Facebook weeks ago opened a "war room" at its Menlo Park headquarters in California to be a nerve center for the fight against misinformation and manipulation of the largest social network by foreign actors trying to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere. "This is. extremely bad", responded Zach Carter, an investigative journalist with the Huffington Post, after reading the story. Zuckerberg said he was unaware of Facebook's relationship with the lobbying firm until it was outlined in the Times on Wednesday.
A New York Times investigative story about Facebook presents a brutal picture of how Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg handled the controversy over Russian hacking in the 2016 election. According to her, looking into the Russian activity without approval had left the company exposed legally.
It also said Facebook has at times smeared critics as anti-Semitic or tried to link activists to billionaire investor George Soros, and tried to shift public anger away toward rival tech companies. Those articles were then picked up by sites like Breitbart. They add that the "staggering amount of data that Facebook has collected" on users as well as people without accounts also raises concerns - including that the company "could improperly or illegally use its vast financial and data resources against government officials and critics seeking to protect the public and our democracy".
In fact, the lengthy and detailed reporting by the Times contained so many troubling revelations, informed readers of the piece had troubling keeping up with it all.
"Someone on our comms team must have hired them", he continued, claiming Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was also unaware of the partnership. Facebook is regularly accused of all units of not doing enough to remove these messages, and has recognized, for example, have been too slow to react to the propaganda of the burmese army on its website against the rohingya minority.
Facebook denies that it asked Definers to spread misinformation on its behalf.
"The intention was to demonstrate that it was not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but supported by a well-known critic of our company", Facebook said.
The company's statement said any suggestion that its own counter-offensive embraced anti-Semitic tactics was "reprehensible and untrue".
Nevertheless, the tech company chose to end its contract with the political consultancy yesterday when the Times' story went live.
Soros, who is often the target of anti-Semitism, has been critical of Facebook before.
Paul Levy: Interestingly what you say is, of course, what has now is being called generation Z, the kind of post-millennial generation are being seen to be leading these traditional social media platforms, along with things like fake news.
"To now learn that you are active in promoting these distortions is beyond the pale", Gaspard wrote.