After the New York Times published a bombshell report detailing Facebook's efforts to smear its critics by deploying anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that are commonly spread right-wing extremists, Color of Change—the online racial justice organization that Facebook attempted to discredit as a "puppet" of billionaire philanthropist George Soros—issued a scathing statement on Thursday denouncing the tech giant for "using anti-Semitism as a crowbar to kneecap a black-led organization working to hold them accountable."
"By suggesting to reporters that Color Of Change is acting as the puppet of Mr. Soros merely because he is one of our many funders, they have given oxygen to the worst anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the white nationalist Trump base."
—Rashad Robinson, Color of Change"Facebook is violating its most fundamental mission of building human connection, as well as the trust placed in it by billions of people, by advancing extremist far-right conspiracy theories that are aimed at denigrating Jews and belittling people of color," said Color of Change president Rashad Robinson. "It is reprehensible, it is dangerous, and they should be ashamed."
While Robinson notes that Color of Change has worked with Facebook on a variety of civil rights issues in the past, the group has also been sharply critical of the social media behemoth, accusing it of placing "profit over the safety and privacy of millions of Americans, especially black people, Muslims, and other vulnerable groups."
According to the Times, Facebook used the Republican public relations firm Definers Public Affairs to "explore the financial connections between Mr. Soros' family or philanthropies" and Color of Change in an attempt to discredit the group's legitimate criticism of the social media giant as Soros-fueled propaganda.
"Facebook's response to our campaign, which challenged them to improve their platform and create safe conditions for black people and other marginalized groups, was to fan the flames of anti-Semitism," Robinson said.
.@facebook’s response to us challenging them 2 create safe conditions 4 Black ppl & marginalized groups on their platform? Fanning the flames of anti-Semitism resulting in a pipe bomb on George Soros’ doorstep & campaigning against us using alt right media https://t.co/QUFK4UszbJ
— ColorOfChange.org (@ColorOfChange) November 15, 2018
"By suggesting to reporters that Color of Change is acting as the puppet of Mr. Soros merely because he is one of our many funders," Robinson continued, "they have given oxygen to the worst anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the white nationalist Trump base. Those theories aim to not only dehumanize Jews, but also seek to deny legitimacy to progressive social movements led by people of color, by suggesting we have no agenda of our own."
Hours after the meticulously detailed Times report was published, Facebook cut ties with Definers Public Affairs—but Color of Change said the company must go much further.
In addition to acknowledging and apologizing for its egregious behavior, Color of Change demanded that Facebook:
- Immediately fire [vice president for corporate public policy] Joel Kaplan for his role in this scheme and the PR firms Facebook worked with to delegitimize Color Of Change and our partners.
- Release all of the opposition research documents they compiled on Color Of Change and our allies so that we can understand the full extent Facebook went to undermine civil rights work.
- Release the data on voter suppression attempts on the platform. In an October 15th statement, Facebook announced changes about voter suppression and voter manipulation. Given the revelations about how the company handled 2016 election interference, a full and public disclosure is required. If the company does not comply, House Democrats should subpoena the records.
- Commit to a public release of the civil rights audit including meaningful steps to address the harms raised.
"Facebook has become part of the same ecosystem that fed the fever dreams of Cesar Sayoc, accused of targeting Soros and others with pipe bombs, and Robert Bowers, the man who massacred 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue," Robinson concluded. "The recent New York Times story shows that while we were operating in good faith trying to protect our communities, they were stooping lower than we’d ever imagined... Facebook now must make amends."