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Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis (nytimes.com)
517 points by cmmn_nighthawk 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 159 comments



>On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. One story called Mr. Cook hypocritical for chiding Facebook over privacy, noting that Apple also collects reams of data from users. Another played down the impact of the Russians’ use of Facebook.

>The rash of news coverage was no accident: NTK is an affiliate of Definers, sharing offices and staff with the public relations firm in Arlington, Va. Many NTK Network stories are written by staff members at Definers or America Rising, the company’s political opposition-research arm, to attack their clients’ enemies. While the NTK Network does not have a large audience of its own, its content is frequently picked up by popular conservative outlets, including Breitbart.

Facebook employed content writers posing as journalists, as hired guns against their enemies. A page out of the playbook of the Internet Research Agency.


This is not the first time Facebook has used these tactics. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/may/12/facebook-...


Is there an actual crisis, outside the media narrative? Has Facebook seen an actual fall in monthly, weekly, or daily active users?

To me, this story reads a lot like a media narrative that has very little to do with users's actual lives. And I've been reading variations on "Why Facebook sucks" and "Why Facebook is doomed" for a very long time. It's like the "Why this is the year of Linux on the desktop," but for media companies.

Don't get me wrong: I'm barely a Facebook user and agree with much of the criticism. But what I do, anecdotally, is less significant than what users do and want to do.

I think the conventional media sources, including the NYT, doesn't want to confront its own role in the 2016 election (the relentless media focus on Clinton's email server was insane). We don't want to acknowledge that most people's epistemological skill is low. Why look at ourselves, when we have this handy scapegoat right... over... there?

https://www.iep.utm.edu/girard/#H3


More than a quarter of Americans, and half of young people, report having deleted the flagship Facebook app from their phones in the wake of these scandals. (https://www.recode.net/2018/9/5/17824116/delete-facebook-mar...) The losses are offset in their topline numbers by growth in the developing world, but that's a lagging indicator, and those are much less lucrative user eyeballs.

It's mitigated to the extent those users migrate to other FB-owned properties like Instagram and WhatsApp, but there the negative media narrative increases the chance that antitrust regulators will break up FB and force it to divest those properties.


It's a small piece of a wider process, but Jaron Lanier is having such a global impact; probably much more than what Anglos imagine.


not just jaron lanier! there are multiple thinkers who are fellow travelrs. Cal newport, Tristan harris, Nicholas Carr...


Tristan Harris, founder of the non-profit Center for Humane Technology (CHT) [0] has been quite successful at high government circles and board level of big tech companies.

At the time Mark Zuckerberg didn't want to testify in the UK, he testified to the UK House of Commons commission to inform them about Fake News [1]

In the corporate world the strategy is to 'Engage employees', make them aware of the harms of technology and philosophy of Humane Tech. I found it enlightening to see him address the opening keynote at Dreamforce 2018 "How to Stop Technology from Destabilizing the World" [2] to a hall full of SalesForce customers.

The CHT now focuses primarily on fake news, disinformation, political influencing problems that arise from tech - i.e. the topics where the risk for civic breakdown is highest, but they have also played a role in bringing the concept of 'Time Well Spent' - focussed on healthy tech use - across at e.g. Google and Apple (but much to be done still in this area).

PS. I represent the Humane Tech Community, which is affiliated yet operates independently of the CHT, as a grassroots movement [3].

[0] https://humanetech.com

[1] https://community.humanetech.com/t/witness-account-of-trista...

[2] https://community.humanetech.com/t/must-see-video-explaining...

[3] https://community.humanetech.com/t/who-we-are-what-we-do-and...


The other day I heard Time Well Spent get thoroughly mocked in The Culture podcast, but I was too out of the loop to understand why. Still am.


Not sure if this was about the CHT then, as there exists still the Time Well Spent movement (as a FB group). But it could well be. The CHT realize quite well that TWS constitutes only a small part of what makes tech humane. Also the way that companies are adopting it, has a great deal of marketing to it (akin to 'greenwashing'). So you could say that regarding TWS some tiny steps were made in the right direction.


I'm also concerned that the fight against political influencing by fake news and whatnot quickly becomes a tool for political influencing itself. I've seen it first hand. I've just seen it happen in the third world: elections are actually well regulated and at the decisive last week, the incumbent party A who has been in power for 15 years accuses the outsider of using fake news (they even used a picture of Steve Bannon) spread through Whatsapp to influence the election. In due time the social network companies actually answered to department of justice probes and said nothing out of the ordinary (mass forwards, etc) had happened at all. This, of course, was after the election.

They "stole" quite a few points from the then-frontrunning outsider too. It wasn't enough because it was too-late-too-little; they were too far behind. And yet, the narrative that the outsider won because of fake news steve bannon donald trump russia stuck. International press reports of it are still around. What, is Glenn Greenwald going to own up to dirty maneuvering?


I think the green-washing comment is definitely on-point. co-opt the opposition and there is no opposition.


Tim Wu makes the case for breaking up tech giants, and FB specifically, at book length


Are you referring to master switch or attention merchants? been meaning to read both.


They're likely referring to The Master Switch, but I'd definitely recommend both. They're fantastic books, and Tim Wu really goes into significant depth in each.


I've been following Nicholas Carr for a while. It's just that Jaron Lanier specifically is making quite a splash in the "developing world". His message particularly resonate with our banana-republic election season online panics.


"Fellow travelers?"

Been a while since I've heard that.


everything old is new again


No. More than a quarter of Americans and half of "young people" have not reported anything about Facebook.

