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Zuckerberg vows to stay at helm of Facebook with Sandberg despite alleged smear campaign

Zuckerberg vows to stay at helm of Facebook with Sandberg despite alleged smear campaign
Mark Zuckerberg said he and Sheryl Sandberg were staying put; Facebook has been accused of using smear tactics against critics. (Matt McClain / The Washington Post)

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg will not step down as chairman, he said in an interview that aired on CNN on Tuesday night, and he will not dismiss Sheryl Sandberg, his top lieutenant and chief operating officer.

The remarks came after a report by the New York Times that said the social network smeared its critics, and as a series of scandals has rocked the company in recent months.

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Facebook and the two executives drew critical headlines after last week's report, which revealed an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign designed to avoid accountability for the company's missteps involving Russian propaganda, privacy violations and the massive spread of hateful posts.

"She has been an important partner for me for 10 years," Zuckerberg said of Sandberg in the interview. "I am really proud of the work we have done together and hope we work together for decades more to come."

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook hired an opposition research firm to discredit critics by linking them to the liberal philanthropist George Soros, according to the Times, as part of the company's communications strategy, which Sandberg oversees.

The Open Society Foundations, a philanthropic organization founded by Soros, strongly objected to what it described as Facebook's "unsavory tactics." The group accused the company of mimicking right-wing efforts to demonize Soros, who is a frequent target of anti-Semitic vitriol from the far right.

"It's important for Facebook to recognize that this isn't a public relations problem — it's a fundamental challenge for the platform and their business model," Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Washington Post. "I think it took them too long to realize that."

Since the summer, after user growth slowed, a privacy breach affecting 29 million users, and ongoing concerns that the platform is a tool for ethnic cleansing, the company's share value has dived.

But the tech industry as a whole has faced a punishing few months on Wall Street. Big-name tech giants, known as the FAANGs -- Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google -- have shed more than $1 trillion in value in the last 60 days. The tech company slide dragged the Nasdaq composite index down almost 15% from its recent peak, in August.

Facebook shares closed up 1.8% to $134.82 on Wednesday.

2:10 p.m.: This article was updated with Facebook’s closing stock price.

This story was originally published at 10:35 a.m.

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