A New York Times investigative story about Facebook presents a brutal picture of how Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg handled the controversy over Russian hacking in the 2016 election. The Times uses three words to sum up company strategy: "delay, deny, and deflect." The story, based on interviews with more than 50 people, makes the case that Zuckerberg and Sandberg "ignored warning signs" that Russians were exploiting the platform, "then sought to conceal them from public view." Distracted by personal projects and issues, the pair delegated to subordinates key decisions on security and privacy. And when the scope of the problem became clear, Sandberg then oversaw an aggressive lobbying campaign to not only undermine its critics but to shift public anger toward rivals such as Google, according to the story.
One key part of that campaign was to have a GOP opposition-research firm link vocal anti-Facebook critics to liberal financier George Soros. Another was to depict the Facebook criticism as anti-Semitic. The story doesn't present a flattering view of Sen. Chuck Schumer, either, asserting that he did his best to blunt criticism of Facebook on Capitol Hill. At one point, he ordered Sen. Mark Warner to back off his repeated criticism of the company. Schumer received more money from Facebook employees than any other member of Congress in 2016, and his daughter is a marketing manager there. One early reaction to the piece comes from Siva Vaidhyanathan at Slate: "Facebook is now just another normal sleazy American company run by normal sleazy executives, engaged in normal sleazy lobbying and corporate propaganda." (Read the full Times story here.)