Saturday, 26 Nov 2022

On Thanksgiving Eve, Facebook Acknowledges Details of Times Investigation

Joining a long tradition of companies and campaigns that drop bad news on holidays, Facebook on Thanksgiving eve took responsibility for hiring a Washington-based lobbying company, Definers Public Affairs, that pushed negative stories about Facebook’s critics, including the philanthropist George Soros.

Facebook’s communications and policy chief, Elliot Schrage, said in a memo posted Wednesday that he was responsible for hiring the group, and had done so to help protect the company’s image and conduct research about high-profile individuals who spoke critically about the social media platform. Mr. Schrage will be leaving the company, a move planned before the memo was released.

Facebook fired Definers last week, after a New York Times investigation published on Nov. 14.

“Did we ask them to do work on George Soros?” Mr. Schrage wrote in the memo, a draft of which had circulated online earlier in the week. “Yes.”

He added, “I’m sorry I let you all down. I regret my own failure here.”

This is a change from just a few days ago, when Facebook wrote on Nov. 15 that the Times report was full of “inaccuracies.” The same day, Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, posted on her Facebook page that she had no idea the company had hired Definers.

“I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing,” Ms. Sandberg said, adding: “I have great respect for George Soros.” But in the Thanksgiving eve memo, Ms. Sandberg issued an about-face, acknowledging that the Republican-oriented company’s work had crossed her desk.

“Some of their work was incorporated into materials presented to me,” Ms. Sandberg wrote, ”and I received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced.”

Mr. Soros, a Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist with a focus on pro-democratic causes, is a frequent target of anti-Semitism and has become an obsession within conspiracy-minded online pockets. Over the past year, the conspiracy theories about him have moved to the mainstream right wing. On Twitter, President Donald Trump has accused Mr. Soros of paying protesters.

Mr. Soros upset Facebook after calling it a “menace to society” at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2018. The company subsequently asked Definers to focus on Mr. Soros.

Patrick Gaspard, the president of the Open Society Foundation, Mr. Soros’ philanthropic group, criticized the company for the timing of its statement and on Wednesday called for independent, congressional oversight.

Mr. Schrage’s memo was sent to Facebook employees on Tuesday. But he waited until Wednesday night to post it to the public.

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