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Facebook’s top executives under siege after NY Times alleges PR dirty tricks

Facebook’s horror year has continued with the New York Times alleging the social media giant engaged in a series of dirty tricks campaigns against critics under the supervision of COO Sheryl Sandberg.

The New York Times story accuses Facebook of hiring consultants to discredit the service’s critics and engaging lobby groups to paint critics as anti-Semitic.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg being interviewed by Axios founder Mike Allen in 2017

The story claims that while Zuckerberg was conducting his public apology tour, Sandberg commissioned an aggressive lobbying campaign to discredit Facebook’s critics and thwart legislators.

During Zuckerberg’s apology tour, the Facebook founder spent ten hours appearing before the US Congress over the misuse of data, the rise of ‘fake news’ and the use of the platform by foreign powers to influence US elections.

He later appeared before a committee of European parliamentarians where he was warned he had created a digital monster.

Included in the New York Times story are allegations Facebook employed a US Republican opposition research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros.

The story also details how the company struggled with US President Donald Trump’s skirting of the service’s terms and with evidence of Russian attempts to subvert the 2016 election through the platform.

Facebook recently hired former UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg as its head of communications, following a year in which it was discovered research firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of 87m users which was later used for disinformation campaigns during the 2016 US elections.

In June, the company started its fight back against the year’s negative publicity with its ‘together now’ campaign, promoting what it does to fight misinformation and online misbehaviour.

Last month, Futurebrand’s 2018 brand sentiment index found the service had fallen 37 places over the past year, with the brand suffering issues in the areas including trust, admiration, passion, innovation and thought leadership.

The year’s negative news didn’t affect Facebook’s revenues, with last quarter’s financial statement reporting a 33% jump. However, European user numbers fell slightly while in the US the user base remained stuck at 185m.

A Facebook spokesperson told Mumbrella: “This has been a tough time at Facebook and our entire management team has been focused on tackling the issues we face.

“While these are hard problems we are working hard to ensure that people find our products useful and that we protect our community from bad actors.”

The bad news is not over for Facebook, with one of the giants of Silicon Valley’s startup community, Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, describing the social media service as being an addiction like Nicotine in an interview to be aired on Sunday night, US time.

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