A consulting firm hired by Facebook to deal with the fallout over Russian propaganda on its platform resorted to linking critics of the social media giant to George Soros, the New York Times reported Wednesday as part of a massive expose on Facebook’s crisis response.
The consulting firm in question, D.C.-based Definers, specializes in crisis response and opposition research. It was hired in October of 2017 by Facebook to deal with a growing backlash against the company’s slow response to Russia’s election interference as well as the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
One of the groups rising to prominence during that time was “Freedom From Facebook,” a coalition of progressive groups including MoveOn and Demand Progress that has been pushing for the government to break up the social media giant. This summer, Definers reportedly circulated a paper linking the group to George Soros, a frequent bogeyman of the far right, who has been the target of numerous anti-semitic conspiracy theories.
One of the outlets approached with this angle was the far-right online magazine The Daily Caller, according to Daily Caller writer Joe Gabriel Simonson. “Can def confirm being contacted,” Simonson wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “The PR guy did keep bringing up Soros. It was odd and we didn’t end up going with that angle.”
I specifically remember when @peterjhasson and I wrote this story https://t.co/TtPVCPpCt5 we were encouraged to bring up Soros/ “Soros tactics”. It was odd and we didn’t end up going with that angle.
— Joe Gabriel Simonson (@SaysSimonson) November 14, 2018
Definers also operated its own online magazine, dubbed NTK Network, which was used to attack some of Facebook’s competitors, and play down the link between Russia and the social network, according to the New York Times.
The Times’ story is reportedly based on interviews with dozens of sources, and laid out in detail how the company stalled in its response to the crisis, at times toning down blog posts and omitting mentions of Russia altogether. The company also reportedly threw its support behind a bill meant to fight sex trafficking that had been criticized by many other tech companies as overly broad to score points with conservative politicians.
However, the smear tactics reportedly used by Definers on behalf of Facebook stand out, especially since they seemed to be designed to spread the very kind of misinformation and conspiracy theories that Facebook publicly vowed to fight.
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to questions on whether it would continue to work with Definers Wednesday afternoon. Definers didn’t respond to a request for comment.