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SANDBERG LEANS OUT

Issued: 2018-03-20

It’s not just that he’s silent in public. Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg declined to face his employees on Tuesday to explain the company’s role in a widening international scandal over the 2016 election.

Facebook employees on Tuesday got the opportunity for an internal briefing and question-and-answer session about Facebook’s role with the Trump-aligned data firm Cambridge Analytica. It was the first the company held to brief and reassure employees after, ahead of damaging news reports, Facebook abruptly suspended Cambridge Analytica. The Q&A session was first reported by The Verge.

But Zuckerberg himself wasn’t there, The Daily Beast has learned. Instead, the session was conducted by a Facebook attorney, Paul Grewal, according to a source familiar with the meeting. That was the same approach the company used on Capitol Hill this past fall, when it sent its top attorney, Colin Stretch, to brief Congress about the prevalence of Russian propaganda, to include paid ads and inauthentic accounts, on its platform.

Nor, The Daily Beast has learned, did chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg attend the internal town hall.

“Mark, Sheryl and their teams are working around the clock to get all the facts and take the appropriate action moving forward, because they understand the seriousness of this issue. The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Daily Beast.

Zuckerberg has been publicly silent since the Observer and the New York Times reported on Saturday that Facebook has for years been aware that a third-party app, billing itself as collecting user data for research purposes, exploited sufficiently weak privacy settings on unsuspecting user accounts to accumulate 50 million profiles. The app designer provided the data to Cambridge Analytica, the analytics and messaging firm controlled by Donald Trump allies.

Facebook reportedly asked Cambridge Analytica to delete the data in 2015, but did not verify that the deletion occurred. Cambridge Analytica subsequently received approximately $6 million from the Trump campaign to aid in its messaging and voter targeting. (The company had additional contracts worth millions of dollars with pro-Trump political action committees.)

Facebook, in what the company has described as its standard assistance to political campaigns, provided the Trump camp with sales and ads specialists during the waning weeks of the race. That aid occurred even after Facebook reportedly in August 2016 sent its lawyers to Cambridge Analytica contractors instructing them to “immediately” delete the user data “obtained and used without permission.”

It’s unclear what exactly Cambridge Analytica gave the Trump campaign for its money. Wired has reported that Cambridge sent three staffers to the Trump camp’s San Antonio-based digital operations office. Those staffers, Wired reported, “provided useful analysis of data about the American electorate,” but not the raw data itself – data likely to include what the 2015 researcher harvested on an industrial scale.

The Trump campaign has downplayed Cambridge Analytica’s high-priced assistance in an interview with The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff. Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s 2016 digital director—and 2020 campaign manager—has told multiple outlets that the firm’s data was all but useless.

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