Nov 30, 2018

Axios Login

Ina Fried

Situational awareness: Marriott says a data breach exposed the personal information of as many as 500 million Starwood guests, the Wall Street Journal reports.

1 big thing: Sheryl Sandberg's shifting story

Sheryl Sandberg. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

What's Facebook's story on how involved COO Sheryl Sandberg was in investigating billionaire George Soros? It depends on the day, as Axios' David McCabe reports.

Two weeks ago, Sandberg spoke with a CBS News anchor and said she “did not know about or hire” a consulting firm that linked the social network's critics to liberal billionaire George Soros, a frequent recipient of anti-Semitic attacks.

  • Last week, she admitted that materials produced by the firm, Definers Public Affairs, crossed her desk. So did emails mentioning the firm.

Two weeks ago, Sandberg also said she respected Soros, so “I'm looking into it.”

  • On Thursday night, the New York Times and BuzzFeed News reported that she had directed executives to look into Soros’ potential financial motives in criticizing the company.

Why it matters: Sandberg’s boss, CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has stood by her thus far. But the flow of new revelations about what she knew, and what she did, are further undermining her credibility and the company's already frayed reputation.

Facebook's response:

  • “Mr. Soros is a prominent investor and we looked into his investments and trading activity related to Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “That research was already underway when Sheryl sent an email asking if Mr. Soros had shorted Facebook's stock.”
  • The spokesperson added that Sandberg never “directed research” on Freedom From Facebook, a progressive coalition advocating for the breakup of the company that ultimately became the target of the opposition research undertaken by the consulting firm.

What they're saying:

  • A number of observers on Twitter noted that it's not unusual for corporations to look into the financial interests of prominent public critics.
  • However, the comptroller of New York City, reportedly a major Facebook investor, called on the company's board to take action. "Where is Facebook’s board?" Scott Stringer said in a tweet. "The silence from the board of directors in the midst of continuous scandals is deafening. They must establish independent board leadership — now."

Our thought bubble: Looking into Soros is one thing, but the continued walk-backs make the company sound more like a political campaign trying to squelch a scandal than a responsible business trying to serve the community.

2. Facebook promises civil rights audit results

Earlier in the day, Sandberg was part of a Facebook delegation that met with representatives of Color of Change, an outside group that has been pushing tech companies on diversity issues.

What's new: The group says that Facebook promised it will release an early version of a civil rights audit of its platform by the end of the year, David reports.

Yes, but: The social network hasn’t yet fulfilled any of the other requests made by the group, which has asked Facebook to...

  • Fire its top policy executive, Joel Kaplan, a former Republican staffer.
  • Release data on voter suppression attempts on Facebook products.
  • Release opposition research that a right-leaning consulting firm produced trying to link the civil rights group to Soros.

Details: Sandberg apologized to the civil rights group during the meeting, according to multiple sources.

  • The delegation from the civil rights group met with Sandberg, as well as Facebook staffers Monique Dorsainvil and Lindsay Elin.
  • Dorsainvil worked in the White House under former President Obama and Elin was also active in Democratic political circles before entering the private sector, according to their LinkedIn pages.
  • They met at Facebook’s California headquarters for over an hour, Color Of Change president Rashad Robinson said, with Zuckerberg stopping by midway through.
  • “He said 'I’m glad this meeting's happening,' or something like that, and that was it,” Robinson said about Zuckerberg.

The big picture: The meeting comes as Facebook is dealing with a number of issues, including a memo that was made public earlier this week from former Facebook employee Mark Luckie also accusing the company of failing to support its black employees.

What they’re saying: "There was a lot of back and forth,” Robinson said. “There were things we pressed them on.”

Read more of David's story here.

3. Teens say social media makes them feel good

Teens take a selfie in Times Square, New York. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Despite rising concern in both Silicon Valley and beyond about screen time overload, a new Pew Research Center report shows a large majority of teenagers believe using social media is good for them, Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports.

Why it matters: A lot of research into the relationship between young people and social media has drawn negative conclusions: Social media is anxiety-inducing, creates unrealistic body images, and promotes cyberbullying and ideological bubbles, BuzzFeed reports. But teens themselves apparently disagree.

Some 45% of teens say they're on the internet constantly, causing them to be the driving force of which apps and sites are popular, per Pew.

By the numbers: In the report, 743 teens were surveyed about the benefits and negatives of social media use.

  • 81% of teens said social media makes them feel more connected to friends.
  • 71% said it helps them show their creative side.
  • 69% said it helps them make friends and with a more diverse group of people.
  • 68% feel like they have people who support them through tough times.
  • Still, 45% of teens said they feel overwhelmed by the drama on social media, with 13% saying they feel that way “a lot.”
4. Feds take action in cryptocurrency cases

In its first cases involving initial coin offerings, the Securities and Exchange Commission settled with boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and music producer DJ Khaled for failing to disclose payments they received for promoting the ICOs.

Separately, the FBI arrested AriseBank CEO Jared Rice, Sr., alleging he duped hundreds of investors out of more than $4 million in a cryptocurrency scheme.

The bottom line: The world of cryptocurrencies may be the Wild Wild West, but there is still a sheriff.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • The FCC is holding a public event on AI at its headquarters, with demos and speakers from academia and industry.
  • Amazon's AWS re:Invent conference wraps up in Las Vegas.

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Ina Fried