Facebook executive conducts public relations blitz in D.C.
WASHINGTON >> For months, Facebook has been trying to counter criticism about its influence on the 2016 presidential election. The company has hired three crisis communications firms and bought digital and newspaper ads. Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, has posted live video to the social network to explain how much he cares about election integrity.
This week, it sent Sheryl Sandberg to Washington to charm Congress and the public.
Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, acted as the giant tech company’s chief ambassador in the capital Wednesday and Thursday — shuttling around to talk with dozens of lawmakers and making numerous promises about how the company would change.
In a public appearance hosted by Axios, the news startup, she admitted Facebook had made mistakes during the presidential campaign. She offered lawmakers who are investigating Russia’s election meddling more company data. Facebook faces a variety of concerns about fake news and its broader role in the presidential campaign. But the criticism has become far more intense in the past few months after the company revealed that Russian-linked groups bought more than $100,000 in ads on Facebook to influence the election. The complaints about Facebook have also helped propel debate about the technology industry more widely, and whether the biggest technology companies — like Facebook, Google and Amazon — have grown too large and powerful. Some lawmakers are talking about potential ways to regulate the businesses. With House Intelligence Committee leaders investigating the company’s role in foreign meddling in the election, Sandberg agreed to hand over a broader set of data linked to fake Russian accounts and to provide more information about how that data was targeted to users. With top Republican and Democratic leaders of the House, she emphasized the company’s desire to help with the investigation and promoted its plan to hire thousands of people to review ad purchases so the mistakes of the 2016 election are prevented from happening again.
“They are leaning in on this issue,” said Rep. K. Michael Conaway of Texas, the Republican leading the Intelligence Committee’s probe, alluding to Sandberg’s book.