I’ve just got back from an interesting panel event hosted by The Atlantic on the future of free speech. On stage was Facebook’s outgoing head of comms, Elliot Schrage, the man who took the heat for Facebook’s decision to hire Definers and have them do oppo research on George Soros (and others).
Couple of things worth highlighting from what he said. First, he certainly doesn’t seem to share Zuckerberg’s contempt of the “Washington” tactics used on Soros:
“I believe that the best way you get accuracy and understanding in civil and tolerant debate is by having an honest and transparent exchange of ideas. And I think part of that honest and transparent exchange of ideas is understanding people’s motivations. And understanding who is doing what and why.”
(Facebook’s top lawyer Colin Stretch reiterated this point in an email made public today, that he sent to the Open Society Foundation.)
Later, Schrage deflected an important question (mine!) about the extent to which Zuckerberg was aware of what’s going on. Zuckerberg insisted the first time he heard his company was commissioning work of this nature was when he read that it in the New York Times. This seems unusual to me. But Schrage wouldn’t speak directly to whether Zuckerberg approved, or was at least briefed on, what was happening:
“I feel like I was pretty unambiguous in the blog post that I wrote to suggest that my teams were responsible for what happened, and I accept responsibility for that. And I don’t really think it’s — you can all disagree — I don’t think that’s either relevant to a conversation on the future of speech on the platform, or relevant to the management, because that is how the organization is run.”
You can watch the exchange (or indeed the entire event) here: