Facebook has had a very bad week.
If that’s a headline that sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen it before, maybe in March, maybe in September or maybe even just earlier this month as the social media giant weathered yet another storm of multiple scandals all at once.
Here’s a breakdown of this past week at Facebook and all the things that made it so very bad.
It admitted to targeting George Soros and others.
Facebook admitted last Wednesday that it had, in fact, hired a Republican opposition research firm to dig up dirt on billionaire philanthropist George Soros, other Facebook critics and its competitors, as reported in a bombshell New York Times investigation the week before.
The company’s since-severed relationship with the company it hired, Definers Public Affairs, began last year when Facebook came under immense pressure to answer to Russian interference in the 2016 election that used the platform.
Throughout the partnership, Definers attempted to discredit Facebook protesters by linking them to figures like Soros, a Democratic donor and longtime critic of the social network, and it promoted negative coverage of Facebook rivals such as Apple and Google.
Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s outgoing head of communications and policy, took full responsibility for the scandal.
“Responsibility for these decisions rests with leadership of the Communications team. That’s me. Mark and Sheryl relied on me to manage this without controversy,” he wrote, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, the two biggest faces of the company.
The system he created to manage such partnerships “failed here and I’m sorry I let you all down,” he added. “I regret my own failure here.”
It’s facing a civil rights and safety audit and more
One of the groups targeted in the Definers smear was the racial justice organization Color of Change, which was founded by Soros’ son and often partners with the anti-Facebook group Freedom From Facebook.
Earlier this year, before the Definers scandal broke, Facebook agreed to the group’s demands that it carry out a civil rights and safety audit. Two outside advisers are conducting both a legal audit of its impact on underrepresented communities and communities of color and an audit advising the company on potential bias against conservative voices, Axios first reported.
Now, Color of Change says Facebook needs to promise more, including making a commitment to a timeline for publicly releasing the results of the audit and taking meaningful steps to address the harms raised.
“Denying problems and attacking critics is not a winning strategy,” Color Of Change president Rashad Robinson said. “Without clear, immediate and systemic change at Facebook, Color Of Change will have no choice but to escalate our work with other parties to hold them accountable.”
Sandberg is meeting with the group this week to address its other demands, including firing Facebook’s vice president of global public policy, Joel Kaplan, a friend of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh who attended his swearing-in ceremony.
UK lawmakers are threatening to drop some potentially explosive documents.
Facebook is also scrambling this week to stop British lawmakers from releasing the company’s internal legal documents that it seized from another business in a lawsuit with Facebook.
The company was pressed on that Tuesday at a British Parliament hearing with lawmakers from nine other countries as part of the part of the U.K. Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s inquiry into disinformation and fake news.
Zuckerberg was a no-show.
His absence looked “not great,” Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president of policy solutions, told lawmakers when asked to speak on it, CNBC reported. He is also a member of the Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords.
An ex-employee accused Facebook of having “a black people problem.”
On Tuesday, an ex-Facebook employee publicly released a lengthy statement coming down hard on the company for failures in how it treats black employees and black users of the platform.
Mark Luckie, who is black and served as the strategic partner manager for global influencers with a focus on underrepresented voices, said he first circulated the letter among all Facebook employees earlier this month, days before he left the company.
“In some buildings, there are more ‘Black Lives Matter’ posters than there are actual black people,” he wrote. “Facebook can’t claim that it is connecting communities if those communities aren’t represented proportionately in its staffing.”
He also described a widespread problem of non-black people reporting posts by black people as “hate speech” in alerts to Facebook, when often those posts are “meant to be positive efforts.”
“There is a prevailing theory among many black users that their content is more likely to be taken down on the platform than any other group,” he wrote. “Even though the theories are mostly anecdotal, Facebook does little to dissuade people from this idea.”
Luckie’s piece is worth a read in its entirety.
Blame is bubbling up around Sandberg.
On Monday, the once highly revered Sandberg came under fire in a Bloomberg piece that featured criticisms from eight current and former Facebook employees from her side of the company.
In the piece, they relay stories of Sandberg prioritizing her own relationships and personal success at the sake of those of the company, disregarding advice from her aides on how to handle the congressional hearing on Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election and surrounding herself with employees who shield her from all criticism and bad news.
“She’s so brutal to people, no one wants to bring her anything,” one of the sources said of having to have hard conversations with Sandberg.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the timeline of Facebook’s civil rights and safety audit and the date the company is meeting with Color of Change.