By Alex Heath
Facebook’s CEO isn’t backing down.
In a conference call with reporters on Thursday that lasted more than 80 minutes, Mark Zuckerberg declared that an extensive New York Times report about his company's insufficient and self-preserving response to Russian meddling on the platform was "simply untrue."
The founder also fielded several questions about Facebook's past relationship to a conservative opposition research firm in D.C., Definers Public Affairs.
"I think we are just going to say we feel very comfortable in our reporting and leave it at that," Jack Nicas, a reporter on the Times' story, told Cheddar in response to Zuckerberg’s comments.
Wednesday's report revealed that Definers employed a number of behind-the-scenes tactics to fire back at Facebook’s ($FB) critics ー including telling members of the media to investigate potential ties to a left-wing, anti-Facebook coalition and liberal billionaire George Soros. The piece also rendered an unflattering portrait of the company's high-profile COO Sheryl Sandberg, who allegedly chided her security chief, Alex Stamos, for throwing the company "under the bus."
While Soros has been a vocal critic of Facebook’s content policies and business model, Zuckerberg said Thursday that he was unaware of the anti-Soros campaign by Definers and that he had "tremendous respect" for the philanthropist.
Zuckerberg also defended Sandberg, who did not participate in the conference call. He said she was doing “great work” for the company and declined to reveal whether anyone at Facebook had been fired over the company’s missteps in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Facebook’s board of directors also issued a rare statement supporting Zuckerberg and Sandberg on Thursday.
“As Mark and Sheryl made clear to Congress, the company was too slow to spot Russian interference, and too slow to take action,” the statement read. “As a board we did indeed push them to move faster. But to suggest that they knew about Russian interference and either tried to ignore it or prevent investigations into what had happened is grossly unfair," the statement read.
Zuckerberg also announced that Facebook will establish an independent, outside committee in 2019 to review appeals of content the social network removes from its service. Several large, institutional investors have publicly called on Zuckerberg to step down as Facebook’s chairman and relinquish his majority control over Facebook’s voting shares.
With additional reporting by Chloe Aiello.