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)

What Facebook Knew and Tried to Hide

Even when the Facebook leaders understood the problem, they tried to hide it.

Right after the election Zuckerburg was dismissive of the idea that Fake News influenced the election.

People within the company thought he was out of touch.

At the time Facebook was under pressure.

Trump had won the election using social media, but Facebook was dismissive.

Facebook employees saw the tip of the iceberg .  They had been following Russian

Mark wanted to find a technical fix.

Sheryl was thinking about the legal risk and was wondering whether they would find out things they didn’t want to know.  Sheryl was thinking about what the consequences would be.

Sheryl yelled at the security team for investigating Russian interference without formal approval.

The leadership was concerned that Washington was controlled by conservatives who would have an adverse reaction to an investigation or efforts to curb this activity.  Conservatives already think Silicon Valley is a bunch of hippies.

There was pressure within Facebook not to publish anything linking activity back to Russia.  Sheryl(?) also signed off on a policy not to take down the Russian troll accounts.

Mark Zuckerburg was traveling the country, milking cows, and acting as though he wanted to run for President.

Sheryl Sandberg was running her own “Lean-In” brand.

Alex Stamos (Security Chief) briefs the audit committee and the board’s response is to yell at Mark(?) and Sheryl(?)

The leadership holds a big meeting and Sheryl yells at Alex Stamos for

  • not briefing her fully
  • admitting that they hadn’t fully got a grip on the situation
  • suggesting that Russia would likely do this again in the future

Alex has gotten in trouble in the past for being too transparent

The Cambridge Analytical Scandal illustrates:

  • The consequences of surveillance capitalism
  • The potential of Facebook to influence elections

Apple CEO Tim Cook castigates Facebook for their business model.

Facebook conducts an advertising campaign and privately goes on attack using the Washington PR opposition research campaign, which uses the NTK network which publishes propaganda.

Confronted with a Propaganda Scandal, they turn to a PR campaign to create their own Propaganda.

Attacks Apple and Tim Cook.  Attack George Soros, arguing the Facebook’s criticism was masterminded by George Soros.  In taking on Soros they are getting into the smear and conspiracy business.

 

Related:

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

This Hearing Is Stacked Against Christine Blasey Ford

It is almost unthinkable that there will be a second Supreme Court justice taking his seat under suspicions of perjury and sexual misconduct.

There is a reason Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing will be short and feature only two witnesses, the Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey Ford. Republicans have designed the hearing to end in a “he said, she said” stalemate. No matter how credible Dr. Blasey is, isolating her as a lone accuser is the most effective political strategy for confirming Judge Kavanaugh.

His strategy will be simple: categorical denial.

.. Republicans will then be able to claim that fairness had been served because both witnesses were heard. But Americans, denied the testimony of other relevant witnesses who could support Dr. Blasey’s account and denied an F.B.I. investigation into other evidence, won’t be any closer to the truth.

.. This week four people who know Dr. Blasey, including her husband, signed affidavits and submitted them to the Judiciary Committee saying she told them about being sexually assaulted by Judge Kavanaugh before he was nominated by President Trump. Their statements provide important corroboration, and if the Senate was really interested in learning the truth, these people would be called to testify.

.. And then there is Mark Judge, whom Dr. Blasey said participated with Judge Kavanaugh in the high school assault on her and whom Ms. Swetnick said helped him lure girls into “side rooms” at parties to be “gang raped.” The Judiciary Committee has refused to subpoena Mr. Judge, who reportedly was hiding out at a beach house on the Delaware shore

.. Unschooled in the art of political communication, facing questions from not just skeptical senators but also an experienced sex crimes prosecutor retained by the committee’s Republican majority, she must hope that the power of her story, the facts of what happened so long ago, are strong enough to convince the Senate and the millions of Americans watching on television. And she will not have the final say.

Her testimony will be followed by Judge Kavanaugh’s denial. According to his prepared remarks, he will allow that he was not a complete angel in high school, but will absolutely deny that the encounter with Dr. Blasey ever took place. He will have the last word.

