Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg weighed in on the recent explosive New York Times article that reported the social network carried out a campaign to discredit those who criticized how it handled Russian interference and disinformation.
In a lengthy Facebook post published Thursday night, the “Lean In” author wrote that the Times’ “allegations saying I personally stood in the way are also just plain wrong.”
“On a number of issues ― including spotting and understanding the Russian interference we saw in the 2016 election ― Mark [Zuckerberg] and I have said many times we were too slow,” she wrote. “But 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’s post comes after the company received a wave of backlash in the aftermath of the Times investigation, published Wednesday.
Many called out the social media giant for reportedly hiring Republican opposition research firm Definers Public Affairs to undermine and discredit anti-Facebook protesters and link them to figures such as Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
“Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation,” the Times reported, singling out the executive. “Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.”
In her post, Sandberg said she didn’t know Facebook was working with Definers.
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
Zuckerberg issued very similar comments earlier Thursday, claiming he didn’t know about Facebook’s hiring of the firm until the article was published.
“I’ve said many times before that we were too slow to spot Russian interference and we certainly stumbled along the way,” Zuckerberg said during a press conference, “but to suggest we weren’t interested in knowing the truth or wanted to hide what we knew or wanted to prevent investigations is simply untrue.”
The platform also issued a separate statement on its blog Wednesday, announcing that it had severed ties with Definers.
“The New York Times is wrong to suggest that we ever asked Definers to pay for or write articles on Facebook’s behalf ― or to spread misinformation,” Facebook wrote. “Definers did encourage members of the press to look into the funding of ‘Freedom from Facebook,’ an anti-Facebook organization. The intention was to demonstrate that it was not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but supported by a well-known critic of our company. To suggest that this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue.”
The company wrote that, although it “still” has “a long way to go, we’re proud of the progress we have made in fighting misinformation, removing bad content and preventing foreign actors from manipulating our platform.”