In point of fact, a quarter of the 4,594 people surveyed by Pew Research between May 29 and June 11 report deleting the Facebook app.[1] Of those, half who qualify as young deleted the app.

Stop getting your statistics from news. This kind of casual stats citing frustrates me beyond belief. Audit your sources.

________________

1. http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/1/201...


>In point of fact, a quarter of the 4,594 people surveyed by Pew Research between May 29 and June 11 report deleting the Facebook app.[1] Of those, half who qualify as young deleted the app.

For a population of 330 million, if you want a 95% confidence level and a 2% margin of error, you need only 2401 people in your sample. This is assuming the survey sampled appropriately (i.e. random selection methodology).

It is standard to take well executed surveys and extrapolate to the population. Calling it out is calling the whole field of statistics out.


Nice try. I'm well versed in the statistics but I'm not blindly criticizing the sample because it's small.

I'm criticizing exactly what you called out as an assumption - the methodology of the sample; namely that they survey's distribution matches the population distribution.

So thanks for the lesson in p values, but it has nothing to do with my point. I take issue with blindly citing sources without doing due diligence, especially when the survey was collected over a very small window of time across a population that most likely doesn't match Americans in toto.


> I'm criticizing exactly what you called out as an assumption - the methodology of the sample; namely that they survey's distribution matches the population distribution.

Yeah, I’m reading your previous comment, and I’m still not seeing it.


You're not seeing the issue with extrapolating a survey that lasted barely a week, from Pew Research, to an authoritative statement about the zeitgeist of the entire country?

Okay. I specifically called out the date range issue in my original comment. But it seems like people can't move past the impulse to (in)correct me about pop statistics. I never said the issue was small sample size.


The reason you're getting downvoted is that your argument is basically "well what if they're wrong?"

Pew has established a reputation as an organization who conducts polls regularly and properly. You are a throwaway account on HN. To be Bayesian about it, the priors are way better for Pew than for you.

If you have specific, substantive criticisms of how Pew conducted that particular poll, by all means, share them and folks can discuss that.


I don't really care why I'm being downvoted, nor did I ask. It's not relevant. I'll continually double down on this point regardless, unless you can actually refute what I'm saying instead of (like the others) trying to point out perceived inconsistencies in what I'm saying, or attacking points I didn't make.

I already made my substantive criticism. You cannot extrapolate the results of a survey evaluated over a 1 - 2 week period to the modal opinion of the American population. To spell it out for you: I vehemently disagree that you can adequately randomly sample a representative subset of the American population in a two week period.

Do you have a substantive rebuttal to that criticism? Evaluate my point on its own merits, not whether or not it's coming from a throwaway account (which this is not).

To put it bluntly, I'm a little stunned no one else is considering that survey as critically as I am. Even if it's ultimately a sound methodology, it's pretty frustrating for that to be taken as an uncontroversial fact without any challenge.


> I never said the issue was small sample size.

> a quarter of the 4,594 people surveyed by Pew Research between May 29 and June 11 report deleting the Facebook app.

Emphasis yours.


Yes, that was an element of what I stated. Now re-read the rest of what you quoted. See the bit about the date range?


Yeah—too bad that wasn't the part you put in emphasis, and the part that you did put in emphasis is something you're claiming wasn't your criticism at all.


> Is there an actual crisis, outside the media narrative?

Yes, the part where Facebook is paying people to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and supporting SESTA.


No, you don’t understand, an actual crisis is something that affects growth.


This comment is going on n-gate for sure.

http://n-gate.com/hackernews/


I think you missed some sarcasm.


> Is there an actual crisis, outside the media narrative?

There isn't much short-term stock prices are good for. Determining if investors will bet there is a problem is one of them.

Facebook's stock is down 20% YoY [1]. Unless you believe investors were blindsided by stalling rich-country MAU growth due to demographic saturation, the market is pricing something in. Facebook, too, appears to believe there something is awry--Q3 2018 operating income was down 8 points relative to the same period in 2017, due mostly to costs and expenses ballooning 53% over the same period [2].

If the New York Times' sources about Zuckerberg hiring PR firms to write hit pieces against those criticizing Facebook are accurate, it seems he, too, sees a crisis.

It requires multiple suspensions of disbelief to think this is a manufactured problem. Facebook has been a principal actor in major scandals and atrocities around the world, appears to have reacted petulantly, and relies almost existentially on not having Instagram and WhatsApp torn out of it by antitrust regulators. The final point makes political vulnerability salient to its future.

[1] 144.55 on 12 November 2018 / 177.95 on 15 November 2017

[2] https://investor.fb.com/investor-news/press-release-details/...


Would you consider a significant drop in Facebook's European user base to be crisis [0]?

[0] https://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-revenue-and-user-gr... - Facebook's user base is declining in Europe, and that ought to terrify its American bosses


Losing 2 to 4 million users out of 375 million users is hardly "significant". It's something to look out for of course, but trying to insinuate that Facebook is in trouble in Europe with those numbers is a stretch.


It's definitely significant for a company that a) has grown steadily since inception, and b) has a valuation based on continued growth. Facebook's stock is trading something like 35% below this year's peak, and this is part of why.


The same network effect that allows social networks to grow at a blistering pace also work backwards.


It seems to me that some people and the mainstream media want to see Facebook in crisis, so they interprete any stats or analysis with such bias.


I can't tell, are those monthly active user numbers for all Facebook owned services, or just Facebook itself?

If everyone quit Facebook and replaced it with Instagram, that's a very different story.


Is there an actual crisis, outside the media narrative?

This article ends with Facebook's COO testifying before Congress, so I'm going to say yes, there was a crisis.


