BuzzFeed News obtained a document Facebook commissioned as research on billionaire George Soros following critical comments the billionaire investor made at the World Economic Forum earlier this year. This report, which you can read below, is at the center of a controversy surrounding Facebook’s previous relationship with a public relations firm that brought Beltway political tactics to the social networking giant.
The document, which is largely innocuous, was assembled by Definers Public Affairs, which was contracted by Facebook for communications consulting and opposition research on competitors and critics, including Soros. It is one of at least two files prepared after Soros appeared onstage in Davos, Switzerland, in January and said Facebook and Google were a “menace” to the world and that the “internet monopolies” did not have the will or inclination to protect society.
As BuzzFeed News reported on Thursday, those comments alarmed Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who sent an email to a staffer asking them to determine whether Soros, an 88-year-old billionaire investor and philanthropist, had any financial interests related to Facebook. While it is not unusual for companies to conduct research on perceived opponents, and these kinds of documents are fairly standard practice in political circles, they typically aren’t intended for public consumption or meant to be traced back to their sponsors.
Facebook declined to comment for this story.
The current Facebook scandal, triggered by a New York Times story last month that highlighted the company’s internal strife and relationship with a seasoned opposition research firm, threatens to engulf key executives after Facebook’s initial failure to explain what its top two leaders, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg, knew about Definers and when they knew it. Last month, amid continuing fallout from the Times story, outgoing communications and policy head Elliot Schrage published a note taking responsibility for the Soros research and attributing the reason for the work to the investor’s comments at Davos.
“We researched potential motivations behind George Soros’s criticism of Facebook in January 2018,” a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News on Thursday. “Mr. Soros is a prominent investor and we looked into his investments and trading activity related to Facebook. That research was already underway when Sheryl sent an email asking if Mr. Soros had shorted Facebook’s stock.”
In the document distributed to reporters in the fall and obtained by BuzzFeed News, Definers highlights Soros’s possible ties to left-leaning advocacy groups that had been critical of Facebook.
“Recently, a number of progressive groups came together to form the Freedom From Facebook campaign which has a six-figure ad budget,” the document reads. “It is not clear who is providing the large amount of funding for the campaign or what their motive is. At least four of the groups in the coalition receive funding or are aligned with George Soros who has publicly criticized Facebook. Neither Freedom From Facebook nor Open Markets Institute have answered questions about who is funding this campaign.”
The document includes headlines and excerpts taken from publicly accessible information including news clippings and blog posts. While it lacks a coherent message, the excerpts and accompanying links were organized under categories such as “GEORGE SOROS CONNECTION.” There is at least one other, longer Definers document involving Soros, according to multiple sources.
Since the publication of the Times’ story, Eddie Vale, a spokesperson and consultant for Freedom From Facebook, said that no money from Soros directly or indirectly had been used to fund the coalition’s work. Axios has also since tracked down the original funder of Freedom From Facebook, identifying that person as Pennsylvania philanthropist and former hedge fund executive David Magerman.
“It’s obvious, yet again, no one can believe their revolving explanations until they release all the emails and research publicly,” Vale told BuzzFeed News on Saturday.
A spokesperson for Soros did not immediately return BuzzFeed News’ request for comment. Matt Stoller, policy director at Open Markets Institute, said that it’s been publicly reported that Open Markets receives money from Soros, but denied any knowledge of Soros funding Freedom From Facebook. BuzzFeed News has reached out to the other organizations mentioned in the document as well, and will update this post should they reply.
“As Facebook has already indicated, the work we do for our clients is always at their request, including this document,” a Definers spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
The research Definers conducted for Facebook on Soros has never been published before. You can read the document below.