Embattled Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has strongly denied that the company engaged a PR firm to smear rivals and creative fake news about the social media giant that has been at the center of the national storm about fake news.
CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell landed the first interview with Sandberg following a damning New York Times expose about Facebook’s handling of its many crises during the past few years. The story, published Thursday, painted Sandberg as out of touch with some of the company’s operations and primarily concerned behind-the-scenes about protecting her reputation from scandal as well as that of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“We absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news – that they have assured me was not happening. And again, we’re doing a thorough look into what happened, but they have assured me that we were not paying anyone to either write or promote anything that was false. And that’s very important,” Sandberg told O’Donnell in a telephone interview Thursday night. Sandberg also commented on the allegations in the Times story in a Facebook post published late Thursday.
The Times reported that Facebook hired the PR and opposition research firm Definers Public Affairs to help protect the company from the mushrooming Russian election interference controversy. According to the Times, Facebook also engaged in an effort to link critics of the company to George Soros, the billionaire financier who is a frequent target of anti-Semitic anger and conspiracy theories.
Sandberg said she was unaware of the PR firm’s work for the company until it was revealed by the Times. She said the decision was made by the company’s “communications team” and that she is trying to gather the details. She resisted when pressed by O’Donnell if the company would initiate an investigation by an outside firm.
“They were hired not to smear anyone. Not to get any articles written or do anything false. I learned of that in the paper yesterday as well, when Mark did,” Sandberg said. “And they’re gone, and we’re looking into what happened there. I don’t have full details. But I will say that if there was anything that you know inadvertently or advertently played into any anti-Semitic attacks on anyone, that’s a problem. And I have a lot of respect for George Soros. So I’m looking into it.”
Sandberg told O’Donnell she believes she still has the confidence of Zuckerberg as well as the company’s rank-and-file to remain in her post.
“I have a really important job, it’s a job I love and a job I’m honored to do and I think a really deep responsibility to Mark and to the company to help get us into a better place,” Sandberg said. “I think if you look at the track record from the 2016 election to this one, you see the work is never done. But you see major improvements. We didn’t know about foreign interference in 2016, but now we know. We are systematically finding it. We’re working closely with government, we are systematically finding foreign interference from Iran, reportedly from Russia, from spammers, and we are systematically taking it down, notifying and working with law enforcement, working with other companies. And we’re doing it. Not just for the U.S. election but for elections around the world.”