Mark Zuckerberg Responds To Times Facebook Report: 'I Learned About This Yesterday'

On Capitol Hill Mark Zuckerberg represented a company that wasn't so naive about politics after all

Facebook on Thursday denied allegations in the New York Times that it tried to mislead the public about its knowledge of Russian misinformation ahead of the 2016 USA presidential election, but severed links with a Republican consultancy.

A New York Times investigative story about Facebook presents a brutal picture of how Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg handled the controversy over Russian hacking in the 2016 election.

In the blog post Thursday, Facebook said there were "a number of innacuracies" in the article and said that while it did hire Definers to look into who funded an anti-Facebook group, "To suggest that this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue". Zuckerberg, in a conference call with reporters Thursday, repeatedly claimed he did not know that the company had been hired, trying to distinguish Facebook's culture with repeated references to "Washington D.C., firms". Following the report, some USA lawmakers were already calling for more regulation of Facebook.

"We have made progress getting hate, bullying and terrorism off our network", Zuckerberg said. The story, based on interviews with more than 50 people, makes the case that Zuckerberg and Sandberg "ignored warning signs" that Russians were exploiting the platform, "then sought to hide them from public view". After a moment of dead air, he said "this type of firm might be normal in Washington" but it's not the kind of firm we want to do business with.

As Facebook faced a string of crises, it sought to tie its critics to George Soros, the billionaire at the center of many fringe right-wing conspiracy theories. "The fact that they kept the board in the dark for so long shows us that an independent board chair is necessary", Jonas Kron, whose company Trillium Investments owns 53,000 shares of Facebook, told ABC News. "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". He said Facebook still has to figure out who should be on the body. "No exec stopped any investigations, but there were a lot of heated discussions about what to publish and when", Stamos said on Twitter.

At the same time it smeared Soros, the Times found, Facebook lobbied "a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic".

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The lobbying campaign to redirect public anger and ward off regulation was...

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks May 1 during the annual F8 summit at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California.

The accusations were made by Open Society Foundations, a non-profit group founded by Mr Soros, following an investigation into Facebook's alleged use of underhand and aggressive tactics created to divert attention away from its own scandals.

Patrick Gaspard, president of Open Society Foundations, said the strategy was "dangerous". "The document referenced in the Times story regarding the anti-Facebook organization's potential funding sources was entirely factual and based on public records, including public statements by one of its organizers about receiving funding from Mr. Soros' foundation", the Definers spokesperson said.

The world's most popular social media platform has been on the back foot for months, including over the allegation that data from millions of Facebook users was abused by the consultancy Cambridge Analytica to help drive Donald Trump to the White House.

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