Sheryl Sandberg Says Facebook ‘Absolutely Did Not’ Pay Anyone to Create Fake News

Chief operating officer says she “didn’t know” Facebook used political firm to target its critics

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has that the company has ever paid firms to create fake news targeting its critics and competitors.

“We absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news — that they have assured me was not happening,” Sandberg told “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell. “And again, we’re doing a thorough look into what happened but they have assured me that we were not paying anyone to either write or promote anything that was false. And that’s very important.”

Sandberg’s comments in the interview Thursday night were her first since a The New York Times investigation was published on Wednesday reporting that Definers, a right-leaning opposition research firm, orchestrated disparaging coverage of Facebook critics like Apple CEO Tim Cook and financier George Soros, among others. Soros is a frequent target of right-wing and anti-Semitic attacks for his contributions to liberal causes. Definers, on behalf of Facebook, tied protestors of the company to Soros, according to The Times.

The firm used NTK Network, a site connected to Definers and often picked up by conservative outlets like Breitbart, to publish several stories against Facebook’s prominent detractors. Facebook terminated its relationship with Definers on Thursday.

Sandberg, echoing Zuckerberg’s response on Thursday, said she “didn’t know” Facebook had hired Definers, but “I should have” in a post on her Facebook page. Zuckerberg had said “someone on our comms team” must’ve hired Definers. She added: “I have great respect for George Soros – and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent.”

The Times report also painted Zuckerberg and Sandberg as executives that dragged their feet responding to Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. Kremlin-linked trolls leveraged the site to publish fake political news and misinformation leading up to the election — misinformation that ultimately hit more than 100 million people, Facebook told Congress last year. The Times said Sandberg was “seething” at one point, after Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, had told the company’s board in 2017 it didn’t have the Russian issue under control yet.

Sandberg, in her Facebook post, said the company was “too slow” to respond to Russian manipulation, but pushed back against the suggestion Facebook execs intentionally overlooked the problem.

“To suggest that we weren’t interested in knowing the truth, or we wanted to hide what we knew, or that we tried to prevent investigations, is simply untrue,” Sandberg said. “The allegations saying I personally stood in the way are also just plain wrong. This was an investigation of a foreign actor trying to interfere in our election. Nothing could be more important to me or to Facebook.”

Facebook has added to its election defense team in the last year, and has announced thousands of accounts have been deleted this year for spreading misinformation.

Facebook shares dropped 2.5 percent to about $140 on Friday morning. The company was trading at $181 per share when the year started.