Damage Control at Facebook: 6 Takeaways From The Times’s Investigation

In fall 2016, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, was publicly declaring it a “crazy idea” that his company had played a role in deciding the election. But security experts at the company already knew otherwise.

They found signs as early as spring 2016 that Russian hackers were poking around the Facebook accounts of people linked to American presidential campaigns. Months later, they saw Russian-controlled accounts sharing information from hacked Democratic emails with reporters. Facebook accumulated evidence of Russian activity for over a year before executives opted to share what they knew with the public — and even their own board of directors.

In 2015, when the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump called for a ban of Muslim immigrants, Facebook employees and outside critics called on the company to punish Mr. Trump. Mr. Zuckerberg considered it — asking subordinates whether Mr. Trump had violated the company’s rules and whether his account should be suspended or the post removed.

But while Mr. Zuckerberg was personally offended, he deferred to subordinates who warned that penalizing Mr. Trump would set off a damaging backlash among Republicans.

Mr. Trump’s post remained up.

As criticism grew over Facebook’s belated admissions of Russian influence, the company launched a lobbying campaign — overseen by Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer — to combat critics and shift anger toward rival tech firms.

Facebook hired Senator Mark Warner’s former chief of staff to lobby him; Ms. Sandberg personally called Senator Amy Klobuchar to complain about her criticism. The company also deployed a public relations firm to push negative stories about its political critics and cast blame on companies like Google.

Those efforts included depicting the billionaire liberal donor George Soros as the force behind a broad anti-Facebook movement, and publishing stories praising Facebook and criticizing Google and Apple on a conservative news site.

Facebook faced worldwide outrage in March after The Times, The Observer of London and The Guardian published a joint investigation into how user data had been appropriated by Cambridge Analytica to profile American voters. But inside Facebook, executives thought they could contain the damage. The company installed a new chief of American lobbying to help quell the bipartisan anger in Congress, and it quietly shelved an internal communications campaign, called “We Get It,” meant to assure employees that the company was committed to getting back on track in 2018.

Sensing Facebook’s vulnerability, some rival tech firms in Silicon Valley sought to use the outcry to promote their own brands. After Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, quipped in an interview that his company did not traffic in personal data, Mr. Zuckerberg ordered his management team to use only Android phones. After all, he reasoned, the operating system had far more users than Apple’s.

Washington’s senior Democrat, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, raised more money from Facebook employees than any other member of Congress during the 2016 election cycle — and he was there when the company needed him.

This past summer, as Facebook’s troubles mounted, Mr. Schumer confronted Mr. Warner, who by then had emerged as Facebook’s most insistent inquisitor in Congress. Back off, Mr. Schumer told Mr. Warner, and look for ways to work with Facebook, not vilify it. Lobbyists for Facebook — which also employs Mr. Schumer’s daughter — were kept abreast of Mr. Schumer’s efforts.

 

Related:

What Facebook Knew and Tried to Hide (28 min audio)

Why Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance will haunt the Saudi government

The disappearance and reported killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi will have many victims, starting with his family and his fiancee. But unless the Saudi government speaks and acts quickly and honestly about this terrible event, its own reputation will incur irreparable damage.

.. its central characteristic and greatest flaw was despotism: one-man rule by the young crown prince. To this critique were added descriptions of his impulsiveness, inexperience and repression of any criticism of his approach to modernization.

.. Defenders of the new regime (including me) have argued in essence that MBS, as the crown prince is known, is in the traditional and positive sense of the term an “enlightened despot.” Though he was an absolute ruler, in this reading, he was one who used his power rationally to bring economic and social reforms, modernize his country and address the many developmental problems that hamper Saudi Arabia despite its wealth. He appears, for example, to have reined in the ultra-conservative clergy, has begun to improve the status and role of women, and has adopted plans aimed at creating a productive economy not dependent solely on oil production.

.. His detention of many very rich Saudis in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton hotel until they paid ransoms was apparently fairly popular in the kingdom, because it was widely believed few of those men had gained their fortunes legitimately. Those ransoms were equivalent to the taxes they had never paid.

.. The alleged killing of Khashoggi is a death blow to all those hopes and expectations, unless the Saudis can somehow explain what happened and accept full responsibility.

.. Second, the reported Khashoggi killing came just a few weeks after the bizarre Saudi overreactionto criticism from Canada, which took the form of a single tweet on human rights issues. Recalling their ambassador from Ottawa for a while would have been fitting if they wished to show anger. Instead, they brought him home permanently, expelled the Canadian ambassador in Riyadh, barred flights between the two countries, ordered Saudi students to leave Canada, and took several steps to diminish economic and financial relations with Canada. All that over a tweet.

.. And now comes the apparent murder, abroad, of a critic who had long been part of the Saudi establishment and was no revolutionary, no radical Islamist, no advocate of violence. I do not know Jamal Khashoggi well, but we had met and talked about the kingdom on several occasions. Any government that thinks it cannot survive his thoughtful criticism telegraphs to the world that it thinks itself shaky indeed.

.. Killing Khashoggi would be both: a great crime and a great mistake. It suggests either

  • a regime without internal procedures and controls, or
  • one in which an impulsive decision to kill a critic living in Washington cannot be contradicted or even questioned.

