When the New York Times published its insider report detailing how Facebook executives had hired the Republic PR firm Definers, known for it dirty tricks campaigns, and then directed it to spread lies linking Facebook's critics to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that George Soros secretly directs political campaigns in the US and abroad, Facebook lied and said that the New York Times was wrong.
But on Thanksgiving eve, after the majority of newsrooms had shut down for the night and while everyone's attention was elsewhere, Facebook quietly admitted that the Times had been right, with Facebook communications and policy chief Elliot Schrage, admitting that he had personally hired Definers and that the company had directed them to investigate and publish about Soros. Schrage is now leaving Facebook, and claims that the decision to do so pre-dated the scandal.
Here is Schrage's memo. In it, he reveals that Facebook hired Definers in 2017 as part of its charm-offensive to court the far right — who had become obsessed with the idea that Facebook's algorithms downranked right-wing news and conspiracy theories — by hiring PR firms associated with right-wing causes.
Did we ask them to do work on George Soros?
Yes. In January 2018, investor and philanthropist George Soros attacked Facebook in a speech at Davos, calling us a "menace to society." We had not heard such criticism from him before and wanted to determine if he had any financial motivation. Definers researched this using public information.
Later, when the "Freedom from Facebook" campaign emerged as a so-called grassroots coalition, the team asked Definers to help understand the groups behind them. 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.
Did we ask them to do work on our competitors?
Yes. As I indicated above, Definers helped us respond to unfair claims where Facebook was been singled out for criticism. They also helped positively distinguish us from competitors.
On Thanksgiving Eve, Facebook Acknowledges Details of Times Investigation [Nellie Bowles and Zach Wichter/New York Times]