Face­book exec fa­vors re­lease of Rus­sia ads

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - By Bar­bara Ortutay

A top Face­book ex­ec­u­tive says ads linked to Rus­sia try­ing to in­flu­ence the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion should “ab­so­lutely” be re­leased to the pub­lic, along with in­for­ma­tion on whom the ads were tar­get­ing.

Pre­vi­ously, Face­book de­clined to make the ads pub­lic. While Face­book’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, Sh­eryl Sand­berg, now fa­vors the re­lease, she didn’t say Thurs­day when the com­pany would do so.

The com­pany dis­closed last month that it found ads linked to fake ac­counts — likely run from Rus­sia — that sought to in­flu­ence the elec­tion. Face­book says th­ese ads fo­cused on di­vi­sive po­lit­i­cal is­sues, such as im­mi­gra­tion and gun rights, in an ap­par­ent at­tempt to sow dis­cord among the U.S. pop­u­la­tion. The ads in­cluded pro­moted events and am­pli­fied posts that show up in users’ news feeds.

Face­book has turned over the ads — and in­for­ma­tion on how they were tar­geted, such as by ge­og­ra­phy or to peo­ple with a cer­tain po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion — to con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Con­gress is also in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sia-linked ads on Twit­ter and Google.

In an in­ter­view with Ax­ios on Thurs­day, Sand­berg said Face­book has the re­spon­si­bil­ity to pre­vent the kind of abuse that oc­curred on its ser­vice dur­ing the cam­paign. She said Face­book hopes to “set a new stan­dard in trans­parency in ad­ver­tis­ing.”

But she also said that had the ads been linked to le­git­i­mate, rather than fake, Face­book ac­counts, “most of them would have been al­lowed to run.” While the com­pany pro­hibits cer­tain con­tent such as hate speech, it does not want to pre­vent free ex­pres­sion, she said.

“The thing about free ex­pres­sion is that when you al­low free ex­pres­sion, you al­low free ex­pres­sion,” Sand­berg said.

The move comes as crit­ics and law­mak­ers are in­creas­ingly call­ing for the reg­u­la­tion of Face­book and other In­ter­net gi­ants.

Sand­berg is meet­ing with elected of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton this week ahead of a House hear­ing at which ex­ec­u­tives from Face­book, Twit­ter and Google are ex­pected to tes­tify. Sand­berg is no stranger to Wash­ing­ton. Be­fore her time at Google and later Face­book, she worked for Larry Sum­mers, the Trea­sury sec­re­tary un­der Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton.

Sand­berg said Face­book didn’t catch th­ese ads ear­lier be­cause it was fo­cused on other threats, such as hack­ing. Face­book, she said, does owe Amer­ica an apol­ogy.

“What we re­ally owe the Amer­i­can peo­ple is de­ter­mi­na­tion” to do “ev­ery­thing we can” to de­fend against threats and for­eign in­ter­fer­ence, Sand­berg said.

Sand­berg didn’t say whether she be­lieves Face­book played a role in elect­ing Don­ald Trump as pres­i­dent, as crit­ics have said it did by al­low­ing the spread of fake news on its ser­vice.

She said only that the role Face­book plays in elec­tions “go beyond any one cam­paign, any one coun­try.”

Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg has back­tracked from call­ing the idea of Face­book’s in­flu­ence on the elec­tion “pretty crazy.”

Later Thurs­day, Sand­berg met pri­vately with mem­bers of the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus, where she was pressed on what the com­pany is do­ing in re­sponse to its dis­cov­ery that many of the ads pushed by Rus­sian-linked ac­counts were de­signed to sow racial dis­cord.

A mem­ber of Con­gress who viewed about 70 of the roughly 3,000 ads told the As­so­ci­ated Press that they were meant to stir up strong emo­tions on all sides. Some of the ads showed white po­lice of­fi­cers beat­ing black peo­ple, said the mem­ber, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the ads aren’t yet pub­lic.

Be­sides dis­cussing elec­tion med­dling, the mem­bers also pushed for Face­book to im­prove di­ver­sity in its work­force, par­tic­u­larly in its up­per man­age­ment. Rep. Cedric Rich­mond, D-La., who chairs the cau­cus, said Sand­berg promised to ap­point an African Amer­i­can to the board, a move the cau­cus and other ac­tivists have been push­ing for years. Face­book has eight board mem­bers, all white. Two, in­clud­ing Sand­berg, are women.

Drew Angerer / Getty Im­ages

Face­book’s Sh­eryl Sand­berg walks with Rep. Tony Car­de­nas, D-Pa­coima (Los An­ge­les County).

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