Facebook is attempting to fix its latest public relations crisis — trying to convince America that it has owned up to its role in allowing Russia to manipulate the 2016 presidential election — even though one of its executives ranted that they weren't responsible, with President Donald Trump retweeting his approval.
“The special counsel has issued its indictments, and nothing we found contradicts their conclusions. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong," Joel Kaplan, Facebook's vice president of global policy, said in a statement. Kaplan was almost certainly reacting to a Friday tweetstorm by the website's vice president of advertising, Rob Goldman.
Much to Facebook's chagrin, Goldman's tweets were promptly retweeted by Trump, who pointed to them as proof that the ongoing Russia scandal is merely a fabrication of the "fake news media."
After Goldman was confronted by a Twitter user about his assertion that Russia hadn't been trying to influence the 2016 presidential election, he qualified his original statement by insisting that he was "only speaking here about the Russian behavior on Facebook."
Goldman's tweetstorm came at a particularly inopportune time for Facebook, which has been trying to repair its damaged post-election image by seeming determined to avoid repeating the mistakes of the 2016 election. For months during the 2016 presidential campaign, Russian operatives published tens of thousands of posts that reached as many as 126 million Americans.
But, up until last October, Facebook had downplayed the Russian influence. The social network's initial estimates were that only 10 million Americans had been reached by the propaganda. In the wake of that news, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg declared that he was "dead serious" about fighting Russian propaganda in the future, according to USA Today.
Yet Mueller's indictment seemed to shake things up for the company. Although Facebook hasn't faced any legal consequences as a result of the indictment, Mueller's investigation concluded that a Russian troll farm had used Facebook more than any other social media platform in order to influence voters. Contrary to Goldman's claims, the Russian trolls made a deliberate effort to help elect Trump because of their opposition to Hillary Clinton (they also made it clear that they would prefer Bernie Sanders over Clinton as well). Their approach was to create fake identities that would touch on popular political issues so that their messages could be widely reshared to Trump's benefit.
As the Times explained:
It showed that, years after hostile foreign actors first began using Facebook to wage an information war against the American public, some high-ranking officials within the company still don’t understand just how central Facebook was to Russia’s misinformation campaign, and how consequential the company’s mistakes have been. (Last year, in a tweet that fewer people saw, Andrew Bosworth, another Facebook vice president, claimed that the effects of Russian interference and fake news in 2016 were “marginal, even in a close election.”)