Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg spoke Thursday in an interview with Axios about the company’s internal investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, and what the company plans to share with lawmakers.
Sandberg said Facebook has shared info privately with lawmakers about who Russia was targeting with its Facebook ad campaign, and that she expects that info to become public soon.
Crucially, though, the Facebook exec dodged one of the most pressing questions facing her company: Whether there’s any overlap in the way Russian agents targeted users on the site with the Donald Trump campaign’s own ad operation.
Asked a first time, Sandberg merely said that “targeting on Facebook is broad; it’s used by everyone.” After a second attempt, Sandberg replied that “targeting is something everyone uses.” Later, though, Sandberg teased more information to come. “When the ads get released, we will also be releasing the targeting for those ads.”
Here are a few other takeaways from the interview.
Facebook first heard about Russian meddling around election time. “We started to hear the rumors — and this was around the election itself [of people] posting in an inauthentic way to try to be deceptive and divisive,” Sandberg said. “As early as we heard any rumors we started our investigation.” Facebook didn’t share anything publicly about the investigation until April, when it published a report confirming “malicious actors” had indeed spread misinformation on the platform during the election. At the time, though, Facebook did not directly name Russia — but it did link to a report by the U.S. government that blamed the Kremlin.
Facebook wants the government’s help to find more Russian Pages and ads. The company has said from the beginning that it’s still searching for signs of Russian interference. And Facebook wants the U.S. government’s help to know where to look. “As the government, the intelligence community, will find more bad actors, that communication to us is very important,” Sandberg said. “We want as much help as we can get.”
Facebook plans to share more information. Sandberg said that Facebook wants all of the Russian ads to be released publicly, and it will help congressional leaders prepare the ads so that can happen. (That means scrubbing personal user information from them before they’re released.) She also said that Facebook will hand over non-ad material to investigators — organic posts that weren’t promoted, but still came from Pages with Russian ties. It’s currently unknown how many organic posts there are, or how widely they were seen in people’s feeds.
When the Russian ads are finally released publicly, Sandberg pledged the targeting info from those ads would also be released — meaning we’ll see the cohorts of voters Russia was trying to influence. “We think it’s important that they get the whole picture and explain that transparently to the American public,” Sandberg said of investigators.
Sandberg took a shot at Twitter. Unexpectedly, Sandberg swiped at Twitter for its since-reversed decision to take down a campaign ad by Rep. Marsha Blackburn.
Initially, Twitter blocked the Republican lawmaker’s promoted tweet because the video referenced her work to stop the sale of “baby body parts” — language that the company deemed as inflammatory. By Tuesday, though, Twitter had reversed its decision, admitting that it has “room to refine our policies around these issues.”
To Sandberg, the company never should have blocked the ad in the first place. “The question is, should divisive political ads run?. . . Our answer is yes, because when you cut off speech for one person you cut off speech for all people,” the Facebook executive said. “[Blackburn’s] ability to get that message out does depend on having access to ads.”