Thu, Nov 22, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Facebook under fire again for
misinformation response

The firm has ended work with the Republican firm that linked its critics to George Soros, after the ‘New York Times’ reported on problems with how it dealt with Russian meddling and privacy breaches

By Ben Brody and Zoltan Simon  /  Bloomberg

Illustration: Mountain People

Facebook Inc is coming under renewed fire for how it handled the spread of fake news and misinformation on its social network, including using aggressive tactics to discredit critics.

In the wake of a scathing newspaper report on the company’s approach to managing a worsening crisis, Facebook on Thursday last week said that it ended its work with a Republican public affairs firm that had drawn links between enemies of the company and billionaire investor George Soros.

The move to cut ties with Definers Public Affairs came after the New York Times detailed the firm’s work, amid widespread turmoil at the social media giant as it dealt with the discovery of Russian meddling in the US presidential elections and data privacy breaches.

The newspaper said that Definers tried to deflect criticism of Facebook by encouraging reporters to look into rivals, such as Google, and to pursue stories about Soros stoking an anti-Facebook backlash in Washington.

Soros, 88, has been a frequent detractor of Facebook, calling it a “menace” earlier this year.

Facebook issued a lengthy rebuttal to the story, denying that it asked Definers to pay for or write articles on its behalf or pushed journalists to spread misinformation.

Without naming Soros, who is a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, the company said its actions were not aimed at fueling anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Rather, it said it encouraged reporters to look into the funding of anti-Facebook groups, most notably Freedom From Facebook, “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’s board also defended chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg for the way the company responded to the Russian disinformation campaign on the social network.

“As Mark and Sheryl made clear to [US] Congress, the company was too slow to spot Russian interference, and too slow to take action,” Facebook’s directors said in a statement. “As a board we did indeed push them to move faster, but to suggest that they knew about Russian interference and either tried to ignore it or prevent investigations into what had happened is grossly unfair.”

The Times story suggested that Sandberg and Zuckerberg were not as involved with the serious issues facing the company as they should have been, and instead, were more concerned about continuing to defend Facebook’s reputation and embarked on an aggressive lobbying campaign to fend off critics.

“To suggest that we weren’t interested in knowing the truth, or that we were trying to hide what we knew, or that we tried to prevent investigations is simply untrue,” Zuckerberg told reporters on a conference call.

A longtime financial backer of Democratic causes and politicians, Soros is a favorite bogeyman of the right wing, which accuses him of anti-American plots.

Last month, a suspected bomb was discovered in the mail of his New York home, the first of a dozen sent to Democratic and liberal figures including former US president Barack Obama and former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Patrick Gaspard, president of Soros’ Open Society Foundations, called the use of Soros “reprehensible” in a letter to Sandberg.

“These efforts appear to have been part of a deliberate strategy to distract from the very real accountability problems your company continues to grapple with,” Gaspard wrote in the letter, which he also sent to Zuckerberg, the company’s board members and congressional leaders.

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