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

Whataboutism

.. Third, this was classic “whataboutism,” a favorite Putin tactic in which he compares, for instance, the annexation of Crimea with something unrelated, like Kosovar independence. In Helsinki, however, Putin simply invented the comparable crime.

.. The Guardian deemed whataboutism, as used in Russia, “practically a national ideology”

.. The New Yorkerdescribed the technique as “a strategy of false moral equivalences”

..  Jill Dougherty called whataboutism a “sacred Russian tactic”,[26][27] and compared it to the pot calling the kettle black.[28]

..  the technique is used to avoid directly refuting or disproving the opponent’s initial argument.[42][43] The tactic is an attempt at moral relativism,[44][45][9] and a form of false moral equivalence

.. The Economist recommended two methods of properly countering whataboutism: to “use points made by Russian leaders themselves” so that they cannot be applied to the West, and for Western nations to engage in more self-criticism of their own media and governmen

.. By accusing critics of hypocrisy, the Soviet Union hoped to deflect attention away from the original criticism itself

.. Although the use of whataboutism was not restricted to any particular race or belief system, according to The Economist, Russians often overused the tactic.[7] The Russian government’s use of whataboutism grew under the leadership of Vladimir Putin.[75][76][77]

.. “Putin’s near-default response to criticism of how he runs Russia is whataboutism”

.. The philosopher Merold Westphal said that only people who know themselves to be guilty of something “can find comfort in finding others to be just as bad or worse.”[98] Whataboutery, as practiced by both parties in The Troubles in Northern Ireland to highlight what the other side had done to them, was “one of the commonest forms of evasion of personal moral responsibility,”

.. it can also be used to discredit oneself while one refuses to critique an ally. During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, when The New York Times asked candidate Donald Trump about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan‘s treatment of journalists, teachers, and dissidents, Trump replied with a criticism of U.S. history on civil liberties.[102

..  “The core problem is that this rhetorical device precludes discussion of issues (ex: civil rights) by one country (ex: the United States) if that state lacks a perfect record.”

.. Russia Today was “an institution that is dedicated solely to the task of whataboutism”,[23] and concluded that whataboutism was a “sacred Russian tactic”

..  Garry Kasparov discussed the Soviet tactic in his book Winter Is Coming, calling it a form of “Soviet propaganda” and a way for Russian bureaucrats to “respond to criticism of Soviet massacres, forced deportations, and gulags”.[112] Mark Adomanis commented for The Moscow Times in 2015 that “Whataboutism was employed by the Communist Party with such frequency and shamelessness that a sort of pseudo mythology grew up around it.”[65] Adomanis observed, “Any student of Soviet history will recognize parts of the whataboutist canon.”[65]

 

Propaganda of the deed

Propaganda of the deed (or propaganda by the deed, from the French propagande par le fait) is specific political action meant to be exemplary to others and serve as a catalyst for revolution.

It is primarily associated with acts of violence perpetrated by proponents of insurrectionary anarchism in the late 19th and early 20th century, including bombings and assassinations aimed at the ruling class, but also had non-violent applications

.. These “deeds” were to ignite the “spirit of revolt” in the people by demonstrating the state was not omnipotent and by offering hope to the downtrodden, and also to expand support for anarchist movements as the state grew more repressive in its response.[2]

.. Some anarchists, such as Johann Most, advocated publicizing violent acts of retaliation against counter-revolutionaries because “we preach not only action in and for itself, but also action as propaganda.”[4] It was not advocacy for mass murder, but a call for targeted killings of the representatives of capitalism and government at a time when such action might garner sympathy from the population, such as during periods of government repression or labor conflicts