Calls for congressional oversight
The head of billionaire George Soros’ foundation called for congressional oversight of Facebook, after the social media giant finally took some responsibility for hiring a PR firm to smear its critics as agents of Soros.
“So @facebook decides to drop a turkey on Thanksgiving eve, with admission that Definers was tasked by company leadership to target and smear George Soros because he publicly criticized their out of control business model. Sorry, but this needs independent, congressional oversight,” Open Society Foundations head Patrick Gaspard tweeted on Wednesday night.
Gaspard was responding to an admission by Facebook’s outgoing Head of Communications and Policy Elliot Schrage, who owned up top hiring a PR firm – Washington, DC-based Definers – to attack Facebook’s critics and label them agents of Soros, a billionaire and prominent liberal donor.
In a blog post, Schrage admitted that he tasked Definers with pushing the Soros angle, namely that the billionaire was funding the activist group ‘Freedom from Facebook.’
After learning that Soros did in fact fund some of the group’s members, Schrage said Definers “prepared documents and distributed these to the press to show that this was not simply a spontaneous grassroots movement.” Schrage maintained that Facebook did not ask Definers to create ‘fake news,’ despite a former employee telling NBC that Definers had its own “in-house fake news shop” to spread its message.
The relationship was revealed in an explosive New York Times report last week that accused Facebook’s senior leadership of mismanaging a multitude of scandals, from ‘Russian interference’ in the 2016 election to the Cambridge Analytica privacy debacle earlier this year.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg both denied any knowledge of the company’s hiring of Definers, despite an official statement describing the relationship between Facebook and Definers as “well known in the media.”
Soros’ associates have been relentless in calling for change at Facebook, even since before the New York Times’ story broke. In January, Soros himself called Facebook and other Silicon Valley tech “monopolies” a “menace” to society whose “days are numbered.” Last week, Michael Vachon, an adviser to the chair at Soros Fund Management, called on Facebook to undertake an audit of all of its lobbying and PR relationships.
Nor were they buying Zuckerberg’s protestations of innocence.
“I find it hard to believe that one would go after someone like George Soros…without some clearance at the highest levels,” Gaspard told CNN on Tuesday night.
Zuckerberg appears to be holding firm, though. In his own interview with CNN on Tuesday, the 34-year-old CEO issued his trademark style of meandering, deflective denial when host Laurie Segall asked if he knew anything about the affair.
“Well…uhh…I learned about this when I read the report as well…I don’t think this point was about a specific PR firm, it was about how we act. That’s why I think it’s not just important what we’re doing with this one firm, but that we go through and look at all of the different PR firms and folks we work with,” Zuckerberg replied.
After spending much of the year apologizing for one privacy screw-up after another, Zuckerberg is once again back in the spotlight. Despite falling stock prices, shareholder moves to oust him, and now Soros’ wealth and influence pushing against him, Zuckerberg was defiant.
Asked whether he’d ever step down as Facebook’s chairman – Zuckerberg is both chairman and CEO of the company – he replied “that’s not the plan.”
“There are certainly going to be issues that we need to work through over time,” Zuckerberg continued. “But I think that while we are doing that, we can’t lose sight of all of the really positive things that are happening here as well.”