Facebook’s Andy Stone making enemies to please Mark Zuckerberg: insiders

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A “hatchet man” spokesman for Facebook is making enemies out of politicians and reporters alike as the company takes heat in Washington — and insiders tell The Post he’s doing it to please Mark Zuckerberg.

This week alone, Facebook policy communications director Andy Stone — a 40-year-old communications veteran who worked for former Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and John Kerry — has questioned the credibility of whistleblower Frances Haugen, faced the ire of Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and tussled with reporters, accusing them of trashing the company with “misleading” stories. 

Insiders tell The Post that the real purpose of Stone’s caustic comms strategy is to please Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg — even if that means angering the politicians who want to regulate Facebook and the reporters who cover it.

“The target audience is Mark and Sheryl and Facebook employees,” said a former Facebook employee who worked with Stone. “It doesn’t really matter if reporters or the general public like them.”

During past crises like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has played nice, buying apologetic full-page newspaper ads and sending Zuckerberg and Sandberg to testify before Congress. This time, the company’s top brass sent lower-ranking executives like security chief Antigone Davis to take the heat from Congress — and has apparently given Stone free rein to tussle with Facebook critics. 

Andy Stone has questioned the credibility of whistleblower Frances Haugen (pictured).
Andy Stone has questioned the credibility of whistleblower Frances Haugen (pictured).
EPA

“The traditional corporate PR playbook says that the company apologizes, offers to be part of the solution and generally finds ways to make Congress happy,” the former Facebook employee said. “Facebook is beyond that right now.” 

Facebook and Stone, who joined the company in 2014, did not reply to requests for comment.

The former Facebook employee said that, in addition to Zuckerberg and Sandberg, Stone’s hardline stance is directed at Joel Kaplan, a former President George W. Bush staffer and lobbyist who now works as Facebook’s DC-based global public policy chief.

Andy Stone is Facebook's policy communications director.
Andy Stone is Facebook’s policy communications director.
Twitter

Stone’s combativeness is also likely to please software engineers at Facebook, who the former employee said are more likely to support fighting back against politicians and journalists who they believe treat the company unfairly.

“Every time one of these news cycles starts … some employees are concerned about what they read and other employees, often on the engineering side, want Facebook to be more aggressive and push back. So that’s the audience that Andy and the communications team are playing to right now,” the former employee said. 

While Haugen was testifying in front of a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday, Stone followed along and tried to downplay her credibility. 

“Just pointing out the fact that @FrancesHaugen did not work on child safety or Instagram or research these issues and has no direct knowledge of the topic from her work at Facebook,” Stone tweeted while Haugen was still testifying.

The former Facebook employee called that response “sexist and terrible.” Blackburn, the highest-ranking Republican on the subcommittee, was also not amused. 

“If Facebook wants to discuss its targeting of children, come forward and testify,” Blackburn wrote in response to Stone. 

Andy Stone's aggressive communications strategy appeals to Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg (left) and founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg (right), insiders say.
Andy Stone’s aggressive communications strategy appeals to Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg (left) and founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg (right), insiders say.
Getty Images

Stone has also accused CBS’s “60 Minutes,” which ran an interview with Haugen on Sunday, of using “select company materials to tell a misleading story.”

A comms executive who works with big tech companies other than Facebook also said Stone’s strategy has clearly been to please the company’s leadership — even if that means digging the company into a deeper hole on Capitol Hill.

“If you’re not going to change the public’s opinion with nuanced arguments and fully contextualizing these facts, either because the facts are so bad or that’s just not going to happen, then maybe the best move at this point is to show your bosses you’re fighting for them,” the executive said. “What you’re doing is to keep your bosses from going completely insane.”

Carole Cadwalladr, a journalist for the Guardian who broke the Cambridge Analytica story, told Input she had clashed with Stone long before he emerged as Facebook’s chief critic of Haugen.

Cadwalladr alleged Stone used “deliberate deceptions regarding Cambridge Analytica and repeatedly trolled me.”

 “It was just in no way appropriate for the corporate PR of a trillion-dollar company to behave like that toward a journalist,” added Cadwalladr.





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