'Deeply misguided and dangerous': George Soros group slams Facebook as a threat to democracy in open letter to Sheryl Sandberg

  • Facebook, as part of an effort to boost its image this summer, hired Republican-linked PR firm Definers Public Affairs in an attempt to blame the liberal billionaire George Soros for the rise of anti-Facebook groups, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.
  • At Facebook’s request, Definers Public Affairs reportedly tried to find financial connections linking Soros to activists groups critical of Facebook, including Freedom from Facebook.
  • In response to the report, Soros’ Open Society Foundations sent out an open letter to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg that accused the company of “disseminating vile propaganda” that threatens the values “underpinning our democracy.”
  • Soros has been vocal in his criticism of Facebook and other social-media companies in the past, accusing them of monopolizing control of information and access to data.

George Soros’ philanthropy group has called on Facebook and Sheryl Sandberg to “remediate the damage done” after a New York Times report revealed the company’s efforts to link Soros to the rise of anti-Facebook groups that have cropped up following the company’s many scandals over the past two years.

The open letter, written by Patrick Gaspard, president of Soros’ Open Society Foundations, accused Facebook of “vile propaganda” and “deeply misguided and dangerous” behaviour.

“Your methods threaten the very values underpinning our democracy,” Gaspard writes in the letter. “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.”

The Times reports that Facebook hired the Republican-linked PR firm, Definers Public Affairs, in an effort to quietly combat widespread criticism of Facebook in the wake of its numerous scandals.

The PR firm, known for its use of political public-relations strategies, such as conducting opposition research on subjects, reportedly reached out to journalists at Facebook’s request to push the narrative that George Soros may have been behind the rise of anti-Facebook groups.

Facebook reportedly also used the group to push anti-Google and anti-Apple research to journalists in an effort to shift the spotlight away from Facebook as scandal after scandal cast the social media in negative light.

Read more: Facebook cut ties with Definers, the PR firm that reportedly helped it blame George Soros for the anti-Facebook movement

The letter from Soros’ foundation was sent out Wednesday night after the Times story was published.

Gaspard wrote the note to Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, whom he’d asked to meet with so that the social-media platform could “remediate the damage done.”

Soros, a Hungarian-born Jew, Holocaust survivor, and prominent liberal donor that has been the focus of far-right conspiracy theories with anti-Semitic overtones, has also been a vocal critic of Facebook and other social-media platforms.

In a speech at the World Economic Forum in January, Soros accused major internet companies, notably Facebook and Google, of becoming “ever more powerful monopolies” that were using their dominance of the market for “nefarious” purposes.

“This has far-reaching adverse consequences on the functioning of democracy, particularly on the integrity of elections,” Soros said in his remarks. “They claim they are merely distributing information. But the fact that they are near- monopoly distributors makes them public utilities and should subject them to more stringent regulations.”

Read the full letter that Gaspard sent to Sandberg in response to the Times piece:

Dear Ms. 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. 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 behaviour 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 offence 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.

I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss this matter with you in person, and to hear what steps you might take to help remediate the damage done by this deeply misguided-and dangerous-effort carried out at Facebook’s behest.

Sincerely,

Patrick Gaspard

President

Open Society Foundations

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