters / Stephen
Lam


  • An explosive New York Times report delved into how
    Facebook’s leadership dealt with scandals over the past few
    years.
  • Facebook published a blog post refuting elements of the
    report, such as Russian interference, political point-scoring,
    and Zuckerberg banning his executives from using
    iPhones.
  • Business Insider has broken down Facebook’s objections
    alongside the Times’ reporting.

Facebook inner workings were laid bare on Wednesday by
a New York Times report
that went into gory detail about how
the social network’s leadership struggled to contend with a
series of scandals.

Facebook on Thursday delivered a riposte in the form of a
blog post,
which listed the ways in which it claims the Times
misrepresented the facts.

Here is a breakdown of Facebook’s objections:

1. Facebook discouraged its security chief, Alex Stamos, from
looking into Russian interference

Facebook’s statement:

“The story asserts that we knew about Russian activity as early
as the spring of 2016 but were slow to investigate it at every
turn. This is not true…

“After the election, no one ever discouraged Alex Stamos from
looking into Russian activity — as he himself acknowledged on
Twitter
. Indeed as The New York Times says, ‘Mark and Sheryl
[Sandberg] expanded Alex’s work.'”

What the Times wrote:

“In December 2016, after Mr. Zuckerberg publicly scoffed at
the idea that fake news on Facebook had helped elect Mr. Trump,
Mr. Stamos — alarmed that the company’s chief executive seemed
unaware of his team’s findings — met with Mr. Zuckerberg, Ms.
Sandberg and other top Facebook leaders.

“Ms. Sandberg was angry. Looking into the Russian activity
without approval, she said, had left the company exposed legally.
Other executives asked Mr. Stamos why they had not been told
sooner.

“Still, Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Zuckerberg decided to expand on
Mr. Stamos’s work, creating a group called Project P, for
‘propaganda,’ to study false news on the site, according to
people involved in the discussions. By January 2017, the group
knew that Mr. Stamos’s original team had only scratched the
surface of Russian activity on Facebook, and pressed to issue a
public paper about their findings.”

The Times also said that in September 2017, Sandberg yelled at
Stamos during a meeting after he told board members that the
company had not yet got the problem of Russian interference under
control.

“Mr. Stamos’s briefing had prompted a humiliating boardroom
interrogation of Ms. Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating
officer, and her billionaire boss. She appeared to regard the
admission as a betrayal.

“‘You threw us under the bus!’ she yelled at Mr. Stamos,
according to people who were present.”

2. Why Russia didn’t get a mention in Facebook’s 2017 White Paper

Facebook’s statement:

“We did not name Russia in our April 2017 white paper — but
instead cited a US Government report in a footnote about Russian
activity — because we felt that the US Director of National
Intelligence was best placed to determine the source.”

What the Times wrote:

“[Joel] Kaplan and other Facebook executives objected [to
releasing a the findings publicly]. Washington was already
reeling from an official finding by American intelligence
agencies that Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, had
personally ordered an influence campaign aimed at helping elect
Mr. Trump.

“If Facebook implicated Russia further, Mr. Kaplan said,
Republicans would accuse the company of siding with Democrats.
And if Facebook pulled down the Russians’ fake pages, regular
Facebook users might also react with outrage at having been
deceived: His own mother-in-law, Mr. Kaplan said, had followed a
Facebook page created by Russian trolls.

“Ms. Sandberg sided with Mr. Kaplan, recalled four people
involved. Mr. Zuckerberg — who spent much of 2017 on a national
‘listening tour,’ feeding cows in Wisconsin and eating dinner
with Somali refugees in Minnesota — did not participate in the
conversations about the public paper. When it was published that
April, the word ‘Russia’ never appeared.”

3. Deciding against banning Donald Trump over his Muslim ban

Facebook’s statement:

“We did decide that President Trump’s comments on the Muslim ban,
while abhorrent to many people, did not break our Community
Standards for the same reasons The New York Times and many other
organizations covered the news: Donald Trump was a candidate
running for office. To suggest that the internal debate around
this particular case was different from other important free
speech issues on Facebook is wrong.”

What the Times wrote:

“Mr. Zuckerberg, who had helped found a nonprofit dedicated
to immigration reform, was appalled, said employees who spoke to
him or were familiar with the conversation. He asked Ms. Sandberg
and other executives if Mr. Trump had violated Facebook’s terms
of service.”

The Times reported that the decision was delegated to three
senior officials: Joel Kaplan, Elliot Schrage, and Monika
Bickert.

