In her first interview since the story was published, Sandberg told “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell she did not know about an effort described by the Times to publish stories critical of other tech companies, an apparent attempt to deflect attention away from Facebook. The campaign was reportedly orchestrated by the consulting firm Definers Public Affairs, a Republican opposition research group hired by Facebook.
“We absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news – that they have assured me was not happening. And again, we’re doing a thorough look into what happened but they have assured me that we were not paying anyone to either write or promote anything that was false. And that’s very important,” Sandberg said.
The Times also reported that the firm tried to tie critics of Facebook to George Soros, the billionaire investor and philanthropist – and frequent target of conservative anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Sandberg said the firm was hired by “the communications team” and that she only learned about its work from the paper.
The Times report was published with the headline, “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s leaders fought through crisis.” And it was unsparing in its criticism of Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Among the claims: Facebook attempted to downplay the significance of Russian activity in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. The Times said Sandberg tried to rein in Facebook’s then-security chief, Alex Stamos, who had been looking into Russian activity on the network. The Times noted that one white paper Facebook released, based on an internal investigation by Stamos, did not include the word Russia. A later blog post by Facebook also downplayed Russia’s role.
In the interview Thursday, Sandberg stressed Facebook’s new efforts at security. “Our strategy was to shore up the security on Facebook and make major investments there,” Sandberg told O’Donnell. “It was not what I was doing nor was it the company’s strategy to deflect, to deny or to hire PR firms to do things. That’s not the strategy. And I was part of none of that. We’ve taken great steps, we’ve made huge investments. We’ve invested a ton in AI and technology and if you were following us before the election you saw those efforts pay off. We were able to take down lots of stuff over and over, over and over because we were now focused on this.”
Sandberg says she has the confidence of Zuckerberg. When asked if she has the confidence of the rank-and-file employees? “Yes, I believe so.”