Facebook Policy Chief Admits Hiring PR Firm to Attack George Soros
Facebook officials on Wednesday admitted that it was involved in digging up dirt and trying show Jewish billionaire George Soros and its competitors in a poor light. This admission comes less than a week after The New York Times published an exposé on the tech giant.
Last week The New York Times reported that Facebook, facing flak over allegations that the Russians used its platform to interfere in the 2016 presidential elections, hired the Republican-linked consulting firm Definers Public Affairs to divert media attention from it and to tie all anti-Facebook groups to the Soros-backed Open Society Foundations.
Trying to defend its actions, Facebook in a press release on its blog said, “In January 2018, investor and philanthropist George Soros attacked Facebook in a speech at Davos, calling us a 'menace to society.' We had not heard such criticism from him before and wanted to determine if he had any financial motivation. Definers researched this using public information.”
“Later, when the ‘Freedom from Facebook’ campaign emerged as a so-called grassroots coalition, the team asked Definers to help understand the groups behind them," Facebook added, referring to a coalition of progressive groups that have been critical of the social media platform.
"They learned that George Soros was funding several of the coalition members. They prepared documents and distributed these to the press to show that this was not simply a spontaneous grassroots movement,” the Facebook statement also said.
The news and information website Axios, however, revealed that though few of the groups involved with the movement received funding from Soros, the campaign as a whole was not bankrolled by him.
Soros has long been the subject of smears and anti-Semitic attacks. His haters claim that by using his money and influence he manipulates the media and the world economy.
Elliot Schrage, Facebook's outgoing head of policy and communications, said that he is to be blamed for hiring the controversial public-relations firm whose attacks on the company's critics have led to accusations of anti-Semitism. However, he was quick to add that it was Facebook that directed the firm to go after George Soros.
"Responsibility for these decisions rests with leadership of the Communications team. That's me. Mark (Zuckerberg) and Sheryl (Sandberg) relied on me to manage this without controversy," he wrote.
"I knew and approved of the decision to hire Definers and similar firms. I should have known of the decision to expand their mandate. Over the past decade, I built a management system that relies on the teams to escalate issues if they are uncomfortable about any project, the value it will provide or the risks that it creates. That system failed here and I'm sorry I let you all down. I regret my own failure here," Schrage wrote.
According to the investigation carried out by The New York Times, following a backlash over various scandals plaguing the company, Facebook hired Definers to monitor press coverage. However, it later expanded its relationship to include promoting negative coverage of Soros and of companies that it views as being its rivals, like Google and Apple.
As is almost always the case with Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has denied having any prior knowledge. Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg also initially denied hearing about Definers, instead blaming the communications team broadly for the issue.
But in a response to Schrage, obtained by TechCrunch, Sandberg contradicted her earlier statement saying "some of their work was incorporated into materials presented to me and I received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced," even though she apparently didn't remember them.
Schrage's ownership of the scandal may temporarily shield Zuckerberg and Sandberg from some of the fallout, but given the poorly managed and autocratic manner in which Mark Zuckerberg is running the company, it won’t be unfair to predict that the time when he has to answer for all his wrongdoings is not far.