Facebook has hit back at the New York Times, asserting there were a “number of inaccuracies” in the paper’s investigation of how the social media company behaved during the runup to the 2016 election and this year under the Washington microscope.
The Times article is a blockbuster that is difficult to neatly sum up, but its headline captures it well: “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis.” A team of reporters interviewed some 50 sources and offered a damning look at Facebook’s complicity in the Russian hacking of the 2016 election and an array of other misuses of the social network. Among the most eye-opening charges: that Facebook discredited activists protesting the company, in part by linking them to financier George Soros and also lobbied a Jewish civil rights group to frame criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.
A company blog post succinctly titled “New York Times Update” itemizes five specific areas where it sees inaccuracies. It also has a long paragraph devoted to the company’s decision to cut ties with a group called Definers. The Times pointed to the group as a weapon Facebook used to fight back at critics — including rival tech giants — who pounced on lapses such as the Cambridge Analytica data debacle.
A conservative news site called NTK Network, an affiliate of Definers, posted several stories attacking Apple’s privacy standards and playing down Russia’s use of Facebook. Definers also supported efforts to link criticism of Facebook to Soros, a Jewish billionaire and Holocaust survivor who is routinely scapegoated by conservatives for his leftist activism in a way that is often blatantly anti-Semitic. Of particular interest to Facebook, the Times alleges, was tying Soros to the efforts of “Freedom from Facebook,” a well-known activist group.
Founder-CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandburg are both Jewish, which added extra sting to the charges they had overseen efforts to play the Soros card.
“Definers did encourage members of the press to look into the funding of ‘Freedom from Facebook,’ an anti-Facebook organization,” the Facebook blog post said. “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. To suggest that this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue.”
Investors have not risen up in revolt after the article. Facebook stock has fallen 1% in early trading, though several media and tech stocks are also in the red amid a low-grade market selloff.
Facebook concludes its blog post with an acknowledgement that it was “too slow” to spot Russian interference and other misdeeds on its platform, as it testified before Congress. “But in the two years since the 2016 Presidential election, we’ve invested heavily in more people and better technology to improve safety and security on our services,” the post adds. “While we still have a long way to go, we’re proud of the progress we have made in fighting misinformation, removing bad content and preventing foreign actors from manipulating our platform.”