In the wake of a damning New York Times investigation, the Facebook C.E.O. is sending an emissary in his stead to testify before lawmakers from seven different countries, and buried a Thanksgiving-eve memo by a higher-up.
In the face of a bombshell New York Times investigation critical of how he and Sheryl Sandberg guided the company through the past two years, Mark Zuckerberg has acted with defiance. In sharp contrast to his mea-culpa tour post-Cambridge Analytica scandal, Zuckerberg has assert that he and Sandberg aren’t going anywhere, and that he won’t be relinquishing his spot as chairman of Facebook’s board. Now, The Washington Post reports that instead of appearing before a rare U.K.-led grand committee of seven countries who have lingering concerns about the role Facebook plays in spreading disinformation, Zuckerberg will send Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president of policy solutions, to answer questions from top policymakers from Canada, Brazil, Ireland, Argentina, Latvia, the United Kingdom, and Singapore. Lawmakers were not satisfied. “The Committee still believes that Mark Zuckerberg is the appropriate person to answer important questions about data privacy, safety, security and sharing,” they said in a joint statement on Friday.
Facebook, it seems, is treating this latest bout of bad news no differently than any other scandal it has weathered—a seeming acknowledgement from Zuckerberg that his power is essentially absolute. Not only did its C.E.O. brush off the grand committee’s request, but on Wednesday evening—the night before Thanksgiving—the company published in full a memo from outgoing executive Elliot Schrage in which he takes responsibility for hiring Republican opposition research firm Definers to push back on Facebook’s critics. The memo’s publication follows a week of broad denials from Facebook’s top brass regarding the claims in the Times report. In it, Schrage admits that Facebook did in fact ask Definers to “do work on” George Soros, the billionaire Democrat philanthropist who has been the target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, particularly among the far right. He wrote:
The well-timed news dump is a familiar tactic for Facebook, which announced on a Friday in September that 50 million accounts had been affected in its latest hack, and released an independent report completed in October about how Facebook had been used to incite violence and ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar on November 5, the day before midterm elections. That Facebook employed a similar tactic in this instance seems to suggest Zuckerberg sees little merit in changing the company’s ways.
Throughout this scandal, Zuckerberg’s near-absolute power has been on full display. Zuckerberg owns the majority of the voting rights to Facebook thanks to a dual-class structure that prioritizes certain shares over others, and there’s no existing regulatory framework in place to force a check on Facebook’s power—nor, as my colleague William D. Cohan reported earlier this week, does there seem to be an appetite for one. Gone is contrite Zuckerberg, who was apologetic to lawmakers when he testified on Capitol Hill in April; in his place is a Zuckerberg who described the Times story as “bullshit” to staff, and who earlier this year made what amounted to a declaration of martial law.