In an hourlong videoconference broadcast to Facebook offices around the world, Mr. Zuckerberg responded to questions from employees on a range of topics, from Facebooks behavior over the past 18 months to how it should handle leaks to the media, according to three people familiar with the discussion but not willing to discuss it publicly because it was a private meeting.
Facebooks string of scandals over the last several years have highlighted the poor job Mark Zuckerberg has done running the company — and his lack of accountability. The social networking giants stock structure gives Zuckerberg near-absolute control over it, because the shares he holds get far more votes than those held by ordinary investors. Facebook is one of a growing number of companies that have such structures, which help to insulate insiders from outside investors and the public at large. Many investors have been agitating against such structures, but little can or has been done to bar them at already public companies such as Facebook. Congress can and should address the problem. No matter how poor a job Mark Zuckerberg has done lately running Facebook, hes almost certainly not going anywhere, because hes effectively his own boss.
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The idea that Facebook tried to cover up anything was dead wrong, an impassioned Mr. Zuckerberg said, using an expletive in his response, according to these people. Some employees responded with muted applause and cheers.
The session came at a fraught time for the social network, as executives mobilized to deal with a torrent of criticism of the company. A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment on the Friday meeting.
On Wednesday, The Times reported about a struggle at the top ranks of Facebook with how to respond to Russian disinformation operations and revelations of weak data privacy protections. In particular, there was considerable tension between Sheryl Sandberg, Facebooks chief operating officer, and Alex Stamos, the companys former chief security officer.
Yup, Sheryl Sandberg yelled at me, Mr. Stamos said in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Saturday. I had no confidence that wed found out everything the Russians were up to, and it was quite possible that things would get worse before we built the teams and invented the technology necessary to stop it. Sheryl — as reported in this past weeks New York Times investigation — felt blindsided by this. (She later apologized.)
The company had also hired Definers Public Affairs, a Washington, D.C. consulting firm, to seed opposition research on Facebook critics. Definers also linked George Soros, the liberal financier, to anti-Facebook groups. Facebook cut ties with the firm after The Times investigation was published.
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In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Mr. Zuckerberg criticized what Definers had done on behalf of his company and said he and Ms. Sandberg were not aware of the specific work the outside firm was doing. He added that someone on the companys communications staff probably hired Definers, although he later complimented the communications staff for their hard work.
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In general, we need to go through all of our relationships and evaluate what might be more typical D.C. relationships and decide if we want to continue with them, Mr. Zuckerberg said on the call.
Mr. Zuckerberg said much of the criticism of his company over the past 18 months — specifically regarding election security, content moderation and disinformation — had been fair and important.
Ms. Sandberg, who also attended the session, added that I fully accept responsibility for Definers, according to two people familiar with the conversation. That was on me.
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But Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg said The Timess investigation was completely unfair and at times simply not true.
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Much of the discussion centered on boosting employee morale. Elliot Schrage, Facebooks former vice president of global communications and public policy, returned to the company for the meeting on Friday.
Mr. Schrage said that Facebook was in a difficult news cycle, and that things would eventually calm down, and he urged workers to keep trying to do their best and work on the companys tough problems.
In a year marked by scandals, Facebook continues to be shaken by damning revelations. The social network is once more in the eye storm, thanks to a bombshell report by the New York Times, which details how the company relied on shady tactics and misdirection to hide its problems and manage its public image during the last 3 years.
Some Facebook employees indicated that they believe The Times and other news outlets are unfairly targeting the company because of its outsize influence — a sentiment shared in the session on Friday when employees asked executives what would happen to employees who leak information to the press.
Mr. Zuckerberg made it clear that Facebook would not hesitate to fire employees who spoke to The New York Times or other publications. But after an employee asked whether the company should issue a report about how many leakers Facebook had found and fired, Mr. Zuckerberg played down the idea.
The Facebook CEO was shocked and appalled at the conduct of his company, he told reporters on a conference call Thursday, responding to a bombshell New York Times report that Facebook hired a D.C. opposition research firm called Definers Public Affairs which proceeded to undertake all manner of ethically fraught actions on its behalf.
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I learned about this yesterday, Zuckerberg said. Pressed to explain who, then, was aware of Facebooks relationship with Definers, he offered the verbal equivalent of a shrug: Someone on our comms team must have hired them.
Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg echoed that denial in a note published later Thursday. I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, she said, but I should have.
A TechCrunch breakdown of Facebooks communications team found numerous staffers linked to Sandberg formerly worked for Mitt Romneys presidential campaign alongside Matt Rhodes, who founded Definers after the campaign. This includes Facebooks Director of Policy Communications Andrea Saul, who worked for Sandbergs non-profit LeanIn.org for two years after the campaign concluded.
Another possible link: Facebooks chief lobbyist, Joel Kaplan, worked in the George W. Bush White House at the same time as Rhodes and has strong ties to Sandberg. The two attended Harvard together and he reportedly consults with her on high-level strategy at Facebook ― including deciding to downplay Russian disinformation activities on the site, another bombshell allegation made in the Times report. (Facebook denies this).
In addition to Sandbergs internal corporate ties to Facebooks communications and policy leaders, her claim of ignorance doesnt line up with basic executive oversight.
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Documents obtained by NBC show Facebook paid Definers $3.3 million for its services in the first quarter of 2018 alone. Assuming the relationship lasted longer than one quarter, thats one hefty annual expenditure for both a COO and CEO to know absolutely nothing about.
Their denials also represent a 180-degree reversal of the companys own spin. Just one day earlier, before its top executives publicly professed their ignorance, Facebook sought to combat the story by painting its contract with Definers as mundane, common knowledge:
Our relationship with Definers was well known by the media, the company said in a release, not least because they have on several occasions sent out invitations to hundreds of journalists about important press calls on our behalf.
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And finally, Sandbergs and Zuckerbergs portrayal of Definers relationship with the company as a little-known undertaking conflicts with Definers own description of it. While Definers disputed the nature of its work in a statement Friday, the firm said its work for Facebook included a large-scale news alert service that kept hundreds of Facebook staff informed.
Facebook slumps after Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg respond to the New York Times exposé (FB)
– Seeking to undermine and discredit Facebook critics in a group called Freedom From Facebook by linking them to the billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros, a common tactic on the far right thats fueled by anti-Semitism. Even worse, Soros didnt even fund the group.
– Lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to then cast Facebook critics as anti-Semitic. (Zuckerberg and Sandberg are both Jewish).
– Propagating disinformation about Facebook critics and competitors like Apple and Google ― via a verified Facebook page operated by Definers called NTK Network― that was dutifully picked up and disseminated by far-right outlets like Breitbart. (A former Definers employee described NTK to NBC as our in-house fake news shop.)