WASHINGTON — Amid widespread anger over its failure to thwart Russian-linked accounts from using its platform to meddle in the 2016 election, Facebook hired a GOP opposition research firm to discredit the activists leading the charge against it, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
That firm then went and said there was one man, in particular, who was behind protests against the social media giant: The billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros.
According to the report, Facebook undertook some crisis management in 2017 by recruiting Definers Public Affairs, a Washington area-based consultancy, to help it recover from the public’s outrage over the presidential election. Definers is comprised of former Republican operatives who use political tactics and apply them to private corporations.
During the 2016 election, the Kremlin spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on fake accounts that were used to damage the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and boost her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump.
Using the social media platform — which has connected more than 2.2 billion people globally — to influence the American electorate was a key part of Russia’s strategy to help elect Trump. Critics claim that Facebook engineers saw warning signs about this early on and did nothing about it.
As fury over the episode was mounting — and Congressional probes were initiated — Facebook hired Definers in October 2017 to help alleviate the controversy. The firm’s method of trying to invalidate criticism against Facebook was linking its critics to Soros.
“Facebook … used Definers to take on bigger opponents, such as Mr. Soros, a longtime boogeyman to mainstream conservatives and the target of intense anti-Semitic smears on the far right,” the New York Times said in its report. “A research document circulated by Definers to reporters this summer … cast Mr. Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.”
Soros, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, has often been falsely depicted as a puppet-master behind protest movements. Most recently, US President Donald Trump suggested he was paying those who descended on Capitol Hill to demonstrate against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
He has also been accused by far-right extremists of being behind the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights watchdog, has said that conspiracy theories about Soros are one of the most consistent expressions of anti-Semitism online.
Yet Soros has often been a fierce critic of Facebook. The Times described him as a “natural target” for the social media company founded by Mark Zuckerberg, who is Jewish.
In a speech at the World Economic Forum in January, he had attacked Facebook and Google, describing them as “a monopolist ‘menace’ with ‘neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions,'” according to The Times.
Estimated to be worth roughly $8 billion, Soros is a deeply active in liberal causes. He is one of the biggest funders of Democratic candidates and donates generously to left-wing advocacy groups like J Street
The New York Times said it was fairly common for large hedge fund managers to hire firms like Definers, but it’s rarer for large tech companies.
A former spokesman for Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, Tim Miller, who then worked for Definers has said that the firm’s goal when working with tech companies should be to “have positive content pushed out about your company and negative content that’s being pushed out about your competitor.”