Reeling from a New York Times investigation that highlights top executives' efforts to hide problems and attack critics, Facebook moved late Wednesday night to end its contract with a Republican consulting firm that had worked to take on the social giant's opponents.
The original story: NYT's "Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook's Leaders Fought Through Crisis" is a long piece, with tons of insight gleaned from more than 50 interviews, but the biggest takeaway is that both CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg bear direct responsibility for the company's woes.
"Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.”— New York Times
The portrait of both leaders is negative, but Sandberg looks especially bad, as this paragraph encapsulates.
"While Mr. Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation.
Details: The NYT story said that the Republican consulting company, Definers Public Affairs, had distributed materials trying to link Freedom From Facebook, which advocates the breakup of the company, to the liberal donor George Soros, who has been subject to anti-Semitic attacks.
- Soros' Open Society Foundations funds non-profits that are part of the coalition but has long said it is not funding the specific Facebook breakup campaign itself.
- A conservative site called NTK Network with ties to Definers also reportedly posted stories critical of Facebook's competitors.
The context: As The Verge's Casey Newton points out, Facebook's PR moves came as the company was trying to manage perceptions inside the company as well as outside. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that morale is indeed slipping.
What they're saying:
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the incoming head of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, says Facebook "cannot be trusted" to regulate itself.
"Once they knew the truth, top Facebook executives did everything they could to hide it from the public by using a playbook of suppressing opposition and propagating conspiracy theories."— David Cicilline
Patrick Gaspard, president of Open Societies Foundations, sent a scathing letter to Sandberg over the company's PR campaign, especially the Soros attack.
"These tactics out of Putin’s playbook have no place in an important debate about the integrity of our elections."— Patrick Gaspard
Side note #1: Though not as big a deal as the other issues raised in the piece, NYT has an interesting insight into Zuckerberg's temperament, noting that Zuckerberg ordered all his executives to use Android following Apple CEO Tim Cook's statements.
- My former Recode colleague Walt Mossberg got in a good shot on that, quipping: "So, Zuckerberg remains consistent in always going for the option that’s less private and less secure."
Side note #2: Kanye West put the cherry on the top of Facebook's dreadful sundae, tweeting a picture of Zuckerberg doing karaoke, allegedly to the Backstreet Boys. I'm not sure the context for the photo, but pretty sure Facebook PR didn't want it that way, especially after the day they had.