Facebook exec apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe

The tweets came Friday. President Trump cited them Saturday. The apology came Monday.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
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Rob Goldman, Facebook's vice president of ads, apologized for his tweets on Monday night. 

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It is a harsh reality of Twitter -- as many people, from celebrities to politicians, know -- that what you post on the platform can stir up controversy. This weekend, a Facebook executive found that out firsthand.

Here's how the sequence of events unfolded. Last Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller released an indictment of Russian agents for allegedly interfering with the 2016 US presidential election. The 37-page document called out the Internet Research Agency, an infamous Russian troll operation, and also mentioned Facebook more than 30 times by name.

That evening, Rob Goldman, vice president of Facebook ads, tweeted his thoughts on the charges.

"Most of the coverage of Russian meddling involves their attempt to effect the outcome of the 2016 US election," he wrote. "I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal."

The series of tweets went unnoticed at first, but eventually picked up steam. Finally, on Saturday afternoon, President Donald Trump used the tweets to assert that the Russians had not interfered with the election. "The Fake News Media never fails," Trump wrote. "Hard to ignore this fact from the Vice President of Facebook Ads, Rob Goldman!"

As Goldman's tweets circulated, some people criticized him for undermining Mueller's investigation. 

Facebook tried to squash that sentiment. 

"Nothing we found contradicts the Special Counsel's indictments," Joel Kaplan, Facebook VP of Global Policy, said in a statement. "Any suggestion otherwise is wrong."

Still, Goldman's tweets kept building momentum. 

By Monday evening, Goldman had apologized to his co-workers in an internal message. 

Facebook confirmed the apology on Tuesday, but declined to share the text of his message or comment further. However, here's his full statement, according to Wired:

"I wanted to apologize for having tweeted my own view about Russian interference without having it reviewed by anyone internally. The tweets were my own personal view and not Facebook's. I conveyed my view poorly. The Special Counsel has far more information about what happened [than] I do—so seeming to contradict his statements was a serious mistake on my part.

"To those of you who have reached out this weekend to offer your support, thank you. It means more than you know. And to all of you who have worked so hard over the last six months to demonstrate that we understand our responsibility to prevent abuse on Facebook—and are working hard to do better in the future—my deepest apologies."

The dust-up over the tweets underscores the complicated position Facebook finds itself in. Mark Zuckerberg's social network has been in the hot seat since it was revealed that Russian trolls abused Facebook -- as well as rival platforms Twitter and Google-owned YouTube -- to meddle in the election and sow discord among Americans. On Facebook, the Russians did that by using a combination of both paid ads and organic posts.

This isn't the first time Facebook executives have made noise on Twitter. Some of the company's most senior executives, like hardware chief Andrew "Boz" Bosworth and security chief Alex Stamos, have used Twitter as a sounding board. On Tuesday, Facebook emphasized, though, that Goldman's tweets were his own personal views, and not on the company's behalf.

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