News & Opinion | November 15, 2018 4:16 pm

Mark Zuckerberg: What I Wish I’d Known About Battling Russian Trolls

Facebook CEO fielded questions for more than an hour from reporters on Thursday. Here's what he said.

Mark Zuckerberg
Investors aren't happy with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty)
The Washington Post/Getty Images

Following a damning New York Times investigation, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg held a wide-ranging conference call with press on Thursday. He emphasized the company’s progress in tackling Russian election interference and denied implications of the Times allegations, including that he had any knowledge of a Republican opposition-research firm hired by Facebook to discredit activists protesting the social network. The firm, called Definers, also reportedly sought to deflect negative news about Facebook as it moved through various scandals.

“Someone on our communications team must have hired them,” Zuckerberg said of Definers. “[They use] more typical D.C.-type of efforts to handle political issues, but are not the kind of thing that we want to be involved with here.”

Facebook quickly cut ties with Definers on Wednesday after the Times report was published. But Zuckerberg grew agitated after multiple reporters challenged him on his knowledge of the work that Definers was employed to do— and whether anyone at Facebook is going to be fired for it.

“I feel like I’ve answered this question a bunch of times. I’m not going to get into on this call specific personnel changes — certainly we take this seriously, but I’m not sure I have much more to say on this,” he said.

Zuckerberg did have more to say on Russian interference, though — including his official response to the Times report, and the things he wishes he’d done differently.

“I want to be very clear about one thing up front: I’ve said many times before that we were too slow to spot Russian interference,” Zuckerberg said. “We certainly stumbled along the way, but to suggest that we weren’t interested in knowing the truth, or that we wanted to hide what we knew or we wanted to prevent investigations is simply untrue. People have been working on this nonstop for more than a year.”

Zuckerberg went on to say there were “a lot of things” he would do differently in retrospect.

“The big miss was that we were not expecting these kinds of coordinated information operations which we’re now well aware of. We should have been more on top of that,” Zuckerberg said. “That was an important miss, and something that we’ve spent a lot of the last couple of years building our systems to understand in all the sophistication and nuance how different countries will try to execute that. I think we’re in a better place now but this isn’t the type of thing you ever fully solve. Governments are going to keep on doing this. They’re going to evolve their tactics.”

Zuckerberg assured reporters Facebook will be ready when they do — but whether or not the public is still willing to log in and play ball is another matter.