Facebook Noticed Russia's Election Interference Early in 2016: Report


mark zuckerberg stands in front of large screen that shows image of him
With an image of himself on a screen in the background, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill Oct. 23, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Facebook's security team first noticed Russian interference in the 2016 election eight months before people went to the polls, according to a new book about the social media platform.

In an excerpt from "An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination" provided to Axios, Facebook executives were not informed of their security team's findings until a December 2016 meeting.

"Oh f***, how did we miss this?" Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asked as he looked around at his top executives, including COO Sheryl Sandberg, according to the excerpt.

Facebook replied to an Axios inquiry for comment about the story published Friday.

"In 2016, we and those in the government and media did not fully recognize the nature and scope of foreign interference in our elections," Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever told Axios.

"Since 2017, we have removed over 150 covert influence operations originating in more than 50 counties, and a dedicated investigative team continues to vigilantly protect democracy on our platform both here and abroad."

An investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into then-President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and alleged ties to Russia concluded the evidence did not establish a criminal conspiracy.

On Friday, Axios reported that an eight-page handout for the Dec. 9, 2016 executive meeting "acknowledged that Facebook was sitting on a trove of information proving that a foreign government had tried to meddle in the U.S. election."

Then chief security officer Alex Stamos wrote the handout, according to Axios.

"No one else spoke as Zuckerberg and Sandberg drilled their chief security officer," the new book says, Axios reported.

Among the questions asked of Stamos were:

  • Why had Zuckerberg and Sandberg not been told of the findings?
  • How aggressive were the Russians?
  • Why had Sandberg not been informed that Stamos put together a special team to look at Russian election interference?
  • Did Facebook need to share the findings with lawmakers immediately? Did the company have any other legal obligation?

In their new book, New York Times reporters Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang write that Facebook’s security team "had uncovered information that no one, including the U.S. government, had previously known."

"Stamos felt that he had been trying to sound the alarm on Russia for months," the book says, according to Axios.

"Stamos gave a somber assessment of where they stood, admitting that no one at the company knew the full extent of the Russian election interference.”

In the meeting, Stamos defended his right to form a task force.

"It was well within my remit to investigate foreign activity within the platform,” Stamos said, according to Axios. "And we had appropriately briefed the people in our reporting chain ... It became clear after that that it wasn’t enough."

Axios said, "Zuckerberg then demanded answers, so the executive team promised to devote its top engineering talent and resources to investigate what Russia had done on the platform."

Facebook was among the Big Tech companies named in a class-action suit announced by Trump earlier this week.

The former president cited the companies’ "unlawful" censorship of him and other conservatives after the social media giants banned him from posting in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

"An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination" is published by Harper and due out Tuesday.

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