Testifying before Congress doesn't mean one is in crisis. People are called to testify before Congress all the time and you don't hear about it because the testimony is irrelevant.


This is exactly it.

Look, Facebook needs to get its act together. They are in need for serious reform. However, mainstream media knows that Facebook is under a ton of pressure and these types of stories generate a ton of clicks. I know people want Facebook to die, but Facebook's usage has remained pretty much the same during all these negative stories. The public is not hating Facebook as much as people want to believe.

But the media has its narrative and it'll continue this "Facebook is evil" beat. The same with Clinton's email server, and more recently, the same with that immigrant caravan coming up from Central America.


> The public is not hating Facebook as much as people want to believe.

> But the media has its narrative and it'll continue this "Facebook is evil" beat. The same with Clinton's email server, and more recently, the same with that immigrant caravan coming up from Central America.

The media doesn't just report on the public's current taste; its also an agent for advising the public to change their taste. To throw light on darkness. The article is not just some slander on Facebook, it goes into detail about exactly how much Facebook execs knew about the problem and the (extreme, IMO) political steps they've taken to protect their interests.


About second half 2016, iirc, Facebook changed the News Feed, so instead of showing first Pages content in your feed, they were showing what your friends posted/shared first. One could argue this was a good thing. What happened after is that many, if not all pages got a hit in reach/traffic. Who do you think has been hit the most by this? Media maybe? (less traffic redirected to their websites, less opportunities to show adds on said websites, less money for them). I think there even was a story about Murdoch trying to persuade Zucky to change his mind, found one: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/12/facebook-rupert-murdoch-thre...


If Facebook has hurt the bottom line of the nyt so much, why has their share price doubled since mid 2016?


Because of Trump and the US Government abdicating all responsibility in checking the Executive Branch? NYT's subscriptions jumped after the 2016 election because a free press is extremely vital at this point.

The US is in a very weird spot right now with Democratic norms sliding. Once we exit this weird period and US Government returns to normal, lets see how the NYT's stock price fares then.


> The US is in a very weird spot right now with Democratic norms sliding. Once we exit this weird period and US Government returns to normal, lets see how the NYT's stock price fares then.

I don't think the US Government will ever return to what it used to be pre-Trump, and I think its a good thing. One thing we've seen is just how brittle our Republic really is; how much we rely on so many people doing the right thing. I suspect the new wave of younger Congresspersons, who campaigned in an environment with a completely undemocratic and vile POTUS, will be deeply suspicious of unchecked Presidential authority. And I would argue that's a good thing.


I mean, you can bloody well hate some business and still patronize it. I'd wager most Americans hate their cable company.

I agree there's little risk of users deserting Facebook en masse, but what we may see is lawmakers coming down on FB like a ton of bricks. It will be popular, too: Heavily regulating social media and slapping them with massive fines will be winning issues with constituents on both sides of the aisle.


I'd wager most Americans hate their cable company.

Pro tip (no pun intended): never use residential cable service. Always sign up for business-class service. You will get more-or-less infinitely better support, less telephone tag when things go wrong, faster maintenance attention, and fewer hassles in general, all without paying much more. Anecdotally, this also keeps you off the radar of anti-piracy crusaders, since users in business-grade IP blocks are more likely to have the resources to fight back.


If 3 other people pledge with me, I’ll delete my Facebook account right now. I’ve already exported all my data.


I left their whole enterprise, I was just sick of them from top to bottom.

I still use twitter, but I keep my distance, and it’s hardly a social platform.


No takers so far after 6 hours. Expected to see at least one person.

I'm definitely not one of them. I use it for networking. Pretty much everyone in the board game industry is on Facebook at the moment (publishers, designers, developers, artists, media, etc), to get feedback from each other, coordinate events, and reach out to fans and potential customers.


I commented pretty far down a long thread. I didn’t expect much. Like you, the network is what I’m afraid of losing.


I did it 3 months ago. Its really made my life so much better. No more worrying about not being good enough as my peers who live far away in a different country. No more dealing with ads.

However, I cheated somewhat and switched to twitter and continued to stay on Instagram (for sharing photos) and Whatsapp (talk to social circle).


Just do it, you don't need other people to affirm you


I know I don’t need it, it’s about impact.


If newspapers were only interested in clicks, no one would write such a story. No journalist would spend 6 months of their time researching such a story. Would you please stop with this simplistic media meme? This is not how things work in journalism.


I think what you'll see is a similar divergence to what we now see with obesity rates: uneducated/low income people experience higher rates of obesity than more educated/higher income e.g. low income or less educated people will remain oblivious and continue using FB normally while higher income or more educated people might start using FB less and less.


Sure there is. If they've been proven to have repeated privacy violations and ethics violations on a social space where people post a lot of their information it absolutely affects lives.


> ...doesn't want to confront its own role in the 2016 election...

Of all the things to blame the media for, being too critical of Clinton is an unfamiliar one to me. Especially when conventional media sources were clearly hostile to Trump but enamored with Trump stories.

If we are going to blame the media for something, it should be feeding the trolls, which it still has a hard time with to this day. Trump got incredible amounts of free press despite having much lower funding levels than Clinton.

We could call the email controversy uninteresting but it is clearly a story about corruption and unevenly applied laws and regulations. The story was about the corruption and cover-up, not IT infrastructure.


Facebook’s downfall does not necessarily have to come from “lower user engagement”. Think about the context that FB operates in.

Imagine more and more governments reading more and more stories about how this powerful platform is influencing elections, allowing hate speech, spreading lies and even causing genocides. You don’t have to have a too big imagination to see what they will do next.

