- Facebook has ended its relationship with a PR firm which the New York Times reported had circulated reports to journalists claiming that George Soros was quietly backing anti-Facebook groups.
- Facebook cut ties with the Republican-linked Definers Public Affairs on Wednesday night, less than 24 hours after the Times’ explosive report.
- Soros has previously been a target for right-wing conspiracy theories, many of them anti-Semitic.
- Facebook admitted in a post on Thursday that Definers encouraged members of the press to look into ties between Soros and a group called “Freedom from Facebook,” and said the intention was to show that the group was not a “grassroots campaign” but rather was being funded by “a well-known critic of our company.”
- “To suggest that this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue,” Facebook said.
Facebook swiftly cut ties with a PR firm after a New York Times report said the company tried to blame a rise in anti-Facebook sentiment on billionaire George Soros.
Facebook announced in a post that it ended its relationship with Definers Public Affairs on Wednesday night, less than 24 hours after the Times’ explosive report on the inner workings of Facebook’s leadership having to deal with a series of scandals broke.
Part of the Times’ report said that Definers, a PR firm with strong links to past Republican presidential campaigns, distributed a research report to reporters that claimed Soros was quietly funding anti-Facebook groups, and urged reporters to dig into the financial ties between Soros and these groups.
Soros has frequently been a target for right-wing conspiracy theories, many of which bear anti-Semitic overtones. In October, Soros was one of the 14 prominent Trump critics who were targeted with pipe-bombs.
A person familiar with the matter told the Times that its report prompted an outcry, and that top execs including Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg had not been aware of exactly what Definers had been doing.
Facebook posted this response to the Times’ characterisation of Definers:
“The New York Times is wrong to suggest that we ever asked Definers to pay for or write articles on Facebook’s behalf – or to spread misinformation. Our relationship with Definers was well known by the media – not least because they have on several occasions sent out invitations to hundreds of journalists about important press calls on our behalf. Definers did encourage members of the press to look into the funding of ‘Freedom from Facebook,’ an anti-Facebook organisation. The intention was to demonstrate that it was not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but supported by a well-known critic of our company. To suggest that this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue.”
An official at Soros’ Open Society Foundations told the Times in its initial report that the organisations had supported groups that were associated with “Freedom from Facebook” – specifically an online racial justice organisation called “Colour of Change” and a progressive group founded by Soros’ son – but not “Freedom from Facebook” itself. They also said Open Society Foundations had not given out any grants to campaigns opposing Facebook.