Facebook spurns report that it kept Russian activity under wraps

Facebook Thursday rebutted allegations that the company knew early in 2016 about Russian activity on the social media platform and failed to promptly investigate it.

“This is not true,” the company said of a report by the New York Times that asserts Facebook knew of the Russian efforts to leverage its platform to exert influence, sacrificed privacy for growth, faced dissent among its executive ranks over the handling of Russia’s activities and used a PR firm to deflect its competitors/critics.

More than a year after engineers at Facebook stumbled across suspicious activity tied to Russia, then CISO Alex Stamos reported to the company’s board the social media giant hadn’t vanquished the Russian interference, prompting a grilling of COO Sheryl Sandberg and ultimately leading her to denounce Stamos.

“You threw us under the bus!” Sanberg said, according to sources cited by the Times.

The report contended that Sandberg and founder Mark Zuckerberg “ignored warning signs” that the platform could “be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe,” even as evidence mounted.

But the company points to Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress in 2017 as proof that Facebook was transparent in its findings and took quick action. “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,” Zuckerberg said. “We shut these accounts down for violating our policies.”

In its update, Facebook said, “After the election, no one ever discouraged Alex Stamos from looking into Russian activity — as he himself acknowledged on Twitter,” and instead as the Times report said, Zuckerberg and Sandberg expanded his work.

“Finally, 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,” the company said.

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