DealBook Briefing: How Facebook Wrestled With Its Scandals

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For more than a year, Facebook has faced a torrent of scandals over misinformation and data privacy, drawing a global backlash for its handling of the issues. A new investigation by the NYT based on interviews with more than 50 people reveals how the company fought its critics with delays, denials and frantic Washington lobbying.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the investigation.

Facebook knew about Russian interference before the 2016 elections:

“In the spring of 2016, a company expert on Russian cyberwarfare spotted something worrisome. He reached out to his boss [Alex Stamos, then the company’s security chief]. Mr. Stamos’s team discovered that Russian hackers appeared to be probing Facebook accounts for people connected to the presidential campaigns, said two employees. “

Its leadership squirmed over Russian meddling investigations:

“Mr. Stamos’s briefing had prompted a humiliating boardroom interrogation of [Sheryl] 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.”

The company hadn’t prepared for the worst on its platform:

“ ‘We failed to look and try to imagine what was hiding behind corners,’ Elliot Schrage, former vice president for global communications, marketing and public policy at Facebook, said in an interview.”

But pushed its messaging hard:

“Facebook also expanded its work with [the P.R. firm] Definers. On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. One story called [Apple’s C.E.O. Tim] Cook hypocritical for chiding Facebook over privacy, noting that Apple also collects reams of data from users.”

And Mark Zuckerberg was apoplectic about the criticism:

After Mr. Cook publicly derided Facebook, Mr. Zuckerberg was so furious that he later ordered his management team to use only Android phones — arguing that the operating system had far more users than Apple’s.

The bottom line:

“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.”

The NYT story has already prompted speculation about how the company will react to it. Recode asks: “Who does Facebook fire?” Facebook has already cut ties with Definers.

Facebook has claimed that there are “a number of inaccuracies” in the report.

More Facebook news: Morale is reportedly falling inside the company. Human rights groups want it to adopt a “due process” system for removing content. And Instagram’s former C.E.O., Kevin Systrom, says that policing social media will become increasingly important.

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