Seven months ago, Mark Zuckerberg sat before Congress and said he was sorry about the fake news and the data breaches—and that it wasn’t really Facebook’s fault. The company’s founder and CEO had been hauled before Congress to answer for what became known as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a political consulting firm harvested Facebook data to sow electoral discord to help elect Donald Trump. Zuckerberg, appearing contrite before members of the House and Senate, insisted that Facebook’s flaws stemmed from the company’s commitment to free discourse and improving the world. “Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company,” he said. “For most of our existence, we focused on all the good that connecting people can bring. ... But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well.”
But a New York Times report published on Wednesday tells a different story. While Zuckerberg was sitting doe-eyed before Congress, insisting that Facebook only wants to connect people, his company was in fact imitating some of the worst behavior on Facebook to counter the barrage of negative stories the company was facing.
Zuckerberg may have insisted that all of the criticism of Facebook was a byproduct of the company’s core mission, but a crisis PR firm contracted by Facebook linked the site’s critics to George Soros, the liberal Jewish billionaire who is often at the center of right-wing attacks and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. At the same time, top executives, notably Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, were discouraging it from investigating Russian activity on the site.
This response exposes the hypocrisy at the center of the company: While Zuckerberg was promising to return to the company’s utopian vision of bringing humanity closer together, it was doing everything it could to sow division, all in order to steer clear of negative coverage and eventual regulation.