Not to mention the influence of all these awful stories on how end users feel when they go on the site. Smoking, too, has many “daily active users”.

A crisis for Facebook surely can start with media narrative. “Growth solves all problems” is only for early-stage startups, not for social networks used by 1 in 4 humans.


Also, what effect does "we are evil" have on employee morale? What effect does a 20% decline in stock price (for a company where the RSU's and options were a significant hiring advantage) have on their ability to hire and retain talent? If they lose the talent war, does that affect their future growth potential?


There is so much wrong with this comment.

> It's like the "Why this is the year of Linux on the desktop," but for media companies.

I don't think this is an accurate analogy. In fact, I think this analogy just muddies your argument. Its only analogous in that its a an event ("year of linux desktop" == "lets delete facebook") that pops up every now and then. But while the former argument is mostly one of technical adoption, usability and taste, the latter has morphed into a more insidious need to protect the public from targeted disinformation campaigns. The delete facebook movement is not just a technological/taste argument anymore, its a political one and you're doing it much disservice by comparing it to something which has much less impact.

> I think the conventional media sources, including the NYT, doesn't want to confront its own role in the 2016 election (the relentless media focus on Clinton's email server was insane). We don't want to acknowledge that most people's epistemological skill is low. Why look at ourselves, when we have this handy scapegoat right... over... there?

I think its important to not lump conventional news media into one big blob, just like we don't lump tech firms into one big blob. Cable News is, IMO, much more culpable for Trump's rise than NYT. NYT does actual reporting while CNN/MSNBC/FOX cable news have more punditry/opinions (NYT does have opinions too, but it doesn't dominate the medium).


Funny quote:

> “We’re not going to traffic in your personal life,” Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said in an MSNBC interview. “Privacy to us is a human right. It’s a civil liberty.” (Mr. Cook’s criticisms infuriated Mr. Zuckerberg, who later ordered his management team to use only Android phones, since the operating system has far more users than Apple’s.)


If Tim cook believed this why is he taking billions from google to be the default search engine? Why not pick a more privacy friendly search engine?


Because no other search engine provides nearly as smooth an experience as Google.

Coincidentally, nothing is stopping privacy-conscious users to use, for example, DuckDuckGo. It's right there in the options on both macOS and Safari.

Finally, it's pretty absurd to say that Tim Cook/Apple don't believe in privacy. Out of all major consumer software/hardware manufacturers, Apple easily takes the most privacy-conscious stance of them all - which isn't saying much until you see the extent that they've gone to protect user privacy - ranging from the Secure Enclave and the T2 chip to fingerprinting and tracking prevention in Safari 12.


> Because no other search engine provides nearly as smooth an experience as Google.

DDG is actually smoother, it loads faster and is more lightweight on phone browsers.


If he was being honest, Cook would have said: "Privacy to us is a comparative advantage, because we can't make world class web products."

You can see the difference between these two statements in action in cases where Apple absolutely needs government approval and market share (China) or a good product (search engine / Google), they immediately ditch this "human right".


That comparative advantage has also made them the most valuable company in the world so your normative lens may be a bit biased — it seems like one could easily say googles comparative disadvantage is their business model precludes then from offering lucrative high margin privacy-protecting products.

The point about maps feels rather non germane as apple does have its own maps product.


What made them the most valuable company in the world was selling billions of <very expensive> phones, not their stance on privacy.

I didn't say anything about maps.


> What made them the most valuable company in the world was selling billions of phones, not their stance on privacy.

Can't just be that as others sell more billions of phones, right?

> I didn't say anything about maps.

You're right, I misread that part of your post.


DuckDuckGo’s search results aren’t as good for the average user.


Not sure this is true. Just yesterday I had to explain to an average user how ddg was answering a query they couldn't get answered in google. This was a really basic thing (finding the NYC office address of a company we were working with). For some reason Google just wouldn't return the result whereas it was top hit on ddg.


My experience is the exact opposite. DDG works well for most things, especially programming, but when I want to find the address of a local business Google is much better, probably because they use my location.


Because you've gotta pick your battles.


Remember when iOS had Facebook built in? I do. Apple's strategy has always been anything to make a buck.


Zuck's always been a sore loser.


Maybe so, but please don't post unsubstantive comments to Hacker News.


[flagged]


'dang is one of the HN moderators.


This is just corporate posturing. Apple recently banned VPN's that have the potential to block ads including Freedom [1].

[1] https://freedom.to/blog/freedom-has-been-temporarily-removed...


Interesting how this post got downvoted even if it links to a source. Anyone wants to weigh in why?


Freedom is not an ad blocker; Apple has approved other apps that block ads; iOS ships with native support for ad blocking and VPNs.

It's a bummer for fans of Freedom that it got blocked, but it's not accurate to extrapolate that into some general Apple opposition to ad blocking.


Facebook's recent preoccupation with staying in Washington's good graces, as described in the article, seems misplaced. It almost seems like the long-term personal legacy concerns of Zuck, Sandberg, Bickert, and others (many of whom clearly aspire to elected or appointed office) is taking precedence over FB's actual strategic priorities.

If I were running FB, my main worry would be the fact that it's devolved into a platform for baby boomers to yell at each other about politics. An angry Congress, even a really angry one, has a limited ability to kill FB. In fact, I'd posit that a bona fide War With The Man might even be good for employee morale, another Cartago Delenda Est moment.

User shrinkage, declining engagement and general loss of relevancy, on the other hand -- that would be the death knell, and it already kind of appears to be happening.


> ...it's devolved into a platform for baby boomers to yell at each other about politics.

I think the draw of a Two Minutes Hate isn't specific to an age group.


