The journey of a very flattering and uncritical story about Facebook's efforts to guard against interference in the 2020 election on its platforms has left many scratching their heads and wondering how it all came about.
On Wednesday morning, Teen Vogue published a story entitled “How Facebook Is Helping Ensure the Integrity of the 2020 Election." The article highlighted five women across Facebook and Instagram who are helping to lead efforts to stop election interference ahead of the Presidential election this year, and its obsequious tone, and lack of a byline, raised eyebrows and questions over whether it was sponsored content paid for by Facebook (FB) - Get Report itself.
Soon after, a note appeared at the top of the top of the article indicating it was sponsored content, but within a few hours the article had been taken down entirely.
The original article, which can still be accessed on the Wayback Machine, features Q&As with five women in leadership roles at Facebook having to do with elections or security. The unnamed author points out Facebook’s efforts in areas like creating an ad library and partnering with fact-checkers, and the interviewees speak a bit to the technical work involved, as well as reiterating Facebook’s talking points on how it deals with political ads, for example.
In all, it was an uncritical piece that mentioned none of Facebook's past scandals related to elections, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election in which Russian operatives interfered, and instead described Facebook as the company "at the forefront of encouraging civil discourse." And it also struck many as odd in light of Teen Vogue's reputation of late for far more incisive writing on politics and related subjects.
Making things even more confusing, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg shared the piece on her public Facebook page without noting anything about its provenance.
Neither Facebook nor Teen Vogue immediately responded to a request for comment for this story. In an email to Business Insider, Facebook spokesperson Lisa Stratton wrote: "This piece is purely editorial. We pitched this to Teen Vogue and worked with their team on the piece over the past few months."
More than any other tech firm, Facebook will again fall under the microscope ahead of the 2020 election to see how well it handles various threats to election integrity: Misinformation, voter suppression, fake news or otherwise. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even said last October that he expects 2020 will be a "very tough year" with the company again on the defensive from regulatory and political scrutiny owing to the presidential election.
Facebook shares rose 1.0% to $215.22 on Wednesday.