Mark Zuckerberg says he didn't know Facebook hired a research firm that tried to discredit its critics by linking them to George Soros

Facebook/Mark ZuckerbergMark Zuckerberg feeds a cow during his 2017 tour of the US.
  • Mark Zuckerberg says he didn’t know that Facebook hired a opposition research firm that attempted to discredit critics of the company by linking them to George Soros.
  • George Soros, a wealthy Jewish financier and philanthropist, is the frequent target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
  • The work of Definers Public Affairs, the firm that pushed the narrative linking the groups to Soros, was exposed in a bombshell New York Times report.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters he didn’t know his company hired a opposition research firm that tried to discredit critics of Facebook by linking them to billionaire financier George Soros.

The work performed by Definers Public Affairs – exposed in a bombshell New York Times report on Thursday – has come under extreme criticism, with many arguing it feeds into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Soros, who is Jewish, and Jews more generally.

“Facebook has not only refused to effectively crack down on hate-spewing Nazis, The New York Times revealed it actually encouraged anti-Semitism by hiring degenerate right-wing propagandists to concoct conspiracies that tap into anti-Semitic biases,” tweeted Democratic senator Ron Wyden.

Facebook since said they were ending their relationship with Definers – and on a marathon 80-minute press call with reporters on Thursday, Zuckerberg insisted that he hadn’t previously been aware that his company worked with the organisation.

“I learned about this relationship when I read the New York Times piece yesterday,” the 34-year-old billionaire executive said. He refused to say who at Facebook was responsible for bringing the organisation on board: “Someone on our communications team must have hired them.”

The New York Times story is the latest crisis from Facebook, that has lurched from one crisis to another over the last year – including the spread of Russian misinformation and propaganda, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, its role spreading hate speech amid genocide in Myanmar, the dissemination of politicised fake news via WhatsApp in Brazil, a hack of around 30 million users’ personal data, and more. The report details how Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg reacted to the company’s mounting scandals, attempting to downplay attacks and smear critics.

In the story, Zuckerberg is portrayed in 2017 as largely out of touch with the company’s growing problems – spending time on a vanity tour of the United States while evidence mounted of Russian election meddling enabled by Facebook, and not taking part in critical decisions.

Zuckerberg’s statements on Thursday – that he was not aware of the communications firms Facebook was hiring to represent itself to the public, and the work they performed – will only reinforce that narrative.

The CEO said he has “tremendous respect for George Soros,” and defended the work Definers performed even though he made the decision to part ways with the firm.

“As soon as I read about this in the New York Times I got on the phone with our team, and we’re no longer working with this firm,” he said. “The bottom line about this is the intention was not to attack an individual, but to say a group [that said it was grass-roots] was not a spontaneous grass-roots effort … I have tremendous respect for George Soros.”

Zuckerberg also said that Sandberg, who ultimately oversees all communications for Facebook, didn’t know about the work the Definers was doing. “Sheryl was also not involved, she learned about this at the same time I did.” It’s not clear whether she knew that Facebook had hired the organisation, and a spokesperson did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for clarification.

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