Abandon Your Face
6 December 2018
Your TV is watching you.
I am on a Facebook and Instagram hiatus. I deleted all the Facebook-owned apps off my phone and imported all my Instagram photos here to my site, thanks to Gatsby for making that breezy. The pic above is the first one to go up here exclusively. Feels stupendous. I need to manage pages and video for projects, but I cannot help them harvest data or contribute personal content to their dumpster fire any longer.
The irony of it all is while Facebook is being called out for “fake news” on its platform, the internal response to accusations is often to dismiss them as fake news. The blind loyalty to the company is staggering.
It’s a company whose CEO used to close all-hands meetings by raising his fist and saying, “Domination!” A company where a top executive wrote an internal memo making the case for prioritizing growth at all costs—even at the cost of human lives. A company whose staff broke out in cheers at a meeting when CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he had tracked down and fired an employee who leaked word of a secret A.I. product to the press. As one anonymous Facebook employee explained to Recode’s Mark Wagner afterward: “You don’t betray the family.”
That cultlike loyalty helps explain why, when Facebook was under fire earlier this year for having allowed shady app developers to harvest users’ profile information, the word out of Menlo Park was that Facebook employees were rallying around their chief. There were rumors of employee anger after Facebook’s top policy executive, Joel Kaplan, turned up to support Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at the Senate hearing in which he was accused of sexual harassment. But even then, no one dared speak up publicly.
The silence held even after the Times reported that Kaplan, along with COO Sheryl Sandberg, had systematically downplayed evidence of Russian interference and misinformation to avoid upsetting conservatives on Capitol Hill.
Facebook’s leaders and many of its employees may feel that Luckie betrayed the family. But when the family is hurting people, the real betrayal is to remain silent.
Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.
In Washington, allies of Facebook, including Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate leader, intervened on its behalf.
In at least one instance, the company also relied on Mr. Schumer, the New York senator and Senate Democratic leader. He has long worked to advance Silicon Valley’s interests on issues such as commercial drone regulations and patent reform. During the 2016 election cycle, he raised more money from Facebook employees than any other member of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Mr. Schumer also has a personal connection to Facebook: His daughter Alison joined the firm out of college and is now a marketing manager in Facebook’s New York office, according to her LinkedIn profile.
In July, as Facebook’s troubles threatened to cost the company billions of dollars in market value, Mr. Schumer confronted Mr. Warner, by then Facebook’s most insistent inquisitor in Congress.
Back off, he told Mr. Warner, according to a Facebook employee briefed on Mr. Schumer’s intervention. Mr. Warner should be looking for ways to work with Facebook, Mr. Schumer advised, not harm it. Facebook lobbyists were kept abreast of Mr. Schumer’s efforts to protect the company, according to the employee.
A Senate aide briefed on the exchange said that Mr. Schumer had not wanted Mr. Warner to lose sight of the need for Facebook to tackle problems with right-wing disinformation and election interference, as well as consumer privacy and other issues.
While a Facebook spokesperson maintains that Sandberg did not direct Definers, it now acknowledges that she did in fact request research on Soros following comments he made at the World Economic Forum in January. During a speech, the billionaire said that Facebook and Google were a “menace” to the world and that the “internet monopolies” did not have the will or inclination to protect society.
In an interview with CBS This Morning two days after the Times story revealed Definers’ work for Facebook, Sandberg doubled down on her earlier denial, noting that Definers was one of “lots of firms” hired by the social networking giant.
Last week, Facebook’s outgoing head of communications and policy Elliot Schrage published a note taking blame for the hiring of Definers in 2017. In it, Schrage also confirmed that Facebook had hired Definers to investigate Soros and its competitors, noting that the firm “helped us respond to unfair claims where Facebook [has] been singled out for criticism.”
In an addendum to that note, Sandberg also had a small update, noting that while she “didn’t remember a firm called Definers,” her team later found evidence that its work was “incorporated into materials presented to me and I received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced.”
Eddie Vale, a spokesperson and consultant for Freedom From Facebook, said that in light of Sandberg’s shifting positions, Facebook could not be trusted on the matter. He also told BuzzFeed News that no money from Soros directly or indirectly had been used to fund the coalition’s work.
“In light of Sandberg’s continuously changing story on the Soros research there’s no way their denials about attacking other critics can be taken at face value,” he said. “Facebook must immediately release any emails about, and the research itself, targeting the Freedom From Facebook coalition or any member organizations.”
Sandberg, who manages Facebook’s communications team among other responsibilities, has come under immense pressure since the Times story, which depicts the 49-year-old as a fulcrum for poor decisions and infighting. In a Bloomberg News report, unnamed sources placed the blame for Facebook’s recent woes at the feet of Sandberg, who they say prioritized her own personal brand and entrusted the wrong people, among them Schrage and Facebook vice president of public policy Joel Kaplan.
– Sheryl Sandberg Emailed Staff To Conduct Research On Billionaire George Soros: While Facebook maintains that Sandberg was not directly involved in a public relations firm’s opposition research on Soros, it now acknowledges that she did in fact request research on the billionaire.
[H]ours ago I sat in a meeting with this woman and said “I don’t believe that the Definers went rogue, someone in your department knew something.” And the whole time it was her.