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Facebook roped in PR firm in smear campaign against rivals: Report

For over a year Facebook had amassed evidence of Russian activity through an investigation led by its former security chief, Alex Stamos

AFP | PTI 

Facebook

misled the public about its knowledge of Russian hackers’ use of the powerful platform to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election, a investigation reported on Thursday.

It also said has at times smeared critics as anti-Semitic or tried to link activists to billionaire investor George Soros, and tried to shift public anger away toward rival tech firms.

In a lengthy investigative piece that is likely to trigger political repercussions in Washington, the Times argued that Facebook’s way of dealing with crisis was to “delay, deny and deflect.” It said its article was based on interviews with more than 50 people, including current and ex-executives and other employees, lawmakers and government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and COO Cheryl Sandberg, were both so bent on growing the company that they “ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view,” the report said.

On Russia, Zuckerberg declared in the fall of 2016 that it was “crazy” to think Facebook had been used to help win the US presidency, but the report said in-house experts knew this not to be the case.

In fact, the Times said, for over a year Facebook had amassed evidence of Russian activity through an investigation led by its former security chief,

This involved Russians looking at the Facebook accounts of people involved in US presidential election campaigns and, later, Russian-controlled accounts offering reporters information from hacked emails from senior Democratic Party officials. But it was only belatedly that the company’s board was informed of the full extent of the meddling, the Times said.

When criticism of its belated Russia admission grew, Facebook mounted a lobbying campaign led by Sandberg. The company also used a Washington-based PR firm, Definers Public Affairs, to push negative stories about its political critics and make rival like and look bad, the Times said.

In July of this year, as a Facebook executive testified before a congressional committee, anti-Facebook demonstrators barged into the room and held up a sign depicting Zuckerberg and Sandberg — who are both Jewish — as the twin heads of an octopus with its tentacles around the world. Facebook responded by lobbying a Jewish civil rights group — the Anti-Defamation League — to publicly label that criticism as anti-Semitic, the Times said.

Facebook cut ties with PR agency

Facebook said Thursday that it had ended its relationship with Definers Public Affairs, which spread disparaging information about the social network’s critics and competitors.

First Published: Thu, November 15 2018. 21:37 IST
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