Following reports that Facebook was involved with what amounted to a factually distorted smear campaign against philanthropist and Holocaust survivor George Soros, BuzzFeed News has obtained one of the documents used by the opposition research firm Definers Public Affairs to disseminate that narrative to reporters.
BuzzFeed News reported that the document was distributed to journalists in the fall, adding that it’s one of at least two on Soros that were pulled together after he publicly criticized Facebook earlier this year. The document conflated Soros with the Freedom From Facebook campaign through a series of cherry-picked news clippings and states in all caps that “Soros is opposed to Facebook.” Per BuzzFeed News:
“Recently, a number of progressive groups came together to form the Freedom From Facebook campaign which has a six-figure ad budget,” the document reads. “It is not clear who is providing the large amount of funding for the campaign or what their motive is. At least four of the groups in the coalition receive funding or are aligned with George Soros who has publicly criticized Facebook. Neither Freedom From Facebook nor Open Markets Institute have answered questions about who is funding this campaign.”
The document falls in line with the narrative used by the company’s apparent fall guy, Facebook’s already outgoing Head of Communications and Policy Elliot Schrage, in a memo shared on November 21. In it, Schrage doubled down on the company’s defense of its opposition campaign by misleadingly stating that Soros was funding members of the Freedom From Facebook effort.
“[W]hen the ‘Freedom from Facebook’ campaign emerged as a so-called grassroots coalition, the team asked Definers to help understand the groups behind them,” Schrage wrote. “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.”
Soros’ Open Society Foundations has said that the billionaire’s funding of the civil rights advocacy group Color of Change, which was involved with the campaign, was totally unrelated to Freedom From Facebook.
The New York Times reported last week that Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg requested information on Soros following his comments at the World Economic Forum in January, when he referred to Facebook as a “menace.” In response, the Times said, Sandberg “told subordinates to examine why Mr. Soros had criticized the tech companies and whether he stood to gain financially from the attacks.” The company responded to the Times report by claiming that research into Soros was “already underway when Sheryl sent an email asking if Mr. Soros had shorted Facebook’s stock.”
Sandberg initially attempted to distance herself from the decision to hire Definers by claiming that she didn’t know about it. However, in the memo shared by Facebook the day before Thanksgiving in what appeared to be an attempt to bury it, Sandberg wrote: “Some of [Definers’] work was incorporated into materials presented to me and I received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced.”
In spite of its obvious attempts to make this whole thing go away, Facebook’s public relations issues sure keep getting worse.