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Facebook staffers were told by execs to scrap any mention of Russia in a 2017 white paper on the platform’s security concerns:’We started to feel like we were part of a cover-up’


  • Facebook’s 2017 white paper initially mentioned Russian election interference, a new book says.
  • Executives told staff to remove all mention of Russia from the white paper, “An Ugly Truth” says.
  • Management thought it would have been “politically unwise” to include Russia, according to the book.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Early drafts of a 2017 Facebook white paper on security concerns included mentions about Russia’s role before company executives decided it was “politically unwise” and told them to remove it, a new book says.

The first draft of the white paper from Facebook’s then-chief security officer, Alex Stamos, and his team had “an entire section devoted to activity by state-backed Russian hackers,” according to an advance copy of An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination that Insider reviewed.

The book’s authors write that the draft contained “concrete examples from the 2016 presidential elections that demonstrated how Russia had used the platform to spread hacked documents.” When Facebook executives, including then-Vice President of Communications and Public Policy Elliot Schrage viewed the draft, they told Stamos and his team to cut out this section, according to the book.

“They didn’t want to stick their heads out,” a person involved in the discussions told the book’s authors, who note that management thought it would have been “politically unwise to be the first tech company to confirm what US intelligence agencies had discovered .”

Stamos went back to the drawing board on the Russia section, taking out details and cutting mention of the 2016 presidential election, according to the book.

The revised draft was seen by Schrage, then-general counsel Colin Stretch, and Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan, and they said Stamos and his team should remove all mention of Russia, the book says.

“The goal of the white paper was to share our findings in a straightforward manner, which is why there was broad agreement with the security team’s recommendation to refer to the Intelligence Community Assessment and not name any specific nations,” Facebook told Insider in a statement .

Members of the company’s security team were “surprised and angered” by the change, the book says.

“There was a sense that Stamos could have gone and knocked down walls to get the word out on what Russia had done,” a member of Facebook’s security team told the book’s authors. “We started to feel like we were part of a cover- up at Facebook.”

Management’s reasoning fell in line with CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s early mantra, “company over country,” according to the book.

“As a private global company, Facebook did not want to engage in geopolitical skirmishes, and it certainly didn’t want to be in the middle of contentious national elections,” the authors write. “Facebook was, above all, a business.”

Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg weren’t involved in the white paper’s revisions, but Sandberg had told Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff that it was Congress’ responsibility to make the findings public, the book says.

“In 2016, we and those in the government and media did not fully recognize the nature and scope of foreign interference in our elections,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to Insider. “Since 2017, we have removed over 150 covert influence operations originating in more than 50 counties, and a dedicated investigative team continues to vigilantly protect democracy on our platform both here and abroad.”



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