Facebook Smear Row Deepens As Sandberg Admits Memory Slip

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Senior management at Facebook respond to row over PR firm that allegedly smeared its critics

Facebook is currently in the middle of a row over the thanksgiving weekend, over ties to a Washington-based PR firm it hired to allegedly smear critics of the firm.

The row is so serious in the United States, that it has involved one of Facebook’s top lieutenants, namely COO Sheryl Sandberg, who admitted that she “didn’t remember” the PR firm Definers.

It comes as one of George Soros’s lieutenants urged the US Congress to investigate Facebook over the matter, after a Facebook executive confirmed that it had hired the PR firm to make claims about the financier.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg

Soros vs Facebook

Patrick Gaspard, president of Soros’s Open Society Foundations, called for an official investigation, and suggested that Facebook had deliberately timed the revelation to coincide with the US Thanksgiving holiday.

“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,” Gaspard tweeted.

“Sorry, but this needs independent, congressional oversight.”

Facebook’s outgoing public policy chief, Elliot Schrage, is at the centre of the row, after Facebook decided to publish a memo by him.

Schrage had hired Washington DC-based Definers Public Affairs in 2017, and in the memo Schrage blamed himself for hiring Definers to investigate Soros’s links to the Freedom from Facebook campaign, which is seeking the company’s break-up.

Techcrunch has published the memo, and it reveals that Schrage had sent the documents from Definers to brief journalists and reporters on the matter.

And in an effort to be transparent, Facebook has now published the Schrage memo, and it confirms that one of the aims of Definers was to investigate Soros.

“In January 2018, investor and philanthropist George Soros attacked Facebook in a speech at Davos, calling us a ‘menace to society’,” Schrage wrote. “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,” he added. “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.”

But he denied that the PR was used to create fake news.

Memory slip

And now COO Sheryl Sandberg has been dragged into the row, after she added a note to the publication of the memo.

“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,” she wrote.

“When I read the story in New York Times last week, I didn’t remember a firm called Definers,” she added. “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,” she said. “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.”

Whether Sandberg’s admission will be enough to put this issue to bed, remains to be seen.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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