Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg was directly involved in the company’s decision to seek information on billionaire philanthropist and vocal Facebook critic George Soros, the New York Times reported Thursday.
Citing people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to avoid retaliation, the Times reported that Sandberg specifically requested information on Soros’ financial interests. The request reportedly followed Soros’ criticism of the social media platform during the World Economic Forum in January after he referred to Facebook as a “menace.” Per the Times:
Ms. Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, asked for the information in an email in January to senior communications and policy executives. The email came within days of a blistering speech Mr. Soros delivered that month at the World Economic Forum, attacking Facebook and Google as a “menace” to society and calling for the companies to be regulated.
Ms. Sandberg, who was at the forum — but was not present for Mr. Soros’s speech, according to a person who attended it — told subordinates to examine why Mr. Soros had criticized the tech companies and whether he stood to gain financially from the attacks. At the time, Facebook was under growing scrutiny for the role its platform had played in disseminating Russian propaganda and fomenting campaigns of hatred in Myanmar and other countries.
BuzzFeed News reported Thursday that such an email by Sandberg was also described to the outlet. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the company “researched potential motivations” of Soros following his comments in January but stopped short of admitting to pursuing any kind of subsequent attack on the billionaire.
“Mr. Soros is a prominent investor and we looked into his investments and trading activity related to Facebook,” a spokesperson told the outlet. “That research was already underway when Sheryl sent an email asking if Mr. Soros had shorted Facebook’s stock.”
Following the publication of the New York Times report about the company’s decision to hire political research firm Definers in 2017 to conduct opposition research on its critics, Sandberg initially denied having any knowledge of the hire. But last week, in a conveniently timed memo that arrived the evening before Thanksgiving, Sandberg claimed that information about the firm may have been contained in materials that “crossed [her] desk.”
In the memo last week, the company’s fall guy—Facebook’s Head of Communications and Policy Elliot Schrage—shouldered the blame for the hire of Definers as well as for ensuing fallout in the wake of the Times report.
“Responsibility for these decisions rests with leadership of the Communications team. That’s me,” he said. “Mark [Zuckerberg] and Sheryl relied on me to manage this without controversy.”
But new reports again call into question the motivations and involvement of Facebook’s second in command. Seemingly by the day, more information appears to suggest that company heads who have denied any knowledge of Facebook’s attacks on its critics may know more than they’re letting on.