.. There were people willing to be called before the committee who would have testified under oath about Judge Thomas’s interest in pornography, information that also would have buttressed Ms. Hill’s testimony. But none were called.

Instead, Senator Joe Biden, the Democratic committee chairman, fearing political backlash, abruptly gaveled the hearings to an end. Anita Hill remained isolated as the lone accuser.

.. It was only in the wee morning hours that I learned that there was a second woman, Angela Wright, who had been ready to testify that Judge Thomas, in the office, had asked about the size of her breasts. Several senators told me years later, when I was reporting for a book, “Strange Justice,” that if Ms. Wright had been allowed to testify, Judge Thomas might not have been confirmed.

.. There were four other women who would have supported aspects of Ms. Hill’s testimony and four others who knew about Judge Thomas’s interest in pornography. At least Hill was permitted to call as witnesses friends in whom she had confided about the sexual harassment she endured. Dr. Blasey won’t have even that.

In the ’80s, boys’ prep schools like Kavanaugh’s could be bastions of misogyny

I went to an elite high school down the road from his. Here’s what I saw.

.. Ford had attended Holton-Arms, Landon’s sister school
.. I do remember plenty about the culture of these same-sex programs, not all of it good. I began reaching out to old friends from Landon and Prep to see if they recalled the same misogynistic culture that I did.
..  In my memory, we tested and terrorized the female teachers with petty acts of harassment, such as collectively staring at an eighth-grade earth science teacher’s breasts or dropping our pencils in unison at a specific time in the middle of her class (a feat we did not repeat for any male instructors).
.. The reason I can recall only the names of my male teachers from that period is because the women usually didn’t stay long.
.. “We definitely were terrible to the female teachers,” said Patrick Breen, a lifelong friend who is now a history professor at Providence College in Rhode Island. He remembered the middle-school Spanish teacher who felt angry and harassed when someone from my class put a jock strap on her dog, which she brought to school.
.. A few of the male teachers contributed to this culture. One U.S. history teacher introduced us to women’s suffrage by calling on a student who was often unprepared for class and asking him to tell us all he knew about the movement. The student stuttered and stammered for a few seconds. “That’s enough,” the teacher declared with finality, in a way that made clear he was dispensing with the subject, not the student.

.. Friday morning announcements, usually delivered by a high school senior. “After the [football] game, there will be a mixer. Girls from Holy Cross, Holy Child and Visitation . . . will . . . be . . . available,” he remembered the announcer saying lasciviously. The joke, my friend said, was a part of daily life, accepted by teachers and students.

.. 1,000 Holton alumnae signed a letter in support of Ford. Her account of being attacked was “all too consistent with stories we heard and lived while attending Holton,” their letter said.

.. She recalled being shoved off the bleachers at a football game by one Landon student and thrown, fully clothed, into a swimming pool by another.

.. Several of her friends in recent days remembered Landon students driving past the Holton campus and screaming “beaver” from their car. “I hated it,” she told me by email, “but thought it was just normal.”

.. whether the culture of casual misogyny and heavy drinkingthat existed in the 1980s matters today.

.. One way for Kavanaugh to handle the accusations against him would be to admit some boorish behavior decades ago, and then use the rest of his life as an example to prove that he has risen above the toxic sexism and misogyny of his youth.

.. (This, of course, runs counter to President Trump’s advice, as recounted in Bob Woodward’s book “Fear,” about how to deal with such allegations. “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women,” he is quoted as telling a friend. “If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead.”)

.. “I loved Landon but looking at it retrospectively through the lens of the father of two daughters, I would not consider sending my son there,” wrote Steve Pokorny

..  It erases the specific details of Christine Blasey Ford’s stated recollections with the soggy mop of generalized male entitlement.”

.. Ideas that we consider anachronistic today — about women, male entitlement, even what we now call rape culture — were not just common views of that era. They thrived at places like Georgetown Prep, which Kavanaugh, in his confirmation hearing, called “very formative.”

Three years ago, Kavanaugh jokingly said in a speech that “what happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep. That’s been a good thing for all of us.” Today a better accounting of what went on at places like Georgetown Prep might help us all see our flaws more clearly.