Facebook on the NYT bombshell report: 'There are a number of inaccuracies in the story'

Highlights from Facebook's rebuke to The New York Times exposé, and PR pros' reactions to the lobbying revelations.

Screenshot via Facebook Newsroom
Screenshot via Facebook Newsroom

MENLO PARK, CA: Facebook issued a 627-word rebuke to a story from The New York Times detailing the tech company’s lobbying efforts to battle its ongoing crises.

In a Facebook Newsroom blog post on Thursday morning, one day after The New York Times story ran, the social network wrote: "Yesterday, The New York Times published an article about the past two years at Facebook. There are a number of inaccuracies in the story."

The New York Times story reported that, following revelations about Russian-linked activity on the social media platform, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg spearheaded an "aggressive lobbying campaign" that sought to deflect public outrage to its rivals.

As part of those efforts, Facebook hired Definers Public Affairs to "discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros," according to the NYT.

The newspaper reported that Definers provided journalists with research to demonstrate anti-Facebook groups were funded by Soros and that it used its publishing affiliate, NTK Network, to spread stories favorable to Facebook.

In the wake of the story, Facebook published its lengthy statement addressing each of its major claims.

Here are four highlights from Facebook’s statement:

Facebook fired Definers Public Affairs
Facebook said it terminated its contract with Definers the same night The New York Times published its exposé. The public affairs firm is staffed by GOP operatives, including founder and CEO Matt Rhoades, the former campaign manager for then-governor Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Definers’ president is Joe Pounder, who was a senior advisor for Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) presidential campaign and comms director in his Senate office. Pounder also served on Romney’s campaign, as well as John McCain’s, according to Definers’ website.

Together, Pounder and Rhoades co-founded America Rising, a GOP opposition research firm.

Facebook denied spreading misinformation through Definers
Facebook said it didn’t pay Definers to write articles through its conservative-leaning NTK Network.

But it did acknowledge Definers encouraged the media to investigate funding for 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 also said that to suggest this was an anti-Semitic attack is "reprehensible and untrue."

Facebook batted away Russia investigation claims
In its statement, Facebook laid out the times in which it took action against Russian activity and denied trying to discourage chief security officer Alex Stamos from pursuing an investigation.

The New York Times reported that Joel Kaplan, VP of global public policy, was against the idea of publishing a paper detailing their findings. It also said Facebook eluded any mention of Russia from the final paper that came out in April 2017.

"We did not name Russia in our April 2017 white paper – but instead cited a U.S. Government report in a footnote about Russian activity – because we felt that the U.S. Director of National Intelligence was best placed to determine the source," Facebook said.

Facebook refuted other NYT claims
Facebook said it didn’t take special care deciding whether President Donald Trump’s comments about Muslims violated its terms of services.

The company reaffirmed the role CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg play fighting fake news. Also, it claimed Sandberg threw her support behind a piece of sex trafficking legislation out of her own desire to do good, not because it would court favor from Democrats and Republicans.

Finally, Facebook denied encouraging management to use Android phones in response to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s comments.

After the NYT story went live on Wednesday, Facebook faced a wave of censure from marketing communications pros on social media. Some expressed alarm at the scope of the revelations. Others were quick to point out this isn’t the first time Facebook has used controversial tactics.

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