Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

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

Tech scrambles to derail inauguration threats

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies are sharing more information with law enforcement in a frantic effort to prevent violence around the inauguration, after the government was caught flat-footed by the Capitol siege.

Between the lines: Tech knows it will be held accountable for any further violence that turns out to have been planned online if it doesn't act to stop it.

Dave Lawler, author of World
6 hours ago - World

Uganda's election: Museveni declared winner, Wine claims fraud

Wine rejected the official results of the election. Photo: Sumy Sadruni/AFP via Getty

Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of a sixth presidential term on Saturday, with official results giving him 59% to 35% for Bobi Wine, the singer-turned-opposition leader.

Why it matters: This announcement was predictable, as the election was neither free nor fair and Museveni had no intention of surrendering power after 35 years. But Wine — who posed a strong challenged to Museveni, particularly in urban areas, and was beaten and arrested during the campaign — has said he will present evidence of fraud. The big question is whether he will mobilize mass resistance in the streets.

Off the Rails

Episode 1: A premeditated lie lit the fire

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 1: Trump’s refusal to believe the election results was premeditated. He had heard about the “red mirage” — the likelihood that early vote counts would tip more Republican than the final tallies — and he decided to exploit it.

"Jared, you call the Murdochs! Jason, you call Sammon and Hemmer!”