This nugget made me want to laugh and cry at the same time:

"...if Facebook pulled down the Russians’ fake pages, regular Facebook users might also react with outrage at having been deceived: His own mother-in-law, Mr. Kaplan said, had followed a Facebook page created by Russian trolls."

Yeah, great idea, Facebook. Let's protect the users from the outrage of having been deceived by... initiating a much bigger layer of deceit/coverup. That will totally work!


To me the negative press cycle involving Facebook and other advertising companies is more about the hidden war between the new age digital advertisers, and the former rulers of ads: the conventional news outlets. The news outlets will jump on any chance they can get to kill their competitors just like any other company. Without Facebook, they could become the sole source of news again, and reap the lost ad revenue themselves.

That's why I don't trust anything I read in the news. If I don't hear it from a friend working at one of the SV companies (which isn't that hard to find, we're a much smaller community than one would imagine) then I consider it to be sensationalized, hyperbolic, and/or downright wrong.


I get that you can be skeptical of the press but to claim that anecdotal or hearsay from friends is more trustworthy is really odd to me. This strikes me as an easy way to fall for false rumors. I'd rather put trust in the fact that there is plenty of people who would benefit from reporting about the inaccuracy of the claims of other journalists. We saw this with the Bloomberg story about purported Chinese attacks on hardware companies.


how would hear about this story unless you are personally friends with alex stamos or zuckerberg or sandenberg? I am all for skepticism but blanket rejection of responsible journalism seems like an over-reaction. the reporting of the new york times on facebook has been continuously borne out by events.


You're asserting that it is responsible journalism. That is not a given in this debate.


I think both can be the case: legacy media is actively attacking online media lately. I've seen a rise is poorly-veiled anti-first amendment articles recently from places such as the New York Times and the New Yorker. So I have no doubt legacy media feels very threatened. But at the same time, Facebook is fucking evil.


So what you're saying is that you don't trust the news due to bias and self interest, but you do trust those who actively drink from the Surveillance Valley kool-aid pitcher to give you an honest and unbiased point of view on this topic?


Makes me think about the quote ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!’ Of course they don’t care about anything but profit and growth because it’s what makes them richer.


The leadership of Facebook has more money than they could ever enjoy. They do all this sleazy stuff because they enjoy being sleazy.


You should really take a look at the price tags of luxury yachts sometime. The cost of extreme luxury expands to completely use up the unending streams of money directed at it


Perhaps, but this quote is used so frequently on HN that you should probably just assume it's already been posted to every comment thread.


What, you haven't had enough of that quote yet? How about "If it's free, you're not the customer, you're the product?"


That one should be in a banner across the top.


Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation.

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, persuading a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.


Coordinated, inauthentic behavior?


Seems pretty authentic to me.


LOL. indeed.


A few months ago Bloomberg published a story which I'm 99% sure was directed by Facebook PR, in-line with their strategy being reported on in this story [1][2].

Also can any mods tell me why all my comments are dead?

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-08/is-apple-...

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17719607


I don't know if THIS article was directed by Facebook related PR but the times reporting says there is other PR basically identical to this. So I think we can decisively label your conjecture as "credible"


At the risk of earning one of those (dead) tags myself, I'm starting to think that Bloomberg is basically a PR Newswire for people who want to spread BS about something or someone.

The Facebook-planted story, combined with their recent questionable reporting on hacked motherboard hardware that nobody seems interested in corroborating, doesn't paint a trustworthy picture of the Bloomberg organization as a whole. At least not IMO.


Wow, first the embarrassment around that secret chips planted in our data-centers story and now this. It's going to be a long time before I take Bloomberg's tech industry coverage seriously again.


Also can any mods tell me why all my comments are dead?

Write to 'hn@ycombinator.com' and ask --- and report back what they say. It looks like it's because of your comment linking Russia and Assange, but it's not clear if this was because it was too pro, too anti, or just because it mentioned one or the other. I'd guess it's user flagging gone awry, but maybe it's a new automated system that's broken instead.


> It looks like it's because of your comment linking Russia and Assange,

I don't think so, my guess is that it was due to one of the comments prior to the one you mentioned, or some activity that occurred on the same IP IBM was using.


I actually sent them 3 over the past two weeks but never got a reply. I'm guessing no one stays on top of the inbox.


I felt gross reading those few lines. People should ask her how she felt when George Soros was mailed pipe bombs and ask her if her rhetoric contributed to growing hate crimes in USA


I have heard apocryphal stories of people not wanting to hire ex-uber employees, because the culture there had such a bad reputation as being ethically bankrupt. I wonder if continued fb employment would make someone similarly less desirable as a hire.


I rendered my disapproval of Facebook by deleting it. That is the only action they care about.


They kept your shadow profile and are still tracking you, I guarantee it


The shadow profile is probably just as valuable as a real one when it comes to selling advertising.

And that's what matters. Everything else is just a cost of doing business.


There's no way it can be just as valuable.

For one, if you're not using their site, they can't show you ads there.


They don't need to. They can advertise to other members of your household, friends or any associates who they have linked that profile to.

Also you could be targeted on any site in their Advertising Network. In those cases they don't need specifics, just a profile/persona they can target or crosslink your browser fingerprint from like buttons and pixel tracking with a FaceBook user with the same IP address.


:/ yeah.


Consider obfuscating it?


Great article! This explains the reason why Google started receiving so much shit since last year. Typically you would see them appearing gradually but for anyone who live on the internet, I'm sure they noticed the sudden sharp increase in Google attacks starting from the end of last year.

It is incredible that the NYTimes were able to obtain some very private information that was presented in this article. It must have been leaked through someone at a very high ranking within Facebook executive team.


