It's been a year to forget for Facebook. But before 2018 comes to a close, let's be sure we all saw and understood something the company clearly hoped we'd neither notice nor remember.

It's about what Facebook released as part of one of the most aggressive "news dumps" of all time--on Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, when almost the entire country was traveling and preparing for the four-day weekend. 

Seems like ancient history already, doesn't it? That's the point of a news dump, of course, to release information that paints you in a negative light at the exact moment when the fewest people are paying attention.

In this case, it was a blog post by Facebook's outgoing head of communications and policy, Elliot Schrage, that appears to acknowledge part of what was reported in a lengthy, bombshell New York Times report about the company earlier this month.

We'll let the Times explain what Facebook admitted: hiring a lobbying firm called Definers Public Affairs, which had tried to push negative stories about Facebook critics, including George Soros, the Hungarian American investor and philanthropist:

Facebook's communications and policy chief, Elliot Schrage, said in a memo posted Wednesday that he was responsible for hiring the group, and had done so to help protect the company's image and conduct research about high-profile individuals who spoke critically about the social media platform.

Mr. Schrage will be leaving the company, a move planned before the memo was released.

Facebook fired Definers last week, after a New York Times investigation published on Nov. 14.

"Did we ask them to do work on George Soros?" Mr. Schrage wrote in the memo, a draft of which had circulated online earlier in the week. "Yes."

I have an acknowledgment of my own to make now: I get that this is already old news.

You might even yawn as you read it. I guess you could argue I'm being a bit of a troll by even writing this story about a thing that happened a week ago during a regular news cycle.

But that's what makes this whole thing so silly.  

News dumps are a part of politics and business, but so often the news that's being dumped is the kind of thing that would be overtaken by events anyway.

In this case, the news that Facebook hired a firm to "do work on George Soros" seems like a kindergarten-level scandal--at least when you compare it to, say, the British government raiding a hotel room and walking away with thousands of internal Facebook emails about the Cambridge Analytica scandal (second to last item at that link).

Or, say, the Facebooker who says the company has a problem with black people.

Or the report that Facebook was thinking about charging companies for access to your user data (despite Mark Zuckerberg telling Congress that Facebook doesn't do this).

Or how the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center is being urged to drop the Zuckerberg name after all the recent scandals. (He donated $75 million to the hospital.)

All of that happened since Thanksgiving.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the almost robotic manner in which Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg kept using the same word over and over and over in interviews: "responsibility."

But if Facebook really wants to show that it takes its responsibility seriously, then burying even mildly negative admissions in a blatant Thanksgiving Eve news dump is a really funny way to show it.

Published on: Nov 30, 2018
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