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Facebook Early Investor Says Company Was ‘Willfully Blind’ During 2016 Election

TCA 2018: ”The evidence seems to suggest they knew they were dealing with Russians,“ McNamee says

Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook-turned-vocal critic, did not mince words about the social media giant during a PBS TCA panel on Tuesday.

“I think that they were willfully blind during 2016 and what was going on,” McNamee said during a panel for an upcoming “Frontline” documentary on Facebook. “The evidence seems to suggest they knew they were dealing with Russians.”

The “Frontline” doc, set to debut sometime in the fall, covers the recent scandals plaguing the popular social network. PBS says the documentary is the result of a year-long investigation into several high-profile issues, including selling users’ personal information. McNamee, a founding partner of the venture capital firm Elevation Partners, is featured predominantly in the doc.

McNamee, who was one of Facebook’s first investors and a mentor of sorts to its founder Mark Zuckerberg, spent much of the panel talking about the ills of Facebook and the larger social media ecosystem. He particularly lamented the outsized influence that companies like Facebook hold over elections.

“Our democracy is now in the hands of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter,” he said, labeling those three companies as having an “authoritarian” model. “They will have a disproportionate say in whether there are free and fair elections this year and in the future.”

McNamee, who mentored Zuckerberg between 2006 and 2009, and convinced him to hire Sheryl Sandberg away from Google, said he tried for three months after he first noticed there were “bad actors” manipulating the spread of misinformation on the social network in October of 2016. “I went to Zuck and Sheryl thinking this was done to them,” he said. “They treated it like a public relations problem, not a business problem.”

For him, that was the last straw. “It literally never occurred to them that there was something wrong with what they were doing.” His biggest fear, though, is that we’ve learned absolutely nothing from what happened two years ago.

Earlier on Tuesday, Facebook said it spotted a series of pages and accounts suspected of working to politically manipulate users.

The company said it spotted 32 “inauthentic accounts” on both Facebook and Instagram as part of its investigation. Facebook hasn’t tied the accounts to the Internet Research Agency — the Kremlin-linked troll factory that leveraged the platform to spread misinformation before the 2016 presidential election — but said their actions are “consistent” with the IRA. Facebook said it doesn’t know who is behind the coordinated accounts.

“There have been no consequences. None at all. For anybody,” exclaimed McNamee.