The tide has really turned against Sheryl Sandberg internally. I think some of her entourage are either reading the tea leaves or trying to create them.


The Innovation For All podcast released a super timely episode related to this yesterday. It was on whether tech companies like Facebook and Google are monopolies and if that's really a problem. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/google-facebook-are-mono...

The guest went into this topic some more: "While Facebook had publicly declared itself ready for new federal regulations, Ms. Sandberg privately contended that the social network was already adopting the best reforms and policies available. Heavy-handed regulation, she warned, would only disadvantage smaller competitors."


I sense that there may be a bipartisan crapping on FB next year; it seems like no one much is very happy with them.


You underestimate the power of lobbying :)

https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientlbs.php?id=D00003356...


How leaders of non-facebook social media companies dealt with facebook crisis (probably): "I hope the public won't remember about us. Please god, make them forget about us."


What a shitshow all around. Leadership is dead in today's climate.


> Looking into the Russian activity without approval, she said, had left the company exposed legally.

Ooh, what an insidious tension. I actually never considered it as a security risk of proprietary systems.

Can someone here on HN filter for posts that rankly speculate about how secure FAANG must be based on the high skill level of the security teams there? I know I've read some. I'd like to read back through them with this threat in mind.


As Warren Buffet would say Facebook leaders need to start imagining seeing all their words and actions on the front page of WSJ and act accordingly. Nothing stays private. Say and do the right thing, don't play games.

This is the biggest corporate f'up I've seen in a while. Someone needs to own it and step down.


This Times piece should be taken seriously by FB, it's shareholders, employees, and users. With good sourcing, this paints a very immature picture of the company, from leadership on down to the users.

Though the article uses the Russian interference as the launching off point, in my reading, it seems that these attacks on our democracy are essentially waived off. That the most pressing issue for Zuck was not that the families of his senior staff were being fooled (along with the rest of the voting public), but that his company may be ruined. This extremely serious, and continuing, attack on the public seems to not really matter to any of the parties involved, only that they may get 'in trouble' or lose money.

Good Lord. Where is the maturity? Where are the adults? Zuck seems like he's still 24 here, bopping about feeding calves and 'listening'. At least write up a report on your summer vacation.

The dire situations that the company (and the government) is in seems to be only taken as far as the mirrors these actors look into.

What absolute children.


From people that work there they are hiring unlimited headcount to work on integrity teams - the goal of which is to stop the kind of manipulation that happened in the 2016 election.

Given the decisions Facebook has made Zuck seems like a really good CEO and when FB makes something their focus they usually pull it off - fixing mobile, instagram moves against snapchat, etc.

The impression I get from people that work there is that it's not just talking points.


Are these people in the PR department?

Because FB's outward behaviour and actions don't seem to reflect your statements

And hiring 'unlimited headcount' is usually a sign of ticking a box and not actually understanding what needs to be done, i.e. "what do you mean it's still a problem, look at all the people we threw at this!"


They’re friends that work there - software engineers.

The headcount issue was a friend saying they were trying to get more people on their team and the integrity teams had it easy because they could get more people easily.

There was also a lot of internal recruiting to get people working on the integrity teams.


That is fantastic to hear. All media, even the Times, should be looked at critically and has biases. If it is true that they are putting a lot more of their site through scrutiny, that bodes well for the future use of social media in general. It is unfortunate that this job will be largely thankless though. Like in plumbing, you'll only notice the bad jobs, not the good work.


> the goal of which is to stop the kind of manipulation that happened

That's the problem, right there. FB, as a company, believes they can somehow stop propaganda/agitprop from being disseminated on their platform. They are desperately trying to apply pre-emptive filtering, and will fail.

They have no desire to actually work on improving the situation. Once someone has been subjected to this kind of messaging, FB will do nothing to educate the victims. The aim should be two-fold: to minimise damage (100% prevention is just not possible), and to heal the damage done. But no, that would require them to take responsibility.

I have talked with some FB people who are hiring for these integrity teams. When I asked about whether they are willing to take responsibility and educate their users to prevent further damage, the answer was - and I quote: "we don't do that".


They do do that - they have fact checking things below stories and are trying different things to make that better.


>This extremely serious, and continuing, attack on the public seems to not really matter to any of the parties involved, only that they may get 'in trouble' or lose money...

???

Isn't that the modus operandi of every company. I'm just thinking in my head back through serious crises involving companies, and all of the ones I can recall have senior management concerned about the same thing. (Losing money, and getting in trouble.)

From Exxon Valdez, to Deepwater Horizon (BP), definitely crises like Taylor, Enron, and the recent banking system unpleasantness.

In fact, I remember a more bald faced arrogance out of the banker community. I still remember them sending the legislature of the United States a 3 page letter to sign off on, authorizing the transfer of $1 Trillion to them within the following 24 hours.

Now THAT was childish arrogance. (Or maybe just the reality of their power? I don't really know which?)


>> This extremely serious, and continuing, attack on the public seems to not really matter to any of the parties involved, only that they may get 'in trouble' or lose money...

> ???

> Isn't that the modus operandi of every company.

