How nice and tidy.
Facebook’s head of public policy, Elliot Schrage, sent a memo to Facebook employees in which he took the blame for hiring public policy agency Definers. Conveniently enough, this happened after he had already announced he was planning to leave Facebook.
TechCrunch acquired and published the memo Tuesday. You can read it in its entirety here.
Definers is the Republican-affiliated firm the New York Times recently exposed for using opposition research tactics to spread negative news about Facebook’s competitors.
Definers responded to the Times report by saying that it was “not hired as an opposition research firm” by Facebook, even though a “fraction” of its work “included providing research and background information about critics” of the company. Schrage’s note affirms that Definers helped Facebook “positively distinguish us from competitors.”
Elliot’s mea culpa comes as both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg deny having known about Definers and their work.
“Responsibility for these decisions rests with leadership of the Communications team,” Schrage wrote. “That’s me.”
Schrage is Facebook’s outgoing head of public policy; he announced that he would be stepping down in June, after what he called an “intense” tenure at Facebook, which also happened to be in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Somewhere, one stone is hurtling towards two birds.
Sheryl Sandberg commented on Schrage’s memo to also take responsibility for Definers, sort of. She apparently oversees the teams, but had little knowledge of the opposition research work. Mark Zuckerberg reiterated in a CNN interview that Sandberg will be staying on at Facebook.
“I want to be clear that I oversee our Comms team and take full responsibility for their work and the PR firms who work with us,” Sandberg wrote.
Sandberg said that prior to the Times report, her knowledge of Definers was limited to a “small number of emails” that she had seen.
Facebook fired Definers one day after the Times article was published. According to Schrage’s memo, Sandberg and Zuckerberg have now ordered a review of Definers’ work and the work of other public policy firms with whom Facebook contracted.
Facebook leadership including Schrage, Sandberg, and Zuckerberg maintains that Definers did not spread “fake news” about its competitors. But Schrage characterizes the reason for the firm’s firing as Facebook holding itself to a “higher standard” than the mud-slinging of other firms.
“Mark has made clear that because Facebook is a mission driven company, he wants to hold us to a higher standard,” Schrage wrote. “He is uncomfortable relying on any outside firm to make decisions about how to make our case about our mission, policies, competitors and critics until he can become comfortable with our management, oversight and escalation.”
Sheryl Sandberg described the revelations in the Times article as a “distraction,” and Schrage wrote that he’s “deeply disappointed that so much internal discussion and finger pointing has become public.”
Both reaffirmed support for the communications team that oversaw Definers, while also explaining that Definers’ work went on — supposedly without the knowledge of higher ups — because of organizational issues within the comms team. It’s so nice when the problem is the “management process,” as Schrage described it, and not managers, right?!
Schrage previously worked for Google, where he faced Congressional scrutiny in 2006 for the company’s censoring of search results in China.
Not long after, he moved to Facebook.