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Facebook's Sandberg denies report that she ignored Russian activity on site and thwarted investigations

Key Points
  • Sheryl Sandberg responded to a New York Times report that Facebook ignored and concealed the full extent of Russia's use of the social network to affect the 2016 U.S. election.
  • "To suggest that we weren't interested in knowing the truth, or we wanted to hide what we knew, or that we tried to prevent investigations, is simply untrue," Sandberg wrote.
  • The New York Times published an investigation on Wednesday that said Zuckerberg and Sandberg tried to deflect public scrutiny onto Facebook's competitors.
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook Inc., listens during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. 
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg on Thursday night responded to a New York Times report that described how the company ignored and then tried to conceal Russia's use of the social network to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election.

In a Facebook post, Sandberg acknowledged that she and founder Mark Zuckerberg were "too slow" to respond to the Russian interference on the site.

"But to suggest that we weren't interested in knowing the truth, or we wanted to hide what we knew, or that we tried to prevent investigations, is simply untrue," she said.

"The allegations saying I personally stood in the way are also just plain wrong. This was an investigation of a foreign actor trying to interfere in our election. Nothing could be more important to me or to Facebook," Sandberg added.

VIDEO3:5203:52
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg refutes allegations in NYT investigations

Her remarks came after an extensively reported New York Times article on Wednesday that described how Zuckerberg and Sandberg downplayed internal efforts to assess the Russian misinformation campaigns, and then tried to deflect public scrutiny onto Facebook's competitors instead.

Facebook executives, including former Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos, countered some of the claims made in the Times' report. The tech company's board called the claims that Zuckerberg and Sandberg knew about the Russian interference and tried to ignore it or prevent investigations "grossly unfair."

Sandberg also addressed a claim in the Times report that said the social network expanded its relationship with a Washington-based public relations firm called Definers Public Affairs.

According to the newspaper, the firm wrote dozens of articles that tried to deflect negative attention onto Google and Apple.

The Times also reported that even as Facebook claimed some criticism of the company was anti-Semitic, its PR firm Definers was trying to plant the idea that liberal financier George Soros — himself a frequent target of anti-Semitic attacks — was behind the growing anti-Facebook movement.

I have great respect for George Soros – and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent.
Sheryl Sandberg
chief operating officer, Facebook

"I also want to address the issue that has been raised about a PR firm, Definers," Sandberg wrote. "We're no longer working with them but at the time, they were trying to show that some of the activity against us that appeared to be grassroots also had major organizations behind them."

"I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have. I have great respect for George Soros – and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent," she said.

In a blog post published Thursday, Facebook said it ended its relationship with Definers Wednesday night and denied that it asked the firm to write fake articles.

Sandberg also said that Facebook is making the investments needed to "stamp out abuse" in its system and that it will take time.

During previous crises over the last year, Facebook has made similar claims that it is working hard to remedy internal problem.

On Thursday, Facebook released its latest report on the removal of harmful content from its services and Zuckerberg said the company will create an independent body that will oversee user appeals of content removal.

— CNBC's Salvador Rodriguez and Sara Salinas contributed to this report.