Facebook ad exec’s Russia tweets show the perils of transparency

Facebook execs have been using Twitter as a bullhorn to get their point of view on Facebook’s myriad issues with publishers across — a strategy that has been blessed, if not guided, by Facebook public relations.

It’s also a strategy the platform giant may have been regretting since this weekend. 

An indictment against 13 Russians by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller found that Facebook had an integral role in how Russian agents were able to use fake news articles and ads spread on Facebook. In a series of tweets, Rob Goldman, Facebook’s vp of advertising, said that while he applauded Mueller’s indictments, he does not think Russia was trying to sway the 2016 presidential election. He also said the majority of Russians’ spending on Facebook ads happened after the election, and the goal for Russia was to actually divide America.

President Donald Trump then quoted Goldman’s tweet.

There’s been a firestorm of negativity since the tweets, which essentially are being lambasted for being, ironically, fake news. The New York Times and Quartz have both put out stories fact-checking Goldman’s assertions, while Jason Kint, head of Digital Content Next, a trade group representing digital publishers, told Goldman to “go away.”

Mainardo de Nardis, executive vice chairman at Omnicom Media Group and one of Facebook’s biggest ad buyers, tweeted that Goldman’s tweets have created “confusion and anger.” OMD declined to comment further.

Asked for comment, Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vp of global policy, said in a statement: “Nothing we found contradicts the Special Counsel’s indictments. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.” According to Axios, Facebook also made overtures in Washington to staffers on the Hill that essentially distanced its official policy from Goldman’s comments, showing it actually had been cooperating with Mueller and the FBI in both this case as well as about issues of abuse on Facebook. 

Goldman’s tweets seemed to have been made in a personal capacity, and it’s clear that while Facebook has certainly been encouraging executives to use Twitter for a publisher charm offensive — and more — it doesn’t have a lot of control over what they actually say. A Facebook rep couldn’t comment further on whether the strategy has backfired or whether it’ll be reeled in.

After Recode editor Kara Swisher essentially told Goldman to stop tweeting, Facebook executive and head of consumer hardware Andrew Bosworth asked if Facebook should not be transparent about its findings, couching Goldman’s tweets as a way to bring transparency to what is happening at the company.

Over the last two weeks, Facebook executives, including product vp Adam Mosseri and product director Rob Leathern, have tweeted about algorithm changes, fake news and bad ads. It’s a looser approach to PR than Facebook has traditionally practiced; the PR team has been aware and encouraged the execs’ tweeting, but doesn’t ask them to run it by the in-house team. The Twitter actions had gone over pretty well earlier; most people saw this as a way to humanize a company beyond just making critiques about it. But now it’s unclear that they will.

A communications expert at a PR company that couldn’t speak on the record because it has clients that work with Facebook said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Facebook started muzzling some of its executives, especially on Twitter, especially right now. “I don’t know if you want some keyboard-happy tweeters right now, when everything seems to be working against you in the court of public opinion.”


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