Does that make it alright?


less of a question of maturity (being self-sufficient, which Facebook and its employees clearly are), more of integrity

integrity implies that you are unified or "integrated" as a part of a stronger whole, and working towards the betterment of that whole

that you share certain core values and ethics with another group of people

in the past large companies might have been integrated and integral to a certain city, region, community, country, cause, etc. - or as you put it, "our democracy"

facebook, and most large tech companies, no longer have or need such ties towards individuals, communities, or countries

they pay their taxes in all different jurisdictions (or sometimes mostly just in ireland) and then are free to do as they like to their users who keep coming back for more screentime because they're addicted

facebook has no sense of care for the user, or a sense of being in it together as a relationship, nor is it really possible to have one at Facebook's scale

i wouldn't be surprised if Zuckerberg still considers the majority of Facebook's users "dumb fucks" and sheep to be monetized, an ethos that will inevitably trickle down through the company from the top

facebook's integrity is aligned with their customers, the advertisers, and that's about it

we can only hope that facebook employees are doing what they can to preserve their own integrity with their friends/family/community, and that this push is strong enough to shape the development of the platform for the better, instead of towards further addictive, attention-grabbing, echo chamber construction


The two part Frontline episode on PBS really illustrates your point. Facebook needs to take a stand.


Any link to the videos? I'd love to see them.


2-parts. features a ton of interviews with high level executives including the facebook "head of growth" and alex stamos who was the security chief. I thought stamos came out of the interview seeming pretty forthright and direct (he no longer works at facebook). the other executives did not come off so well...

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/facebook-dilemma/


What is the extent of the Russian interference really though? Studies show it didn't change the outcome. We still don't really know who hacked the DNC, whether it was Russia as a hand selected group of people from intelligence agencies included was likely, or whether it was an insider as implied by Assange and security experts who looked at how fast the information was downloaded. We know Russia did take both sides on issues like black lives matter to "cause division" We know they created a "Buff Bernie" meme, but it really feels like a massive excuse by the Democrats for an embarrassing failure. The whole thing at this point has come to feel comical. Am I missing something or is this still all a bunch of nonsense strewn around for clicks and ratings?


I haven't been able to find the comedy in the situation myself, conspiracy theories aren't much fun when people start acting on them.

But it is profoundly worrying in a next-two-decades-of-politics sort of way. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans seem to see negotiation as a viable way achieving good outcomes, and it is difficult to see how that will end well.

If the Dems had launched this conspiracy that the Russians are scheming to do ... something ... completely out of the blue it would be good for a generation of lampooning, but it conceptually fits in with older Tea Party attempts to shut the government down, or the partisanship towards the end of the Obama presidency on issues like Supreme Court nominations. There isn't a loud force in American politics that is talking about compromise or finding common ground.


> Studies show it didn't change the outcome.

Nothing credible says that, or could say that. Counterfactuals of that nature are very hard and in an election that was decided by 70,000 total votes out of over 130,000,000 it's nearly impossible to assign causation.

> We still don't really know who hacked the DNC, whether it was Russia as a hand selected group of people from intelligence agencies included was likely, or whether it was an insider as implied by Assange and security experts who looked at how fast the information was downloaded.

Nah, we know it was Russia. The CIA said so from the beginning (learned via signals intelligence), independent security firms all said the same (by attributing the C&C servers and link shorteners to other attacks known to be from Russia), and the DOJ laid out the full detail in the indictments. We even know who specifically was sitting at the keyboard (presumably via Dutch intel who had literal real-time video access). The Bill Binney nonsense about download speeds was immediately discredited -- and further discredited once it turned out that the Russians were using US-based proxy servers.

> We know Russia did take both sides on issues like black lives matter to "cause division" We know they created a "Buff Bernie" meme, but it really feels like a massive excuse by the Democrats for an embarrassing failure.

They repeatedly expressed preferences for Trump, the divisions they were trying to cause were all for his benefit. They started targeting Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and then eventually moved on to anything that would harm HRC, such as propping up Bernie. The democrats obviously failed to win what should have been a very winnable election but to deny Russian influence at this point is to be deliberately obtuse.

If you have any doubt at all about the DNC hack, please just read the 'speaking indictment'. There's really no question at all: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4598902-DOJ-Russian-...


Thanks for that point by point refutation, but why do I feel like a Russian troll just wasted both of our times...


This study says the effect was small. http://web.stanford.edu/~gentzkow/research/fakenews.pdf Even Nate Silver acknowledges the effect of Russia was modest. Maybe he's changed his tune now? This was written before the fervor around this nonsense really got cooking. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-much-did-russian-in...

An indictment isn't proof. You aren't 100% certain of anything. Assange has never lied to us. The intelligence agencies have. Assange says it wasn't Russia. Its amazing how the left has turned on him.

Yes, Russia wanted Trump that was why the Buff Bernie meme was out there. My point is its probably a trivial impact. People who have the slightest ability to be open-minded about this issue generally can see that. $100,000 for facebook memes compared to Hillary getting questions in advance from U.S. media? https://www.cnet.com/news/russian-trolls-targeted-teens-on-f...

None of this stuff is certain and it really is amazing how blown out of proportion it is in people's minds.


Your first post said Russia didn't change the outcome -- yet in this one you said that the effect was "small", "modest", and "a trivial impact". Once again, Trump won by 0.05%! --- A small/trivial/modest impact could have absolutely swung the election!

Assange lies all the time, I doubt there's anything that I could do to change your mind on that point but just look at the comments his former coworkers made after they were chased away from WL, his backtracking about talking to Trump Jr during the election, his withholding of documents that would be damaging to Putin, his deceitfulness in the DMs that were exposed by Emma Best last summer..

Intel agencies have Russia dead to rights on interfering in the 2016 election. Please explain how Guccifer2 accidentally logged into Twitter from the GRU headquarters otherwise... or if you're a Seth Rich truther, how a DNC worker had access to Podesta's personal gmail? It's not just intel agencies, several private security companies came to the same conclusion.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/exclusive-lone-dnc-hacker-gucc...