“Mr. Kaplan argued that Mr. Trump was an important public
figure and that shutting down his account or removing the
statement could be seen as obstructing free speech, said three
employees who knew of the discussions. He said it could also
stoke a conservative backlash.

‘”Don’t poke the bear,’ Mr. Kaplan warned.

“Mr. Zuckerberg did not participate in the debate. Ms.
Sandberg attended some of the video meetings but rarely
spoke.

“Mr. Schrage concluded that Mr. Trump’s language had not
violated Facebook’s rules and that the candidate’s views had
public value. ‘We were trying to make a decision based on all the
legal and technical evidence before us,’ he said in an
interview.”

4. Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg were complacent about
fighting fake news and misinformation

Facebook’s statement:

“Mark and Sheryl have been deeply involved in the fight against
false news and information operations on Facebook — as they have
been consistently involved in all our efforts to prevent misuse
of our services.”

What the Times wrote:

“As evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be
exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and
inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg
and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored
warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view.
At critical moments over the last three years, they were
distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and
policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former
executives.”

5. Facebook came out in favour of a bill targeting sex
trafficking to score political points

Facebook’s statement:

“Sheryl championed this legislation because she believed it was
the right thing to do, and that tech companies need to be more
open to content regulation where it can prevent real world harm.
In fact, the company faced considerable criticism as a result.”

What the Times wrote:

Facebook hired PR firm, Definers Public Affairs, in October 2017.
Definers recommended that Facebook, “have positive content pushed
out about your company and negative content that’s being pushed
out about your competitor.”

“Facebook quickly adopted that strategy. In November 2017,
the social network came out in favor of a bill called the Stop
Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which made internet companies
responsible for sex trafficking ads on their sites…

Facebook broke ranks with other tech companies, hoping the
move would help repair relations on both sides of the aisle, said
two congressional staffers and three tech industry
officials.”

6. Facebook seeded negative press about Apple because Tim Cook
criticised it over privacy

Facebook’s statement:

“Tim Cook has consistently criticized our business model and Mark
has been equally clear he disagrees. So there’s been no need to
employ anyone else to do this for us.”

“The New York Times is wrong to suggest that we ever asked
Definers to pay for or write articles on Facebook’s behalf – or
to spread misinformation,” Facebook added.

What the Times wrote:

“On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens
of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business
practices….

The rash of news coverage was no accident:
NTK is an affiliate of Definers, sharing offices and staff with
the public relations firm in Arlington, Va. Many NTK Network
stories are written by staff members at Definers or America
Rising, the company’s political opposition-research arm, to
attack their clients’ enemies…

“Mr. Miller [Tim Miller, head of Definers] acknowledged that
Facebook and Apple do not directly compete. Definers’ work on
Apple is funded by a third technology company, he said, but
Facebook has pushed back against Apple because Mr. Cook’s
criticism upset Facebook.”

7. Mark Zuckerberg insisted his executives use only Android
phones due to Tim Cook’s criticisms

Facebook’s statement:

“We’ve long encouraged our employees and executives to use
Android because it is the most popular operating system in the
world.”

What the Times wrote:

“‘Were not going to traffic in your personal life,’ Tim Cook,
Apple’s chief executive, said in an MSNBC interview. ‘Privacy to
us is a human right. It’s a civil liberty.’ (Mr. Cook’s
criticisms infuriated Mr. Zuckerberg, who later ordered his
management team to use only Android phones — arguing that the
operating system had far more users than Apple’s.)”

8. Facebook’s PR tried to blame anti-Facebook groups on George
Soros

Facebook’s statement:

“Definers did encourage members of the press to look into the
funding of ‘Freedom from Facebook,’ an anti-Facebook
organization. The intention was to demonstrate that it was not
simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but
supported by a well-known critic of our company. To suggest that
this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue.”

What the Times wrote:

“Facebook also used Definers to take on bigger opponents,
such as Mr. Soros, a longtime boogeyman to mainstream
conservatives and the target of intense anti-Semitic smears on
the far right. A research document circulated by Definers to
reporters this summer, just a month after the House hearing, cast
Mr. Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be
a broad anti-Facebook movement…

“Definers pressed reporters to explore the financial
connections between Mr. Soros’s family or philanthropies and
groups that were members of Freedom from Facebook, such as Color
of Change, an online racial justice organization, as well as a
progressive group founded by Mr. Soros’s son. (An official at Mr.
Soros’s Open Society Foundations said the philanthropy had
supported both member groups, but not Freedom from Facebook, and
had made no grants to support campaigns against Facebook.)”

Facebook announced that it
ended its contract with Definers on Wednesday night
.


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