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FBI warned Facebook of Russian interference, says Mark Zuckerberg

  • October 29, 2020

Mark Zuckerberg revealed Wednesday he was warned by the FBI to be on the lookout for the spread of ‘hack-and-leak’ disinformation, including ‘troves’ of documents, as the Facebook CEO defended his decision to limit the reach of the New York Post article revealing damaging contents of Hunter Biden’s emails.

The Facebook chief executive told lawmakers during a hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet that the bureau warned him ahead of time that these disinformation campaigns would be in influx ahead of Election Day.

‘One of the threats that the FBI has alerted our companies and the public to was the possibility of a hack and leak operation in the days or weeks leading up to this election,’ Zuckerberg said.

‘So you had both public testimony from from the FBI and in private meetings alerts that were given to at least our company, I assume the others as well, that suggested that we be on high alert and sensitivity that if a trove of documents appeared that that we should view that with suspicion that it might be part of a foreign manipulation attempt,’ he continued.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson later pushed Zuckerberg on if the FBI contacted him regarding the New York Post story and its validity.

‘Did the FBI contact you and say the New York Post story was false?’ the Wisconsin senator asked

‘Senator, not about that story specifically,’ Zuckerberg admitted.

‘Why did you throttle it back?’ he asked.

‘They alerted us of a – to be on heightened alert around a risk of hack and leak operations around a release of trove of information,’ the Facebook founder said.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended Wednesday Facebook limiting the reach of the New York Post article revealing contents of Hunter Biden's hard drive as he said the FBI warned of major 'hack-and-leak' misinformation campaigns ahead of the election

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended Wednesday Facebook limiting the reach of the New York Post article revealing contents of Hunter Biden’s hard drive as he said the FBI warned of major ‘hack-and-leak’ misinformation campaigns ahead of the election

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson pushed Zuckerberg on why he 'throttled it back' if the FBI did not specifically warn him about misinformation related to the story on Hunter Biden

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson pushed Zuckerberg on why he ‘throttled it back’ if the FBI did not specifically warn him about misinformation related to the story on Hunter Biden

‘To be clear on this, we did not censor the content,’ he reiterated. ‘We flagged it for fact checkers to review, and pending that review we temporarily constrained its distribution to make sure it didn’t spread wildly while it was being reviewed.’

He added, ‘But it’s not up to us either to determine if it’s Russian interference nor whether it’s true. We rely on the FBI and intelligence and fact checkers to determine that.’

Zuckerberg appeared virtually, along with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, for a hearing regarding whether social media platforms and news distributors should still be protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

This measure protects the tech companies from being held liable for content that users post. Some argue, however, that if websites continue to police what can be posted, they are no longer third-party and can therefore should be held liable for the content.

The hard drive included tons of damaging information to Hunter and his father, Democratic nominee Joe Biden – including this image of him

The hard drive included tons of damaging information to Hunter and his father, Democratic nominee Joe Biden – including this image of him

They claim that it is needed to protect speech online.

The hearing Wednesday also forced the three CEOs to face questions over how their respective platforms handle politics as Republicans continue to bash Big Tech for disproportionately censoring or stifling conservative voices.

It also comes less than a week before the election and as Twitter and Facebook have faced intense backlash for blocking the spread of the New York Post story, which many questioned the validity of considering it revealed damaging information about Democratic Joe Biden so close to the election.

Facebook argued it wanted to limit the spread of disinformation, as some of the claims in the article were unsubstantiated – even though the Post was citing directly from Hunter Biden’s hard drive, which was left at a computer repair shop.

Zuckerberg claimed that the decision to lessen the spread was made as Facebook saw a rise in Russia, Iran and China attempting to use the social media platform to run disinformation campaigns just a weeks before the U.S. presidential election.

‘We also see continued attempts by Russia and other countries, especially Iran and China to run these kind of information operations,’ he told the panel Wednesday. ‘We also see an increase in, kind of, domestic operations around the world Fortunately, we’ve been able to build partnerships across the industry, noth with companies here today and with law enforcement and the intelligence community to be able to share signals to identify these threats sooner.’

Facebook limited distribution of the Post’s main story, which had several offshoot stories from, while its outside fact-checkers reviewed the claims made in the article, spokesman Andy Stone said when the article was published two weeks ago. 

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey decided on a much stricter stance with the New York Post story, barring users from posting the link and suspending accounts who did post it and not unlocking their accounts until they deleted it

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey decided on a much stricter stance with the New York Post story, barring users from posting the link and suspending accounts who did post it and not unlocking their accounts until they deleted it

This meant that while it was under review, Facebook’s algorithms didn’t place posts linking to the story highly in people’s news feeds, which severely reduced the number of users who saw it during that time.

The review did little to limit the spread the article, however, as the same day it was published the article was liked, shared or commented on almost 600,000 times on Facebook.

Twitter took a much more aggressive approach to censoring the article by suspending accounts that posted it, and only allowing them back into their account after deleting the tweet containing the link.

Dorsey also implemented shortly after the article was published earlier this month a measure that would block Twitter users completely form sharing the link in a post. Up until Wednesday afternoon, users were prompted with a screen claiming Twitter deemed the link ‘potentially harmful’ so they could not share it if they tried. 

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