Updated Feb 19, 2018

Trump retweet backlash hits Facebook's political strategy

Russia backed Facebook material reached over 126 million Americans. Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook's carefully orchestrated damage-control PR campaign took a hit this weekend when President Trump quoted a Facebook ad executive's tweets suggesting that the media had unfairly covered the Russia scandal due to political bias.

Why it matters: The exec’s tweets threw a wrench in the company's months-long, carefully orchestrated political strategy to portray itself as empathetic and accountable for its mistakes that led to Russian election meddling.

In a statement Monday morning, Facebook Policy VP Joel Kaplan says “Nothing we found contradicts the Special Counsel’s indictments. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong."

The company’s policy apparatus snapped into motion. According to sources familiar with the matter, Facebook worked over the weekend to drive home the argument, including to Capitol Hill staffers, that Goldman’s comments didn’t speak for the company.

  • It also pointed to places where its cooperation with Mueller boosted the indictment, and its commitment to working with the FBI to prevent abuse on its platform.

The backdrop: Facebook has spent the last several months building a Washington profile to mitigate concerns that it isn't taking election interference or consumer safety on its platform seriously.

  • Several of Facebook’s conservative staffers spoke last month to a meeting organized by the group Americans for Tax Reform with right-leaning groups to sell them on the News Feed algorithm changes that prioritize meaningful interactions with users, according to multiple sources.
  • One source who was in the meeting said that the Facebook employees emphasized that the changes they’ve instituted wouldn’t affect the ability of the groups in the room to do advocacy work. 
  • Not everyone in the room came away impressed. “It was like, ‘These are not the droids you’re looking for,’” said one source, referencing the famous scene from the first Star Wars film. “Stop focusing on Mark Zuckerberg, these are not the droids you’re looking for."

The company has also defended itself more publicly in the past few months, bringing new executives into the spotlight to explain the company's efforts and mission.

  • Some of Facebook’s top political operatives have taken the stage at conferences to present the company as a good actor when it comes to the spread of information online. “We have over-invested in building new experiences and under-invested in preventing abuses,” said top policy exec Elliot Schrage at a January conference in Germany.
  • Katie Harbath, who leads a political team in the company’s Washington office, defended the company on a panel in D.C. called “Is the Internet Disrupting Democracy?”
  • Other executives, like former CNN anchor Campbell Brown and News Feed engineer Adam Mosseri, have focused on improving relations with publishers.

Buzz: Those efforts have been at least partially derailed by Goldman’s comments that “very few outlets have covered” that the majority of Russian ad spend came after the election “because it doesn’t align with the main media narrative of [Trump] and the election." They came in response to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s detailed description of how Russian’s took advantage of the platform.

  • “Focus on the ads = missing big picture,” said Rachel Cohen, the press secretary to Sen. Mark Warner, who's become a critic of the company.
  • “Hush, Rob, hush,” tweeted journalist Kara Swisher.
  • President Trump and others in his orbit pointed to Goldman’s comments as vindication.

The bottom line: Facebook has the most leverage in Washington when it is seen as engaging its critics in good faith. While this weekend was a setback for the company, this debate still has a long way to go.

Go deeper

In photos: Authorities issue warning as Americans venture out for Memorial Day weekend

Venice Beach in Los Angeles on May 24. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Authorities urged Americans to maintain social distancing and wear masks against the coronavirus amid reports of packed beaches and bars during the Memorial Day weekend.

Driving the news: Law enforcement stepped up beach patrols, authorities on Florida's Gulf Coast closed parking lots because they were full and there were crowded scenes at Lake of the Ozarks bars in Missouri, per AP, which reports a shooting injured several people at a packed Daytona Beach in Florida.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 5,405,029 — Total deaths: 344,997 — Total recoveries — 2,168,408Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 1,642,021 — Total deaths: 97,698 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,195Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Republicans sue California over mail-out ballot plan

California Gov. Gavin Newsom during a February news conference in Sacramento, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President Trump accused Democrats of trying "Rig" November's general election as Republican groups filed a lawsuit against California Sunday in an attempt to stop Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) from mailing ballots to all registered voters.

Driving the news: Newsom signed an executive order this month in response to the coronavirus pandemic ensuring that all registered voters in the state receive a mail-in ballot.