Documents Leaked From Facebook Have Been Passed to a Consortium of Press Outlets

If you are making your way through the myriad investigations into Facebook teased last week by Facebook itself, you may find it useful to know the background on their origin. Not because it is suspicious — in fact, quite the opposite — but because Facebook seemed so concerned with getting ahead of these stories.

Ben Smith at the New York Times:

[Frances] Haugen chose a middle path, one that appears to have captured the best of both arrangements, from her perspective, while also foiling Facebook’s attempts to contain the story.

First she handed her documents to The Journal for a boutique rollout. Then she opened the journalistic equivalent of an outlet store, allowing reporters on two continents to root through everything The Journal had left behind in search of overlooked informational gems. Her intention was to broaden the circle, she said. She added that she plans to share the documents with academic writers and publications from parts of the world where she sees the greatest peril, including India and parts of the Middle East.

There are some who regard this coordinated rollout as inherently suspicious, but I think it is a savvy use of public relations for maximum social impact.

One thing I am trying to keep straight in my own head, as more reporting is published, is the source of different leaks. The Wall Street Journal’s “Facebook Files” series is primarily sourced to documents from Haugen, as are stories from other publications collected under the “Facebook Papers” banner. But a story on Friday from the Washington Post is sourced to a different whistleblower.

One thing that remains unclear is whether Haugen and her team supplied these documents to the other outlets, or if they received them from a third party. Smith implies that Haugen’s team passed them to the Times and other publications around the beginning of October, but a different article by Mike Isaac says that the Times received them from a “congressional staff member”. My bet is that both are true: after the Journal began publishing, I bet reporters from other publications leaned on their Washington sources to provide copies. But Haugen’s team was probably unaware of that, and also brought the documents to those other reporters. This is just a guess, but it aligns with the details in Smith’s article.