Business & Tech

Sandberg says Facebook will hand over more data on Russia-linked ads

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said ads linked to Russia trying to influence the US presidential election should be released.
Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP/File
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said ads linked to Russia trying to influence the US presidential election should be released.

WASHINGTON — Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said Thursday that the company had promised to provide more information, including ad-targeting data, to government officials as part of a federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Sandberg, appearing at an event hosted by the website Axios, said she had told members of the House Intelligence Committee that Facebook would cooperate with lawmakers’ requests for additional information about ads bought by accounts linked to Russia that were part of an effort to influence the presidential election. Facebook has already handed over 3,000 such ads to congressional investigators.

“Things happened on our platform in this election that should not have happened,” Sandberg said.

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The Axios event was one stop on a public relations and lobbying blitz by Sandberg in Washington this week. On Nov. 1, representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter are scheduled to testify at hearings called by the House and Senate intelligence committees on social media’s role in Russia’s interference with the election.

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Facebook has dispatched Sandberg amid a scramble to contain the negative publicity the company has attracted in connection with the election inquiry. Her efforts, the first in-person marathon lobbying effort by a top Silicon Valley executive related to the government investigation, highlight the intense pressure Facebook is under in Washington.

On Wednesday, Sandberg met with top lawmakers, including those involved in the House investigation. On Thursday, she was to meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Facebook has hired three crisis communications firms and has bought digital and newspaper ads — including full-page print ads in The New York Times and The Washington Post — to counter criticism of its role in the election. Google searches for “Russia” and “Facebook” often return ads bought by Facebook that link to explanations on its corporate website about the steps it is taking to cooperate with investigators.

In September, as lawmakers called for hearings, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, contacted top intelligence committee members in the House and Senate. Top lobbyists for the company, including Joel Kaplan and Erin Egan, have been in frequent meetings with lawmakers trying to explain the company’s case.

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The Axios event was a last-minute addition to those public relations efforts, announced only to website staff members and Facebook employees just days before Sandberg’s appearance.

“Google and Facebook are facing a gathering perfect storm of political, regulatory, and reputational risk,” said Arik Ben-Zvi, a lobbyist for Glover Park Group whose clients are competitors to the technology firms. “They are working hard to defuse that through modest tweaks to their technologies and policies. But the real issues stem from their underlying business models, so quick fixes are unlikely to make this all go away anytime soon.”