By Rex Crum
The Mercury News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A new New York Times report reveals Facebook hired a firm that launched campaigns on behalf of Facebook, aimed at publicizing the weaknesses of Google and Apple. The campaigns also targeted companies that had been critical of Facebook’s business practices.
The Mercury News
The drama and fallout over this week’s New York Times investigation into Facebook continued Friday as Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg defended herself against allegations she knew about company efforts to discredit critics of the social networking giant.
In a post on her Facebook page late Thursday, Sandberg said she was unaware that Facebook had hired Definers Public Affairs, a Republican-backed firm, to launch efforts to tie some of the company’s critics to billionaire investor George Soros, who is known for backing liberal political causes.
The Times report also said that Definers launched campaigns on behalf of Facebook that were aimed at publicizing the weaknesses of Google and Apple, as those companies had criticized some of Facebook’s business practices.
On Thursday, Facebook said it had severed ties with 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 organizations behind them,” Sandberg said in her Facebook post. “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.”
Sandberg also took umbrage at an accusation in the Times that she, and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, showed little if no interest in investigating reports that Russian agents and hackers used Facebook to spread misinformation during the 2016 presidential campaign.
According to the Times, Sandberg tried to get the company’s then-security chief, Alex Stamos, to tone down efforts to look into the allegations about Russian interference on Facebook’s platform.
“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,” Sandberg said. “The allegations saying I personally stood in the way are also just plain wrong.”
Sandberg’s response came after Zuckerberg held a conference call on Thursday with reporters to address matters in the Times story. Zuckerberg said he learned about Facebook’s ties to Definers by reading about them in the Times, and also defended Sandberg against the accusations that she purposely tried to slow down any probe into Russian election interference.