The New York Times was caught editing a story to remove an unfavorable reference to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.
On Tuesday night, The Times ran a story about the pending departure of Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos.
The original version of the story read, “Mr. Stamos had been a strong advocate inside the company for investigating and disclosing Russian activity on Facebook, often to the consternation of other top executives, including Sheryl Sandberg, the social network’s chief operative officer, according to the current and former employees, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters.”
The reference to Sandberg was taken out later in the evening to read, Stamos “was met with resistance by colleagues…”
Multiple people noted the change on Twitter and the apparent power Facebook has over the Times, including Kurt Walters, director of the liberal group Demand Progress.
Last night's @nytimes story, before and after.
Sheryl Sandberg's role resisting transparency re: Russian interference was mysteriously deleted… pic.twitter.com/Vy9SZHP9pa
— Kurt Walters (@kurtdwalters) March 20, 2018
Justin Hendrix with NYC Media Lab suggested that the removal of the Sandberg reference was an effort to protect her image.
Sheryl led the cover-up? "Mr. Stamos had been a strong advocate inside the company for investigating and disclosing Russian activity on Facebook, often to the consternation of other top executives, including Sheryl Sandberg…" https://t.co/OBiTa4qPlK
— Justin Hendrix | wash your hands & stay at home (@justinhendrix) March 19, 2018
Dan Abrams news site Law & Crime pointed out when a media outlet makes a material change to a story, it is customary to note that within the article.
Nicole Perlroth, one of The Times reporters who wrote the piece about Stamos, confirmed to Law & Crime that Facebook’s public relations team reached out to the paper.
Perlroth downplayed the change saying The Times regularly makes such edits to stories without annotating them.
“We only make note of changes if they involve an error. In this case, the story grew and evolved over the course of the day and those points were moved elsewhere,” the paper wrote in an email to Law & Crime.
As The Times reported, Stamos was in fact reassigned within Facebook and is reportedly due to leave the company in August. The executive confirmed his reassignment in a tweet on Monday.
Despite the rumors, I'm still fully engaged with my work at Facebook. It's true that my role did change. I'm currently spending more time exploring emerging security risks and working on election security.
— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) March 19, 2018
According to NewsWhip, The Times ranked in the top five most engaged sites on Facebook in February, behind NBC, CNN and Fox News.
Law & Crime highlighted that Facebook is an essential platform for The Times to reach its readers, especially via phones.
The power of the world’s largest social media platform to greatly impact a news site’s bottom line via ad revenue through the traffic it directs or withholds should be a cause for concern.
Law & Crime explained: “Facebook’s ability to flex its muscles over even the legendary New York Times should scare us about what they can do to smaller outlets contemplating negative coverage of Facebook practices.”
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