Facebook Inc. admitted Wednesday that it hired a right-wing-oriented public relations firm to investigate billionaire George Soros and some of the company’s competitors, following an expose that said as much published by the New York Times this month.
Facebook’s head of communication and policy, Elliot Schrage, discussed in a blog post why Facebook had hired Republican-affiliated research firm Definers Public Affairs. He started by saying one of the reasons was the flak the company was taking during numerous scandals and how other big tech and media were asking for more regulation of the social media giant.
“We have asked several people and the Definers to do what public relations firms typically do to support a company — sending us press clippings, conducting research, writing messaging documents, and reaching out to reporters,” wrote Schrage.
But then, Schrage wrote, after Jewish billionaire George Soros called Facebook a “menace to society,” Definers was asked to investigate what had rankled Soros. The investigation revealed that Soros was partly funding anti-Facebook “grassroots” movements that may have not been so grassroots.
Schrage went on to say that Definers was not asked to create “fake news” regarding Facebook’s competitors, but the company had been asked to “positively distinguish us from competitors.” Schrage takes the fall, saying he was responsible for what happened. “The system which has been failed here and I’m sorry I let you all down,” he said.
Definers said on its website that it was not hired as an “opposition research firm” and there was no such thing as a smear campaign aimed at Soros or rival companies. “Facebook sits at the center of some of the most contentious public debates of our day, so we understand why this work is of interest,” Definers said. “But we hope that this statement from Facebook will help reset the conversation in fact.”
It seems the many contentious debates and scandals are sitting heavy on the shoulders of Mark Zuckerberg, with many calling for him to step down. In an interview Wednesday, he told CNN that Facebook was still a “force for good” and he wasn’t going anywhere.
Zuckerberg said that although some of the criticisms aimed at Facebook have been fair, he also said that there is a “bigger picture” and some of the reports have been somewhat skewed. In fact, it was leaked last week that he allegedly told fellow employees that he thought the coverage had been “bullshit.”
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg won’t be going anywhere either. Zuckerberg said he was proud of their working relationship and he hoped it would continue for “decades more to come.” He reiterated something he has said repeatedly: that connecting the world was, for the most part, a positive thing. His critics will likely remain skeptical.