Feb 12, 2018 - Technology

Murdoch threats pushed Zuckerberg to reexamine news business

Mark Zuckberg stands with two other men

Mark Zuckerberg at the 2016 Allen & Company conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Rupert Murdoch and a top lieutenant threatened Mark Zuckerberg in 2016 over Facebook’s treatment of the news industry, one of several events reported for the first time in a new Wired cover story from Nick Thompson and Fred Vogelstein about how the company came to face a global fracas over its role in society.

The bottom line: Wired’s Thompson and Vogelstein paint a picture of how each Facebook controversy over the last two years — from a blow up among conservatives to outraged publishers — compounded to put the world’s largest social network on the defensive. [Go deeper: Inside the Two Years that Shook Facebook]

Wired’s reporting includes several pieces of news:

  • Murdoch’s war with Facebook: Murdoch and News Corp’s Robert Thomson reportedly told Zuckerberg in 2016 that, unless Facebook stepped up its game with media firms, the publisher would increase its public criticism of the social network. The threats landed: shortly afterwards, Zuckerberg reportedly starting pushing Facebook employees to improve the company’s relationship with the news business.
    • Go deeper: News Corp's criticism has increased in spite of Facebook's efforts. BuzzFeed News’ Steven Perlberg wrote about Murdoch v. Facebook in October.
  • How Facebook handled a contractor’s leaks: Benjamin Fearnow, a journalist working as a contractor on the site’s Trending Topics team, was fired after leaking internal communications to then-Gizmodo reporter Michael Nuñez.
    • A second contractor who had previously roomed with Fearnow and Nuñez — but said he hadn’t leaked anything to the journalist — was also fired.
    • Nuñez was later behind a blockbuster report revealing that contractors on the trending team may have downplayed conservative news sources. Several reports indicate that made Facebook more wary of blocking conservative viewpoints.
  • The Russia report that didn’t mention Russia: Wired has a little more color on how Facebook security official Alex Stamos wanted to publish a detailed report in April on his team’s findings related to Russian election interference, but was reportedly pulled back by policy and communications staffers.
    • “Sources close to the security team suggest the company didn’t want to get caught up in the political whirlwind of the moment,” they write.
    • The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin reported last month that the final report frustrated security researchers.

The bigger picture: This story, along with the piece from Dwoskin last month, portray a company that has lurched from crisis to crisis for two years and is now faced with a high-stakes cleanup effort.

Editor's note: This post has been corrected to show that the name of the chief executive of News Corp is Robert Thomson, not Robert Thompson.

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