Facebook ended its relationship with Definers, a public-affairs firm that offered political-style “opposition research,” and which told reporters to investigate a link between anti-Facebook activists and philanthropist and financier George Soros.
Soros, who funds foundations for democratic activism and other causes, is a frequent target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in America and abroad.
In a media briefing on Nov. 15, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he was unaware of tactics used by Definers until reading a New York Times story.
A top Soros advisor, Michael Vachon, called on Facebook to commission an outside, independent investigation into its lobbying and PR work, according to a letter obtained by Buzzfeed.
The New York Times first reported on Nov. 14, in a larger story about Facebook’s tactics in pushing back against political crisis, that Definers had circulated a research document that suggested reporters look into financial connections between Soros and an array of anti-Facebook activism by multiple groups, including Color of Change and a group founded by Soros’s son.
Soros’s Open Society Foundation told the Times that while it had provided some support to a few of the groups mentioned, it didn’t issue grants for anti-Facebook campaigns. Color of Change receives funding from multiple sources, including a foundation run by Facebook’s co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.
Facebook confirmed via its news blog that it had “ended our contract” with Definers, but didn’t provide a reason. Facebook and Definers didn’t reply to Fortune‘s request for comment.
Definers told the Times in a statement that its document on funding sources “was entirely factual and based on public records.” Tim Miller, head of Definers’s Silicon Valley office, tweeted a similar response, and noted, “I have defended Soros from smears & conspiracies that weren’t based in fact.” Crooked Media, a progressive media network that has published commentary from Miller, has suspended its relationship with him pending more information.
Later on Nov. 14, the foundation’s president, Patrick Gaspard, posted an open letter to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, condemning what he had learned from the Times reporting, noting that the “concerted right-effort the world over to demonize Mr. Soros and his foundations” has led to death threats and a recent delivery of a pipe bomb to Soros’s home. “Your methods threaten the very values underpinning our democracy,” he wrote.
Color of Change’s executive director told the Guardian that the attempt to paint his group as paid by Soros was “outrageous and concerning.”
A reporter at the right-wing news outlet Daily Caller, Joe Simonson, tweeted following the Times story that he had been contacted by Definers, and that “the PR guy did keep bringing up Soros… Itwe were encouraged to bring up Soros/’Soros tactics’.”