Facebook's outgoing policy chief took the blame Wednesday night for hiring a consulting firm to investigate and peddle negative stories about the company's critics, including by linking them to liberal philanthropist George Soros.
The blog post [politicoemail.com] by the executive, Elliot Schrage, landed on the eve of the Thanksgiving weekend, and appeared aimed at absolving CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg of responsibility for a lobbying campaign that sparked accusations that Facebook was fueling anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
[...] The New York Times reported [nytimes.com] last week that Facebook, under pressure over reports of Russian election interference on its platform, hired the Republican-linked consulting firm, Definers Public Affairs, which among other things sought to tie anti-Facebook groups to the Soros-backed Open Society Foundations.
Facebook has reposted [the Schrage blog post] [fb.com] with an addition by COO Sheryl Sandberg, who claimed: "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.
Soros Philanthropy President Calls for U.S. Lawmakers to Review Facebook [wsj.com] (repost [yahoo.com])
The president of George Soros's philanthropy called for oversight of Facebook Inc. by U.S. lawmakers after the social media company confirmed it hired a controversial public relations outfit to research the billionaire financier.
[...] In response to Facebook's memo, Patrick Gaspard, president of Mr. Soros's Open Society Foundations, said in a tweet on Wednesday: "So @facebook decides to drop a turkey on Thanksgiving eve, with admission that Definers was tasked by company leadership to target and smear George Soros because he publicly criticized their out of control business model. Sorry, but this needs independent, congressional oversight."
Soros Fund Management, which Soros founded and chairs, exited social-network giant Facebook (FB) completely in the third quarter, while also slashing positions in Netflix stock (NFLX) and Goldman Sachs Group stock (GS). Those three stocks have tumbled in the fourth quarter so far, with Facebook and Goldman setting new lows Tuesday. They are down almost 20% and 15%, respectively, so far this quarter. Highflying streaming-content giant Netflix has tumbled almost 29% since the end of September.
[...] Soros Fund Management sold all its Facebook stock before the end of the third quarter, prior to publication of the New York Times report. Following the report, the head of Soros' Open Society Foundations criticized what it called "Facebook's smear campaign" [cbsnews.com] against Soros.
See also: After latest scandal, does Facebook need to be regulated? [pbs.org]