.. The Saudis may not realize what a wide impact that conclusion will have on governments and on investors, but it will be profound. All Saudi decision-making will come into question, and the government’s reliability as a partner will be rendered uncertain.

.. What the crown prince must grasp is that his entire modernization program, indeed every defense of his own personal power, is undermined by what all the evidence suggests was a carefully planned murder. Jamal Khashoggi lost control of his fate when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Mohammed bin Salman must act quickly to regain control of his own.

Donald Trump Weighs Ending Security Clearances for Six Ex-Officials Who Have Criticized Him

White House says Trump could revoke clearances of ex-national security officials

President Donald Trump is considering revoking the security clearances of six former senior national security officials, the White House said Monday, moving to punish them for comments purportedly politicizing the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, without specifying.

The threat, which national security analysts described as unprecedented, prompted concerns it was an effort by the president to silence critics.

“An enemies list is ugly, undemocratic, and un-American,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Ms. Sanders told reporters that the administration is looking at the clearances of former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan, former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA Michael Hayden, former national security adviser and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

Ms. Sanders said the individuals, many of whom are outspoken critics of the administration in the news media, lend “inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.”

.. Millions of Americans hold security clearances, needed for many government and private-sector jobs. The practice of having senior national security officials retain clearance after leaving government is longstanding and serves various functions, national security officials and analysts said.

National security officials often go on to work in the private sector, particularly at defense contractors, and need access to classified information to support the government. Former officials keep clearances to assist in ongoing criminal and national security investigations. The clearances offer continuity between administrations on intelligence and national security matters, and also would enable former officials to return to active service in a national emergency and offer expertise.

.. “There really isn’t that much precedent of removing clearance of former national security official unless they are indicted or convicted of some criminal offense,” said Evan Lesser, president of ClearanceJobs, a career website. “But ultimately the president does have the power to grant or revoke clearances really to whomever he wants.”

.. Mr. Clapper, on CNN, said, “This is kind of a petty way of retribution for speaking out against the president.”

To Beat Trump, Get a Grip

Democrats won’t win in 2020 by calling him a ‘traitor’ and doubling down on identity politics.

 If precedent holds, he can be unseated in 2020 by a candidate perceived as his opposite: experienced, serious, knowledgeable about policy. If Democrats attempt to rush the process, amid current charges that Mr. Trump is a “traitor” and Russian agent and that his Supreme Court nominee is an extremist, they will further energize their take-it-to-the-streets wing but alienate all but partisan Northeast and Pacific Coast voters.

.. Mr. Trump stumbled in Helsinki, but stumbles do not amount to treason.

.. Democrats and some media are now calling for Mr. Trump’s impeachment, presuming that a post-November Democratic House majority would bring such a vote. But it is a risky strategy that would polarize Americans deeply. The case against him would have to be airtight and based on indisputable fact. Otherwise Mr. Trump would be strengthened rather than harmed.

.. Democrats should take a fresh look at why and how Mr. Trump won the 2016 election. The party’s national leadership claims it was because of support from white supremacists, religious nuts, nativists, misogynists and Latino-haters. This is a failure to recognize what actually happened. President Trump was the consequence—not the cause—of a nationwide loss of confidence in all of the American establishment: political, media, cultural, business, financial. Sen. Bernie Sanders played on similar sentiments on the Democratic side and, had he known his potential sooner, could have won his party’s nomination.
.. Most voters knew before the election that Mr. Trump was a crude, freewheeling, womanizing egotist, a man who very well might finance his ventures with money from sketchy sources. They discounted all those negative factors because he was so obviously different from the establishment candidates in whom they had lost trust. Think about it: In one campaign, Mr. Trump polished off the Bushes, the Clintons, and even Ted Cruz. Voters did not love Mr. Trump; they rejected the other guys.
.. Ranked first, not surprisingly, was Mr. Sanders, given his strong 2016 showing. Also near the top was former Vice President Joe Biden, who relates well to middle-American voters. But most of the rest of the contenders take an angry, accusatory line toward Mr. Trump. Leading the pack were Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, from Massachusetts and California, respectively, where bashing the president earns cheers from the party faithful.
.. Shrill attacks and identity politics got a strong start during Bill Clinton’s two presidential terms. Under fire on multiple fronts, the Clinton White House took an aggressive posture toward critics, asserting that it was just “fighting back.” Democrats repeated that pattern in President Obama’s 2012 campaign. They labeled Mitt Romney, a temperate former governor of Massachusetts, as antiwoman, antigay, antiblack, anti-Latino, anti-immigrant and a tool of big finance.
.. Most voters see abortion and gay rights as accepted issues and wonder why Democrats present them as threatened. They do not see racism as on the rise or the country as moving back toward Jim Crow. On the contrary, they see several decades in which the barriers to equal opportunity, legal or otherwise, have been steadily dismantled. They do worry about the problems of big-city neighborhoods: violence, drug use, broken families, unemployment, daunting dropout and incarceration rates. But they see little evidence that “white privilege” is the cause.
 They like immigrants and refugees but generally believe everyone should take a legal path to citizenship.