Mark Zuckerberg Does Damage Control Over N.Y. Times Exposé, Says He Has "Tremendous Respect" for George Soros

Courtesy of REUTERS/ Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

The Facebook CEO joined a conference call with journalists on Thursday morning to discuss a new policy over content moderation but ended up fielding questions about the New York Times report about the social network's handling of Russian misinformation.

Facebook is in damage control mode following a lengthy New York Times exposé that revealed, among other things, how the social networking giant pushed back against criticism over its handling of data privacy and Russian manipulation of its platform. 

On Thursday morning, CEO Mark Zuckerberg joined a conference call with reporters to discuss a new policy governing how Facebook will handle content moderation on its platform, but the call turned into an extended Q&A session regarding the Times story. 

The Times reported Wednesday that Facebook security experts knew about Russian activity on the platform long before Zuckerberg or COO Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged it publicly and as Zuckerberg told the press that such an idea was "crazy." It also revealed that Sandberg led a campaign to deflect criticism onto rivals. The Republican opposition research firm hired to carry out this campaign linked protesters to liberal donor George Soros.

Further, the Times reported that Facebook spent a significant amount of time parsing whether Donald Trump's initial call for a ban on Muslim immigrants, made in 2015 after he'd announced his candidacy, was against the company's rules. The post was not taken down.

The day after the Times story was published, Zuckerberg released a blog post detailing how the company will police content on Facebook moving forward. The note, which the exec said was part of a series that he will pen at the end of this year to update users on how Facebook is tackling some of its biggest challenges, outlines an appeals process that Facebook rolled out earlier this year for decisions around what content is allowed on the platform. Next year, the company plans to create an independent group through which people can appeal content decisions. 

Zuckerberg followed up the post with a call with reporters in which he was meant to discuss the content policy announcement. The CEO used the time to also address the report, saying that the suggestion that the company tried to hide the truth "is simply untrue." Later in the call, Zuckerberg said that he cut ties with the oppo firm, called Definers, once he learned about it by reading the Times story and that he has "tremendous respect for George Soros." (One of the Times reporters responded on Twitter that the newspaper gave Facebook a chance to respond about Definers before the story published, but that Facebook only fired the firm after the story came out.)

Further, Zuckerberg said that he doesn't want "to be associated" with lobbying firms like Definers, even if "this type of firm might be normal in Washington." 

Facebook's board of directors also issued a statement in response to the Times story. "As Mark and Sheryl made clear to Congress, the company was too slow to spot Russian interference, and too slow to take action," it reads. "As a board, we did indeed push them to move faster. But to suggest that they knew about Russian interference and either tried to ignore it or prevent investigations into what had happened is grossly unfair." 

Zuckerberg stayed on the call long after it was supposed to end to answer questions from reporters about the Times story. He also reiterated his plan to remain CEO and chairman of the company and showed support for Sandberg, noting, "Sheryl is doing great work for the company."