Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has proven once again that he's tone-deaf to PR.

The social media giant's April 22 hiring of Jennifer Newstead as general counsel tops Zuckerberg's 2018 PR disaster, the hiring of Definers Public Affairs to spread dirt on political opponents in an effort to cover up FB's distribution of Russian "fake news" and hateful content.

The New York Times Nov. 14 blockbuster reported on that disaster, causing some soul-searching and words of contrition from Zuckerberg and his deputy & COO Sheryl Sandberg. 

Newstead is a surveillance expert. Doesn't Facebook have plenty of those?

Her hiring should send shudders down the spines of Facebook users. While serving in the Bush II White House, she was one of the architects of the expansion of government surveillance under the Patriot Act.

One would think that Facebook, which critics say spies on users and monitors their every move, would want maximum distance from a superstar surveillance expert, especially one so closely tied to the Patriot Act. 

Newstead's work for Bush directly counters Zuckerberg's high-profile pledge last month to bolster Facebook's privacy safeguards.

Facebook's new general counsel joined the Justice Dept. in 2001. As deputy assistant general in the Office of Legal Policy, she helped draft the Patriot Act and sell it to Congress.

In a 2002 Justice Dept. press release Viet Dinh, then head of Office of Legal Policy lauded Newstead's “enhanced leadership duties and her excellent service on a range of issues — including helping craft the new U.S.A. Patriot Act to protect the United States against terror.”

In Facebook's press release announcing the hiring of Newstead, COO Sandberg praised her as "a seasoned leader whose global perspective and experience will help us fulfill our mission.”  We thought privacy was Facebook's (or at least Zuck's) mission.

The release does not mention Newstead's Patriot Act duties at the Justice Dept.

Was Zuckerberg just blowing smoke when he made the privacy pitch? "It's almost as if we're living in some bizarro world where the company does exactly the opposite of what Zuckerberg states publicly," Ashkan Soltani, former Federal Trade Commissioner, told Politico.

Could Zuckerberg really be that out to lunch on PR? Or perhaps he doesn't care about the big world beyond the friendly confines of Facebook.