Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg hit rock bottom in an already brutal year last week. in an already brutal year.

Does Nick Clegg, Facebook's incoming global affairs chief and former head of Britain's Liberal Democrats, really want to be a part of this mess? 

The New York Times Nov. 14 blockbuster depicted the ham-fisted attempts by the digital platform to spread misinformation about political opponents in order to cover up its distribution of hateful content and Russian “fake news” designed to disrupt the US elections.

The NYT portrayed Zuckerberg and Sandberg as failing to come to grips with the threat from Russia by downplaying the manipulation campaign.

And what was the immediate Facebook reaction to the NYT story? It fired a PR firm. Pathetic.

In an effort to turn down the political heat, Facebook cut ties with Washington-based Definers Public Affairs.  Zuckerberg claims he doesn’t want DC-type tactics used at Facebook. Sandberg denies knowing what Definers was up to. Definers became a very convenient sacrificial lamb.

The cluelessness of Zuckerberg and Sandberg contrasts with the statement issued by Facebook, saying it had hired Definers to persuade the media to look into the funding of some opposition groups. “The intention was to demonstrate that it was not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but supported by a well-known critic of our company,” Facebook said.

The statement though misses the bigger point. Facebook allowed its platform to be used for political manipulation and personal attacks. It then tried to discredit digital rights activists like George Soros and his Open Society Foundations, who were exercising their First Amendment rights in opposition to Facebook. 

The OSF released a statement Nov. 15, calling for Facebook to stop using practices “inspired by the enemies of democracy across the globe.” It wants Facebook to launch an independent investigation of what took place and to publish a full report. 

That independent probe could ultimately “fix” Facebook, and is far better than blaming a DC PR firm for a spate of bad PR.

Definers didn’t exactly go quietly into the night. It denied doing “opposition research” for Facebook. It claims its main services were “media monitoring and public relations around public policy issues facing the company.”

Zuckerberg and Sandberg have shown they are far more interested in growing Facebook than in assuming any responsibility for the platform’s role in undermining the US political system.  

Their inaction begs for a federal crackdown and regulation of Facebook.