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March 20, 2018

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LEAN OUT

Exclusive: Mark Zuckerberg AWOL From Facebook’s


Data Leak Damage Control Session

Facebook employees gathered to discuss the widening


scandal over the 2016 election. But company chiefs Mark
Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg were nowhere to be found.

Spencer Ackerman

03.20.18 3:09 PM ET

It’s not just that he’s silent in public. Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg
declined to face his employees on Tuesday to explain the company’s role in a widening
international scandal over the 2016 election.

Facebook employees on Tuesday got the opportunity for an internal briefing and question-
and-answer session about Facebook’s role with the Trump-aligned data firm Cambridge
Analytica. It was the first the company held to brief and reassure employees after, ahead of
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damaging news reports, Facebook abruptly suspended Cambridge Analytica. The Q&A
session was first reported by The Verge.

But Zuckerberg himself wasn’t there, The Daily Beast has learned. Instead, the session was
conducted by a Facebook attorney, Paul Grewal, according to a source familiar with the
meeting. That was the same approach the company used on Capitol Hill this past fall, when
it sent its top attorney, Colin Stretch, to brief Congress about the prevalence of Russian
propaganda, to include paid ads and inauthentic accounts, on its platform.

Nor, The Daily Beast has learned, did chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg attend the
internal town hall.

“Mark, Sheryl and their teams are working around the clock to get all the facts and take the
appropriate action moving forward, because they understand the seriousness of this issue.
The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously
enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are
required to see that this happens,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Daily Beast.

Zuckerberg has been publicly silent since the Observer and the New York Times reported
on Saturday that Facebook has for years been aware that a third-party app, billing itself as
collecting user data for research purposes, exploited sufficiently weak privacy settings on
unsuspecting user accounts to accumulate 50 million profiles. The app designer provided
the data to Cambridge Analytica, the analytics and messaging firm controlled by Donald
Trump allies.

Facebook reportedly asked Cambridge Analytica to delete the data in 2015, but did not
verify that the deletion occurred. Cambridge Analytica subsequently received approximately
$6 million from the Trump campaign to aid in its messaging and voter targeting. (The
company had additional contracts worth millions of dollars with pro-Trump political action
committees.)

Related in Tech
Facebook, in what the company has described as its standard assistance to political
campaigns, provided the Trump camp with sales and ads specialists during the waning
weeks of the race. That aid occurred even after Facebook reportedly in August 2016 sent
its lawyers to Cambridge Analytica contractors instructing them to “immediately” delete the
user data “obtained and used without permission.”

It’s unclear what exactly Cambridge Analytica gave the Trump campaign for its money.
Wired has reported that Cambridge sent three staffers to the Trump camp’s San Antonio-
based digital operations office. Those staffers, Wired reported, “provided useful analysis of
data about the American electorate,” but not the raw data itself – data likely to include what
the 2015 researcher harvested on an industrial scale.

The Trump campaign has downplayed Cambridge Analytica’s high-priced assistance in an


interview with The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff. Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s
2016 digital director—and 2020 campaign manager—has told multiple outlets that the firm’s
data was all but useless.
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Perhaps. But either way, both Cambridge Analytica and the 2016 election have become
millstones around Facebook’s neck.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Facebook has publicly diminished any role it played in the
election. Zuckerberg said in the days immediately after the vote that it was “pretty crazy” to
believe that “fake news on Facebook… influenced the election in any way.”

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Then, in September, Facebook conceded


that it had found 470 accounts that
promoted roughly 3,000 paid ads pushing
Russian propaganda. That propaganda’s
reach from organic users – most of them
unsuspecting Americans – has been
substantial. Facebook in early October estimated the propaganda on its platform had
reached ten million Americans. By the end of the month, that estimate was 126 million
Americans. And within days of that estimate, it told Congress that the real total was 150
million Americans.

The propaganda had real-world consequences. Surreptitious Russians posing as


Americans on Facebook were able to concoct or insert themselves into anti-immigrant
rallies in multiple cities, and also, according to special prosecutor Robert Mueller, both pro-
and anti-Trump campaign events. Last month, Mueller indicted 13 Russians tied to a
Kremlin-connected troll farm for spreading the propaganda on Facebook, Twitter and other
social-media platforms.

Zuckerberg is now facing demands from the British Parliament to explain the non-
consensual exfiltration of tens of millions of user profiles to Cambridge Analytica. A
parliamentary committee chairman, Damian Collins, has blasted Facebook for previously

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providing “misleading” evidence and having “consistently understated the risk” of user data
falling into the hands of people or services users did not consciously authorize.

Under mounting pressure, Facebook announced Monday that it has hired auditors to
determine if the Facebook data collected by Cambridge Analytica has in fact been purged.
“If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook’s policies and an
unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made,” it announced in a
blog post Monday.

Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee Russia investigation,
has said he wants Facebook to return to the Hill for additional testimony. He called Monday
night on Cambridge Analytica to do the same.

But Bloomberg reported that both Zuckerberg and Sandberg are expected to remain
publicly quiet while the audit proceeds. Thus far, that silence extends to Facebook’s own
employees.

PROXY WAR

Cambridge Analytica’s Dirty Tricks Elected Trump, CEO


Claims

Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, claimed they


used proxies in the U.S. to influence the 2016 election.

Nico Hines

03.20.18 3:12 PM ET

LONDON—British political consultants that worked for Donald Trump’s presidential


campaign said they secretly used proxy organizations and super PACs to spread ads in the
U.S. that could not be traced back to the Trump campaign.

Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, was secretly recorded by undercover
reporters from Channel 4 in Britain who were posing as prospective clients. “There’s no
evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing,” said Nix, reassuring them that his
company’s dirty tricks for his clients would never be detected.

Nix said Cambridge Analytica used encrypted emails that were timed to self-destruct and
boasted that U.S. politicians on the congressional committees weren’t smart enough to
catch him out. “They’re politicians, they’re not technical. They don’t understand,” he said.

Nix claimed they had overseen much of the Trump presidential campaign, we “ran all the
digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy.”

He said he had met Trump “many times.”

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One of Cambridge Analytica’s biggest investors and board members, Republican super-
donor Rebekah Mercer, told The Daily Beast Monday that she was standing by the
company after it was accused of misusing 50 million harvested Facebook profiles. Steve
Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, was another former investor and board member.

The company’s managing director, Mark Turnbull, told the undercover reporters that they
had created something called the “Defeat Crooked Hillary” ad campaign.

Related in Politics
Turnbull: “The brand was ‘Defeat Crooked Hillary’. You’ll remember this of course?
‘Crooked Hillary’ - and the zeros, the OO of crooked were a pair of hand-cuffs and it was all
about….”

Reporter: “Like prisoner?”

Turnbull: “She belongs behind bars…”

Reporter: “And you have created this?”

Turnbull: “Defeat Crooked Hillary. And then, we made creative, hundreds of different kinds
of creative, and we put it online.”

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A Facebook page, website, online and TV


ads of the same name were created
during the campaign. The website said it
was a special project of Make America
Number 1, a super PAC reportedly funded
by the Mercer family, who bankrolls
Cambridge Analytica.
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A spokesman for Cambridge Analytica said that the company “has been completely
transparent about our simultaneous work on both political campaigns and political action
committees (including publicly declaring our work on both with FEC filings). We have strict
firewall practises to ensure no coordination between regulated groups, including the teams
working on non-coordinated campaigns being physically separated, using different servers
and being banned from communicating with each other.”

Minutes before Channel 4 broadcast aired in the U.K., Cambridge Analytica suspended Nix
as CEO pending an investigation into his work.

Dr. Alex Tayler, the company’s chief data scientist, was recorded explaining how
campaigns could secretly direct other organizations to spread their message.

“Sometimes you can use proxy organisations who are already there. You feed them. They
are civil society organizations… Charities or activist groups, and we use them—feed them
the material and they do the work,” he said. “So this stuff infiltrates the online community
and expands but with no branding—so it’s unattributable, untrackable.”

Over the weekend it was claimed that Cambridge Analytica had misused data harvested
from 50 million Facebook profiles to calibrate their message and target U.S. voters who
might be susceptible.

Christopher Wylie, a Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, said they had been testing
slogans such as “drain the swamp” and “build that wall,” as early as 2014. “We were testing
these narratives well before Trump even announced,” he told CNN. “We were finding there
were pockets of Americans who this really appealed to. Steve Bannon knew that, because
we were doing the research on it.”

Nix, who appeared before the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017, told the
undercover reporters that there was no need to worry about Congressional oversight. He
said the Republican members asked just three questions. “After five minutes—done.”

“They’re politicians, they’re not technical. They don’t understand how it works,” he said,
explaining that the Democrats were a little more persistent—questioning him for two hours
—because they were motivated by “sour grapes.”

On Monday, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, called
for Nix and his colleagues to return to the Hill for a rematch.

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