Alex Stamos, the chief information security officer for Facebook. He has urged more disclosure over Russian activity on Facebook.
Steve Marcus/Reuters

As Facebook grapples with a backlash over its role in spreading disinformation, an internal dispute over how to handle the threat and the public outcry is resulting in the departure of a senior executive.

The impending exit of that executive — Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief information security officer — reflects heightened leadership tension at the top of the social network. Much of the internal disagreement is rooted in how much Facebook should publicly share about how nation states misused the platform and debate over organizational changes in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, according to current and former employees briefed on the matter.

Mr. Stamos, who plans to leave Facebook by August, had advocated more disclosure around Russian interference of the platform and some restructuring to better address the issues, but was met with resistance by colleagues, said the current and former employees. In December, Mr. Stamos’s day-to-day responsibilities were reassigned to others, they said.

Mr. Stamos said he would leave Facebook but was persuaded to stay through August to oversee the transition of his responsibilities and because executives thought his departure would look bad, the people said. He has been overseeing the transfer of his security team to Facebook’s product and infrastructure divisions. His group, which once had 120 people, now has three, the current and former employees said.

Mr. Stamos would be the first high-ranking employee to leave Facebook since controversy over disinformation on its site. Company leaders — including Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer — have struggled to address a growing set of problems, including Russian interference on the platform, the rise of false news and the disclosure over the weekend that 50 million of its user profiles had been harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a voter-profiling company.

The developments have taken a toll internally, said the seven people briefed on the matter, who asked not to be identified because the proceedings were confidential. Some of the company’s executives are weighing their own legacies and reputations as Facebook’s image has taken a beating. Several believe the company would have been better off saying little about Russian interference and note that other companies, such as Twitter, which have stayed relatively quiet on the issue, have not had to deal with as much criticism.

One central tension at Facebook has been that of the legal and policy teams versus the security team. The security team generally pushed for more disclosure about how nation states had misused the site, but the legal and policy teams have prioritized business imperatives, said the people briefed on the matter.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Nicole Perlroth, Sheera Frenkel and Scott Shane

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