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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Facebook is ditching apologies and taking a more combative stance against its critics as it faces a new barrage of negative coverage and leaked internal reports.

Driving the news: As part of the new posture, Facebook started testing placing positive messages about itself in users' News Feeds last month, according to a New York Times story Tuesday.

  • Under a plan previously reported in The Information, CEO Mark Zuckerberg will talk more about new products and innovations while other key spokespeople will fight back against what the company sees as unfair coverage.

In what appeared to be an example of that stance, Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne took to Twitter Tuesday to complain of "clear falsehoods" in the Times story.

  • Osborne emphasized that Facebook was inserting its positive messages directly on users' pages rather than via changes to the News Feed algorithm.

Facebook views these messages as akin to "corporate responsibility initiatives" — the social-media equivalent of a newspaper or magazine house ad.

  • Yes, but: Facebook's house now holds billions of people.

The big picture: This newest Facebook controversy comes on the heels of a week of Wall Street Journal stories based on leaked internal research documenting problems with fairness in content moderation, misinformation and harm to teenagers.

  • Facebook's response to that was sharp as well: "At the heart of this series is an allegation that is just plain false: that Facebook conducts research and then systematically and willfully ignores it if the findings are inconvenient for the company," Nick Clegg, the company's vice president of global affairs, wrote.

Also Tuesday, the independent Oversight Board, citing the Journal series, called on Facebook to provide greater transparency into its XCheck program, which gives high-profile users extra protection from having their posts taken down.

  • The four co-chairs of the board said they will soon meet with Facebook to discuss "inconsistencies in its decision-making and whether the company has been fully forthcoming" in how it described XCheck.

Wait, there's more: Shareholders are suing Facebook over its $5 billion settlement with the FTC in 2019, charging that the company overpaid in order to protect Zuckerberg from being sued personally, Politico reported.

  • The other side: "The suggestion that we overpaid or underpaid on this settlement isn't new and is something we will address during the litigation," Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone tweeted.

Our thought bubble: Companies under attack often circle the wagons and start firing at their perceived enemies. But the stance can come back to haunt them in antitrust court — as Microsoft learned 20 years ago.

Go deeper

Oct 24, 2021 - Technology

Scoop: Facebook exec warns of "more bad headlines"

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

In a post to staffers Saturday obtained by Axios, Facebook VP of global affairs Nick Clegg warned the company that worse coverage could be on the way: “We need to steel ourselves for more bad headlines in the coming days, I’m afraid.”

Catch up quick: Roughly two dozen news outlets had agreed to hold stories based on leaked materials from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen for Monday publication — but the embargo fell apart Friday night as participating newsrooms posted a batch of articles ahead of the weekend.

Blumenthal decries Facebook's "platitudes and bromides" on increased oversight

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Sunday appeared on CNN's "Reliable Sources," and took issue with past statements from Facebook officials, suggesting the company welcomed new oversight.

Why it matters: Blumenthal, who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protections, made his remarks amid a broader discussion on government regulation of the tech industry and new revelations about Facebook's internal practices.

Jan. 6 committee examining Capitol riot financing, Facebook's role

Bennie Thompson. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Jan. 6 select committee, told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that the committee is "working with" Facebook to obtain requested information and that it is examining the financing that went into the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: In August, the committee issued record requests from social media companies, including Facebook, regarding the lead-up and day of the insurrection. Thompson said the committee is in the process of negotiating with Facebook and other platforms for certain information.