In January 2017, Facebook hired a former NBC news anchor, Campbell Brown. The goal was to create Facebook News, the social media company's "news partnerships team."
In addition to her duties establishing Facebook's "quality news" feature in a dedicated tab, Brown runs her own news outlet: The 74.
The 74 is not owned by nor officially affiliated with Facebook. It is unclear if it will earn a trusted news source designation like Facebook News under Brown's direction gave Breitbart News.
However, like Breitbart, The 74 is affiliated with a member of the Trump administration. The news outlet was created with a grant from Betsy DeVos' family foundation.
Brown also serves on the board of DeVos' The American Federation for Children (AFC). The nonprofit supports and funds Republican candidates.
In addition to connections with the Trump administration, Brown made The Daily Caller—a conservative publication known for its White nationalism, homophobia, transphobia and racism an "official Facebook fact-checking partner." Brown was also the one to defend naming Breitbart a "quality news source."
When writer Judd Legum discovered the Brown/DeVos connection, he also discovered The 74's recent favorite target is Massachusetts Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. DeVos—who personally profits from student debt, charter schools and promotes parochial education and the elimination of public schools—is no fan of Warren's platform of increased taxes for billionaires and reduction or elimination of student loan debt.
In The 74, Warren is described as:
- a millionaire who raves about socialism
- Republican before she was a Democrat
- for school choice before she was against it
- for charter schools before she was against them
- for standardized testing before she was against it
- Native American before she wasn't
- the 2nd coming of Karl Marx
- cut-and-paste genuflect to the public relations departments of America's national teachers unions
Brown is forthcoming about her connection to Facebook and The 74. But when Legum sent Facebook a list of questions about Brown, DeVos, Warren and a potential conflict of interest, he received a simple statement:
"The 74 is not part of Facebook News. Campbell's work with The 74 is well-known and she's been transparent about her role with the nonprofit for many years. Any suggestion otherwise is baseless."
When Legum published the statement, he eliminated the last sentence.
For this, Facebook Newsroom's Twitter account went on the offensive with a retweet of a post from the editor-in-chief of The 74—despite there being no connection between the two according to Facebook.
The Facebook attack against Legum did not go over well on Twitter.
In addition to backlash for their ill advised tweet, Legum also provided a response to the attack.
By Monday afternoon, Brown also decided to respond. However several claims she made were quickly fact checked and came up lacking.
As with Facebook Newsroom's response, it probably would have been better to not respond instead of responding with easily disproven lies.
What actions Facebook will take, if any, to eliminate conflicts of interest in their news division remains to be seen. But for now, Campbell Brown's presence appears to be more detrimental than helpful in bolstering public confidence.
The book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google is available here.