Outside the now, well supported evidence of Russia's involvement in the hacking of the DNC emails we have massive donations to groups like the NRA, political campaigns and hiring people like Maria Butina to influence politicians. We've seen them try to meet with Trump's family in order to provide them with damaging information on Hillary clinton in exchange for dropping sanctions. We've also already had indictments of people within the Russian government that were apparently involved with the disinformation campaigns. With lots of information about their groups and US based organizations they used.

You have to ignore the information available to you to claim the extent of their interference wasn't broad.


Well repeated is not well supported.


The claims aren't just repeated the evidence for it has expanded over time. Like I said you really have to try at this point to ignore everything that has come out.


Some citations would help.


Here is Facebook's response to this article from NYTimes: https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/11/new-york-times-update/

Quoting:

> Yesterday, The New York Times published an article about the past two years at Facebook. There are a number of inaccuracies in the story, including:

> 1. Russia Investigation: The story asserts that we knew about Russian activity as early as the spring of 2016 but were slow to investigate it at every turn. This is not true. As Mark Zuckerberg told Congress, “Leading up to Election Day in November 2016, we detected and dealt with several threats with ties to Russia … [including] a group called APT28 … we also saw some new behavior when APT28-related accounts, under the banner of DC Leaks, created fake personas that were used to seed stolen information to journalists. We shut these accounts down for violating our policies.” After the election, no one ever discouraged Alex Stamos from looking into Russian activity — as he himself acknowledged on Twitter. Indeed as The New York Times says, “Mark and Sheryl [Sandberg] expanded Alex’s work.” Finally, we did not name Russia in our April 2017 white paper — but instead cited a US Government report in a footnote about Russian activity — because we felt that the US Director of National Intelligence was best placed to determine the source.

> 2. The Muslim Ban: We did decide that President Trump’s comments on the Muslim ban, while abhorrent to many people, did not break our Community Standards for the same reasons The New York Times and many other organizations covered the news: Donald Trump was a candidate running for office. To suggest that the internal debate around this particular case was different from other important free speech issues on Facebook is wrong.

> 3. Commitment to Fighting Fake News: Mark and Sheryl have been deeply involved in the fight against false news and information operations on Facebook — as they have been consistently involved in all our efforts to prevent misuse of our services.

> 4. Sex Trafficking Legislation: Sheryl championed this legislation because she believed it was the right thing to do, and that tech companies need to be more open to content regulation where it can prevent real world harm. In fact, the company faced considerable criticism as a result.

> 5. Android: Tim Cook has consistently criticized our business model and Mark has been equally clear he disagrees. So there’s been no need to employ anyone else to do this for us. And we’ve long encouraged our employees and executives to use Android because it is the most popular operating system in the world.


"Except for the dates when it knew of the Russian attacks, Facebook doesn't appear to be attacking the facts of the reports, but the interpretation. For instance, the NYT never said that what Facebook did was anti-Semitic, but rather that it was using Definers to depict attacks against it as anti-Semitic. 'It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic,' the report stated. Many of its other responses, including the Stamos investigation, fall along the same lines -- rebutting points that the NYT never made."

https://www.engadget.com/2018/11/15/facebook-response-nyt-ex...


Translation: THEY LIED


>“We’re not going to traffic in your personal life,” Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said in an MSNBC interview. “Privacy to us is a human right. It’s a civil liberty.” (Mr. Cook’s criticisms infuriated Mr. Zuckerberg, who later ordered his management team to use only Android phones, since the operating system has far more users than Apple’s.)

I can't get enough of the Apple-Facebook beef. Also kind of a "cut off your nose to spite your face" kind of move from a security perspective.


> “You threw us under the bus!” she yelled at Mr. Stamos, according to people who were present.

People in high places really make me sick sometimes. This guy told the truth about an important matter and she chewed his ass for it. Super professional to take some (well-deserved) shit from the board, and then go proverbially kick your dog in retaliation. What an asshole.


To me the negative press cycle involving Facebook and other advertising companies is more about the hidden war between the new age digital advertisers, and the former rulers of ads: the conventional news outlets. The news outlets will jump on any chance they can get to kill their competitors just like any other company. Without Facebook, they could become the sole source of news again, and reap the lost ad revenue themselves.

That's why I don't trust anything I read in the news. If I don't hear it from a friend working at one of the SV companies (which isn't that hard to find, we're a much smaller community than one would imagine) then I consider it to be sensationalized, hyperbolic, and/or downright wrong.

At the very least, we certainly are never going to hear of the things Facebook is doing right. We aren't going to hear about the economic opportunity or positive connections it has produced. To say that something is completely one sided is a strong sign of bias.


The purpose of propaganda is to make you feel that the smart choice is to not trust anything you hear.


Every time I hear someone claim 'I just don't trust the news in general' it makes me weep. Not only have we failed at imparting basic critical thinking for people to make informed decisions as to the validity of various news pieces, it also just confirms that as you mentioned the propagandists are winning.

If you claim all news sources are fake news, then the only winner in that race to the bottom are the ones making actual fake content.


Trust != assumed validity. It simply means I do think critically and do my research before trusting non-primary sources of information.

And weep all you want, I'd rather people question the news then blindly accept everything they're fed on TV and in the papers. The news cycles have become extremely sensationalized.


> I'd rather people question the news then blindly accept everything they're fed on TV and in the papers

That's fair. But it isn't what you're claiming to be doing. You're saying you blindly disbelieve everything unless a friend vouches for it. That is neither critical thinking nor rational thought--it's unquestioning faith in social proof [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_proof


Why did you make the same post twice in this thread?




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