Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

 Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 28, 2011. (Photo: Jolanda Flubacher/WEF/cc)

In Thanksgiving Eve News Dump, Facebook Admits Hiring GOP Operatives to Dig Up Dirt on Critics—Including George Soros

"The general public may miss these holiday news dumps, but the reporters and media covering the company will remember. And it gives us less reason to take anything Facebook says the first time around at face value."

Jessica Corbett

On the eve of Thanksgiving, in what many called a classic "news dump," Facebook confirmed reports that it hired a Republican-affiliated opposition research firm to dig up dirt on critics—most notably, billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who is Jewish and often the target of right-wing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

In a blog post, Elliot Schrage, the tech giant's outgoing head of communications and policy, detailed Facebook's relationship with Definers, the public relations firm. The explanation came in response to an explosive New York Times report that, in the week since it was published, has elicited outrage over Facebook's behavior and impassioned demands for reform to increase accountability.

Noting that Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who is ultimately responsible for the company's communications team, added a statement to the end of Schrage's post, Nick Confessore, one of the Times reporters who wrote the initial piece, tweeted, "On Thanksgiving eve, Fb dumps the internal memo version of a hostage video."

Schrage claimed that Facebook asked Definers "to determine if [Soros] had any financial motivation" when he characterized the company as a "menace to society" in a public speech. "Some of this work is being characterized as opposition research," he acknowledged, "but I believe it would be irresponsible and unprofessional for us not to understand the backgrounds and potential conflicts of interest of our critics."

As his Q&A-style post outlined:

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.

Definers helped us respond to unfair claims where Facebook was been singled out for criticism. They also helped positively distinguish us from competitors.

Responding to the question, "Did we ask them to distribute or create fake news?" Schrage simply wrote, "No." He also said the company is conducting a review of its relationships with communications consultants. "It's not about Definers. It is about us, not them," he emphasized, while falling on the sword himself.

"Responsibility for these decisions rests with leadership of the communications team. That's me," he wrote. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg "relied on me to manage this without controversy... I built a management system that relies on the teams to escalate issues if they are uncomfortable about any project... That system failed here and I'm sorry I let you all down. I regret my own failure here."

Sandberg, in her statement, thanked Schrage for "sharing" the explanation, said she didn't recall a firm called Definers when she read the Times piece last week, and claimed "that it was never anyone's intention to play into an anti-Semitic narrative against Mr. Soros or anyone else," acknowledging that she is also Jewish.

"Facebook confirmed every part of NYT story—including their attempt to malign FB critics as Soros puppets—because they had no choice," concluded The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald. "They not only dumped it for Thanksgiving but got their outgoing communications director to take all blame while Sheryl Sandberg pretended to."

BuzzFeed News tech reporter Ryan Mac suggested that while the public may miss the admission due to the holiday, the company's handling of the report could have a long-term impact on how the media covers Facebook.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

World Leaders Must Commit to End Covid-19 Patents: Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus

Decrying the "brutally unequal global rollout of Covid-19 vaccines," Yunus wrote that "there is still time for world leaders to say never again."

Andrea Germanos ·

Addressing Crisis 'Existentially Imperiling' Its People, Vanuatu Declares Climate Emergency

"We are in danger now, not just in the future," said Prime Minister Bob Loughman.

Andrea Germanos ·

'Grotesque': Disgust as Trump Reads Names of Uvalde Victims at NRA Convention

Former President Donald Trump and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas were among those pushing a "good guys with guns" theory that "utterly failed" the latest victims of a mass shooting.

Andrea Germanos ·

Wall Street-Funded Democrat PAC to Spend $1 Million in Bid to Unseat Tlaib: Report

"Imagine spending $1 million to oust Rashida Tlaib instead of organizing in Detroit to make sure Michigan goes blue," quipped one progressive group.

Brett Wilkins ·

Parents Demand Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty 'For the Sake of the Children'

"We cannot remain silent as the fossil fuel industry and world leaders rob our children of a livable future," parents from 32 nations wrote in an open letter.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo