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Cover: Harper

"Oh f---, how did we miss this?" Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asked, looking around at the somber faces of his top executives, the N.Y. Times' Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang write in their book, "An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination," out Tuesday.

In an excerpt provided first to Axios, the authors write that the executives met Dec. 9, 2016, for a briefing on what Facebook's security team knew about Russian meddling on the platform during the election won by Donald Trump.

The security team, it turns out, had first spotted Russian activity on the platform in March 2016. But Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg were just being told about it nine months later.

  • The eight-page handout for the meeting — written by Alex Stamos, then Facebook's chief security officer — "acknowledged that Facebook was sitting on a trove of information proving that a foreign government had tried to meddle in the U.S. election."

Frenkel and Kang, in a chapter called "Company Over Country," write that "no one else spoke as Zuckerberg and Sandberg drilled their chief security officer":

Why had they been kept in the dark? How aggressive were the Russians? And why, asked a visibly agitated Sandberg, had she not known that Stamos had put together a special team to look at Russian election interference? Did they need to share what Stamos had found with lawmakers immediately, and did the company have a legal obligation beyond that?

What happened: The security team "had uncovered information that no one, including the U.S. government, had previously known," the authors write.

  • "Stamos felt that he had been trying to sound the alarm on Russia for months."
  • Stamos said: "It was well within my remit to investigate foreign activity within the platform. And we had appropriately briefed the people in our reporting chain ... It became clear after that that it wasn’t enough."

At the meeting, "Stamos gave a somber assessment of where they stood, admitting that no one at the company knew the full extent of the Russian election interference," we learn from "An Ugly Truth."

  • "Zuckerberg demanded that the executives get him answers, so they promised to devote their top engineering talent and resources to investigate what Russia had done on the platform."

Update ... Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever replied in a statement to Axios:

  • "In 2016, we and those in the government and media did not fully recognize the nature and scope of foreign interference in our elections. Since 2017, we have removed over 150 covert influence operations originating in more than 50 counties, and a dedicated investigative team continues to vigilantly protect democracy on our platform both here and abroad."

Go deeper: Read a N.Y. Times adaptation (subscription).

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Go deeper

Oct 10, 2021 - Technology

Facebook executive warns against getting rid of algorithm, defends safety measures

Nick Clegg speaks at a conference in Munich in 2020. Photo: Lino Mirgeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, appeared on several television shows Sunday to defend the company's algorithm and security measures and detail steps the company says it will take to protect users.

The big picture: Clegg told ABC's "This Week" that doing away with Facebook and Instagram's algorithm for displaying content would lead to "more, not less" hate speech, misinformation and harmful content on users' feeds.

Updated 20 mins ago - Health

The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Omicron's blitz around the world has underscored the need for a new arsenal of COVID vaccines and therapeutics, experts say — and that may require an effort akin to Operation Warp Speed 2.0.

Why it matters: The virus will continue to evolve, potentially in a way that further escapes vaccine protection, and the best way to prevent more global disruptions to everyday life is to have tools ready to combat whatever comes next.

Ina Fried, author of Login
47 mins ago - Technology
Column / Signal Boost

Microsoft's metaverse maneuvering

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Microsoft is pitching investors and regulators that its $68 billion Activision Blizzard deal is all about the metaverse, that nebulous buzzword taking the tech world by storm.

What they're saying: By my colleague Stephen Totilo's count, Nadella used the word "metaverse" at least five times in his conference call discussing the deal. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick mentioned the metaverse four times, while Microsoft gaming chief Phil Spencer used the term twice.