Alex Stamos, who was the company’s CSO from 2015 up until the summer of 2018, wrote a piece published in on Saturday responding to the New York Times report. Stamos attempted to dispel the Times’ report claiming that Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, fearing blowback, delayed taking action following his team’s discovery of Russian interference in the 2016 election via a misinformation campaign on the platform.
I wrote some thoughts on the big NYT article on Facebook. I hope we can get some momentum on fixing these issues while we continue to dole out blame for 2016.
But I wanted to say something about the second-level commentary about Sheryl that makes me uncomfortable. https://t.co/gjFdf3ZSh5
— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) November 17, 2018
Stamos confirmed in the Post that Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, did indeed yell at him the day after he debriefed Facebook’s Board of Directors about the company’s investigation into Russian influence. Stamos claimed that Sandberg “felt blindsided” by his account.
However, the former exec was adamant that neither Sandberg nor anyone at Facebook told him not to investigate Russian influence or obfuscate his findings. Although, Stamos did admit the company should have taken action sooner and been more transparent in disclosing what was uncovered.
“At the time, technology companies were so enamored with the utility of our own products and so focused on sophisticated attacks from U.S. adversaries such as Russia and China that we overlooked less advanced but still effective propaganda operations,” he wrote.
“To be clear, no one at the company ever told me not to examine Russian activity, nor did anyone attempt to lie about our findings, but Facebook should have responded to these threats much earlier and handled disclosure in a more transparent manner.”
The piece, titled “Yes, Facebook made mistakes in 2016. But we weren’t the only ones,” still attempted to deflect from Facebook’s specific role in the spread of the 2016 Russian influence campaigns and shift focus toward the government and the media’s failures on the issue as well.
“Facebook’s shortcomings do not stand alone. The massive U.S. intelligence community failed to provide actionable intelligence on Russia’s information-warfare goals and capabilities before the election and offered a dearth of assistance afterward. Technology companies can build tools and teams to look inward on their products, but they will never have true geostrategic insight or ability to penetrate hostile countries,” Stamos wrote.
He then went on to talk about how the relationship between government and tech has been better in 2018, and credited intelligence professionals for the improvement. Stamos also knocked lawmakers for what he called “public grandstanding at investigative hearings” and took aim at the mainstream media for publishing stolen emails and documents from the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign. He claims the choice to publish this material “rewarded the hackers of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU).”
“The sad truth is that blocking Russian propaganda would have required Facebook to ban stories from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and cable news — not to mention this very paper,” Stamos noted.
Even if media hasn’t ever grappled with its role in the 2016 election, as Stamos suggested, it has nothing to do with the allegations leveled at Facebook. By the time the hacked emails were released, they were newsworthy and certainly fair game for coverage.
Stamos stated that all parties involved need to come together to avoid a 2016 foreign interference repeat in 2020, and had some suggestions for how that could happen. He’d like to see a political advertising standard set by Congress, with additional input and support from companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. He also wants clarity on the responsibilities of government and large tech industries and the cooperation between the two.
As for the media, Stamos would like to see news outlets publish clear standards as it relates to reporting on newsworthy data leaks.
Lastly, Stamos wrote that it’s up to the people of the U.S. to adapt to a media environment “in which several dozen gatekeepers no longer control what is newsworthy.” While definitely a valid point, the sheer amount of suspiciously sourced news spread over an increasing number of platforms will certainly .