Late on Wednesday, with markets closed and much of America stuck in traffic headed to their Thanksgiving venue of choice, Facebook admitted to paying a Republican PR firm to cast liberal critics as operatives for liberal financier George Soros, following a shocking exposé in the New York Times last week which shed light on a wide scope of questionable damage control techniques employed by the social media giant in the wake of several scandals.
We hired Definers in 2017 as part of our efforts to diversify our DC advisors after the election. Like many companies, we needed to broaden our outreach. We also faced growing pressure from competitors in tech, telcos and media companies that want government to regulate us.
This pressure became particularly acute in September 2017 after we released details of Russian interference on our service. We hired firms associated with both Republicans and Democrats — Definers was one of the Republican-affiliated firms. -Elliot Schrage
The admissions come from the company's outgoing Head of Communications and Policy, Elliot Schrage, who appears to be the company's chosen scapegoat.
In the Wednesday release, Facebook admitted that it used the Washington, DC PR fiirm Definers for several purposes, which included the Soros smear.
Did we ask them to do work on George Soros?
Yes. 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. 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.
In response to the Times article, Soros adviser Michael Vachon and the Open Society Foundation president, Patrick Gaspard, penned angry responses to the Times article, lambasting Facebook for smearing Soros amid "a concerted right-wing effort the world over to demonize Mr. Soros and his foundations."
So... Facebook is now the Soros-funded alt-right?
The social network also admitted to having Defenders "respond to unfair claims where Facebook was been [sic] signaled out for criticism," referring to claims that Definers coordinated with a third party company to publish negative articles on Google and Apple which called out questionable business practices, in an effort to downplay Facebook's responsibility in the data harvesting and Russia scandals.
Mr. Kaplan prevailed on Ms. Sandberg to promote Kevin Martin, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman and fellow Bush administration veteran, to lead the company’s American lobbying efforts. Facebook also expanded its work with Definers.
On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. One story called Mr. Cook hypocritical for chiding Facebook over privacy, noting that Apple also collects reams of data from users. Another played down the impact of the Russians’ use of Facebook.
The rash of news coverage was no accident: NTK is an affiliate of Definers, sharing offices and staff with the public relations firm in Arlington, Va. Many NTK Network stories are written by staff members at Definers or America Rising, the company’s political opposition-research arm, to attack their clients’ enemies. -NYT
Schrage said that responsibility lied with him, and that "Mark [Zuckerberg] and Sheryl [Sandberg] relied on me to manage this without controversy."
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. -Elliot Schrage
COO Sheryl Sandberg added that while it was indeed Facebook's collective decision to go after Soros, "it was never anyone’s intention to play into an anti-Semitic narrative against Mr. Soros or anyone else." It just happened... and it wasn't even Putin's fault this time?
Thank you for sharing this, Elliot.
I want to be clear that I oversee our Comms team and take full responsibility for their work and the PR firms who work with us. I truly believe we have a world class Comms team and I want to acknowledge the enormous pressure the team has faced over the past year.
When I read the story in New York Times last week, I didn’t remember a firm called Definers. I asked our team to look into the work Definers did for us and to double-check whether anything had crossed my desk. Some of their work was incorporated into materials presented to me and I received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced.
I also want to emphasize that it was never anyone’s intention to play into an anti-Semitic narrative against Mr. Soros or anyone else. Being Jewish is a core part of who I am and our company stands firmly against hate. The idea that our work has been interpreted as anti-Semitic is abhorrent to me — and deeply personal.
I know this has been a distraction at a time when you’re all working hard to close out the year — and I am sorry. As I said at the All Hands, I believe so deeply in the work we do and feel so grateful to all of you for doing so much every day. Thanksgiving seems like the right time to say a big thank you once again.
And there you have it - Facebook casually admits to smearing detractors as Soros operatives and using Definers to attack Apple and Google with factual information, as opposed to "fake news."