Following a shocking exposé in the New York Times revealing how Facebook resorted to guerilla tactics to deflect blame amid their various scandals, including hiring Republican PR firm Definers which cast liberal critics as operatives for liberal financier George Soros, top representatives for the Hungarian-American billionaire have demanded answers.
While Facebook was under fire on Capitol Hill for allowing Russians to purchase advertising during and after the 2016 US election, liberal critics blamed the company for Hillary Clinton's loss - including activist protesters who put a public face on liberal opposition to the social media giant.
Defenders sought to discredit the activists by linking them to Soros.
A research document circulated by Definers to reporters this summer, just a month after the House hearing, cast Mr. Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.
He was a natural target. In a speech at the World Economic Forum in January, he had attacked Facebook and Google, describing them as a monopolist “menace” with “neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions.”
Definers pressed reporters to explore the financial connections between Mr. Soros’s family or philanthropies and groups that were members of Freedom from Facebook, such as Color of Change, an online racial justice organization, as well as a progressive group founded by Mr. Soros’s son. (An official at Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations said the philanthropy had supported both member groups, but not Freedom from Facebook, and had made no grants to support campaigns against Facebook.) -NYT
Responding to the Times report, Soros adviser Michael Vachon responded Thursday, stating "It is alarming that Facebook would engage in these unsavory tactics, apparently in response to George’s public criticism in Davos earlier this year of the company’s handling of hate speech and propaganda on its platform."
The Times’ story raises the question of whether Facebook has used similar methods to go after other critics or public officials who have tried to hold Facebook accountable. Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s claim that they were unaware of what the company was doing is more alarming than reassuring. What else is Facebook up to?
The company should hire an outside expert to do a thorough investigation of its lobbying and PR work and make the results public.
Until then, this episode further demonstrates that Facebook continues to pursue its narrow corporate interests at the expense of the public interest. -Michael Vachon
Patrick Gaspard, president of Soros's Open Society Foundations wrote to Sandberg: "I was shocked to learn from the New York Times that you and your colleagues at Facebook hired a Republican opposition research firm to stir up animus toward George Soros," adding: "As you know, there is a concerted right-wing effort the world over to demonize Mr. Soros and his foundations, which I lead—an effort which has contributed to death threats and the delivery of a pipe bomb to Mr. Soros’ home. You are no doubt also aware that much of this hateful and blatantly false and anti-Semitic information is spread via Facebook."
The notion that your company, at your direction, actively engaged in the same behavior to try to discredit people exercising their First Amendment rights to protest Facebook’s role in disseminating vile propaganda is frankly astonishing to me.
It’s been disappointing to see how you have failed to monitor hate and misinformation on Facebook’s platform. To now learn that you are active in promoting these distortions is beyond the pale.
These efforts appear to have been part of a deliberate strategy to distract from the very real accountability problems your company continues to grapple with. This is reprehensible, and an offense to the core values Open Society seeks to advance. But at bottom, this is not about George Soros or the foundations. Your methods threaten the very values underpinning our democracy. -Patrick Gaspard
Which PR firm will Facebook call now?