Facebook hired a PR firm that attempted to discredit the company’s critics by claiming they were agents of billionaire George Soros, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
Soros is a Jewish philanthropist who is the frequent subject of antisemitic conspiracy theories. At the same time, the social media company urged the Anti-Defamation League to object to a cartoon used by anti-Facebook protesters over its resemblance to antisemitic tropes.
News of Facebook’s aggressive attempts to undermine critics came in a damning report by the Times, detailing how Facebook executives have struggled to manage the numerous and severe challenges confronting the company, all while lashing out at critics and perceived enemies.
The details are disturbing:
Amid growing pressure from lawmakers over its role in Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Facebook increasingly turned to Definers Public Affairs, a Washington DC based political consultancy founded by Republican operatives and specializing in opposition research, according to the report.
One of Definers’ tactics was to publish dozens of negative articles about other tech companies, including Google and Apple, in order to try to distract attention from Facebook’s public relations woes. Definers published the content on NTKNetwork.com, a website that looks like a news site but is actually run by the PR firm. The narratives pushed on NTK Network were often picked up by conservative sites such as Breitbart.
Another tactic was to cast Soros as the driving force behind groups critical of Facebook. The firm circulated a research document connecting Soros to “a broad anti-Facebook movement”, the Times reported, and pressed reporters to look into financial links between Soros and groups such as Freedom from Facebook and Color of Change.
Soros, who was born in Hungary in 1930 and made a vast fortune as an investor, is a major funder of liberal and pro-democratic causes. He has long been the target of antisemitic attacks from the rightwing fringes, but such conspiracy mongering has been increasingly adopted by mainstream Republicans.
The anti-Soros drumbeat reached something of a fever pitch in the weeks before the midterm elections, as conservative politicians and news outlets advanced baseless allegations that he was behind a caravan of Central American migrants travelling through Mexico. Soros was one of the targets of a rash of mail bombs that were sent to Democratic politicians in October.
You get the sense that nerds have NO IDEA about the real world, and in particular, politics, and MORE in particular, the right wing media lie machine. It’s great that this is coming out now, and one hopes they will clean up their act.