It’s called Take Out the Trash Day. Government bodies and corporations, hoping to minimize the amount of media attention a piece of bad news receives, will release such information on a Friday, knowing that people consume less news on Friday nights and Saturdays, when they’re more inclined to spend time with their loved ones.
Another day for “taking out the trash” is the day before a national holiday. The day before Thanksgiving, for example.
That’s the day Facebook chose.
Facebook on Thanksgiving eve took responsibility for hiring a Washington-based lobbying company, Definers Public Affairs, that pushed negative stories about Facebook’s critics, including the philanthropist George Soros, the New York Times reported.
Facebook’s communications and policy chief, Elliot Schrage, said in a memo posted Nov. 21 that he was responsible for hiring the group, and had done so to help protect the company’s image and conduct research about high-profile individuals who spoke critically about the social media platform. Schrage will reportedly be leaving the company, a move planned before the memo was released.
Facebook fired Definers last week, after a New York Times investigation published on Nov. 14.
“Did we ask them to do work on George Soros?” Schrage wrote in the memo, a draft of which had circulated online earlier in the week. “Yes.”
He added: “I’m sorry I let you all down. I regret my own failure here.”
That’s an abrupt about-face from Nov. 15, when Facebook wrote that the Times report was full of “inaccuracies.” The same day, Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, posted on her Facebook page that she had no idea the company had hired Definers.
“I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing,” Sandberg said, adding, “I have great respect for George Soros.” But in the Thanksgiving eve memo, Sandberg acknowledged that the Republican-oriented company’s work had crossed her desk.
“Some of their work was incorporated into materials presented to me,” Sandberg wrote, “and I received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced.”
Soros, a Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist with a focus on progressive causes, is a frequent target of anti-Semitism and has become an obsession within conspiracy-minded online pockets; he was one of the targets of accused mail bomber Cesar Sayoc. On Twitter, President Donald Trump has accused Soros of paying protesters.
Soros upset Facebook after calling it a “menace to society” at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January. The company subsequently asked Definers to focus on Soros.
So, Facebook hired a company to smear one of its high-profile critics, denied having done so when the New York Times first reported it, then acknowledged having done so while hoping to see the acknowledgement get buried by news outlets.
But that wasn’t all the news regarding Facebook that surfaced over the holiday weekend.
The British Parliament used its legal powers to seize internal Facebook documents in an extraordinary attempt to hold the social media giant to account after chief executive Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly refused to answer questions from members of Parliament, the British newspaper The Guardian reported Saturday.
The cache of documents is alleged to contain significant revelations about Facebook decisions on data and privacy controls that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It is claimed they include confidential emails between senior executives and correspondence with Zuckerberg.
Damian Collins, the chair of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, invoked a rare parliamentary mechanism to compel the founder of a U.S. software company, Six4Three, to hand over the documents during a business trip to London, the Guardian reported. Parliament sent a sergeant at arms to the company founder’s hotel with a final warning and a 2-hour deadline to comply with its order. When the software firm founder failed to do so, he was reportedly escorted to Parliament and told he risked fines and even imprisonment if he didn’t hand over the documents.
“We are in uncharted territory,” said Collins, who also chairs an inquiry into fake news. “This is an unprecedented move but it’s an unprecedented situation. We’ve failed to get answers from Facebook and we believe the documents contain information of very high public interest.”
Meanwhile, earlier this month, news broke that Facebook had filed for a patent in 2017.
“The patent would let the company analyze members of a household through information uploaded to the site and Instagram — everything from past posts, status updates, friendships, messaging history, past tagging history, web browsing history, relationships, and photos (either uploaded by the user or ones they are tagged in),” Fortune.com reported Nov. 17.
A Facebook spokesman told the Los Angeles Times that the company sometimes applies for patents without the intention of actually utilizing the technology.
We seem to recall reassurances that Facebook would keep our data safe; that’s the only reason most of us know the name Cambridge Analytica.
You want to analyze our whole families now, Facebook?
Aren’t you in enough trouble already?