UPDATED: Billionaire philanthropist George Soros is slamming Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg again — arguing that the social giant and its founder may be poised to give Donald Trump an unfair advantage in this year’s U.S. presidential election.
Facebook’s decision not to require fact-checking in political advertising has “flung the door open for false, manipulated, extreme and incendiary statements,” Soros wrote in an op-ed Friday in the New York Times.
Soros insinuated that there seems to be “an informal mutual assistance operation or agreement” between Trump and Facebook’s leadership. (Facebook has called that assertion false.) He alleged Zuckerberg’s motives in maintaining policies that benefit Trump are “in making money,” and he said Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg “should not be left in control of Facebook.”
Facebook, in a statement responding to Soros’ op-ed, said, “While we respect Mr. Soros’ right to voice his opinion, he’s wrong. The notion that we are aligned with any one political figure or party runs counter to our values and the facts. We continue making unprecedented investments to keep our platform safe, fight foreign interference in elections around the world, and combat misinformation.”
Soros, who currently has a net worth of $8.3 billion according to Forbes, is founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundations. He’s spoken out against Facebook before, calling the company and Google “a menace to society” in a January 2018 speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Others have criticized Facebook for its refusal to fact-check political ads, including Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Biden even suggested that Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act “immediately should be revoked” because Facebook “is propagating falsehoods they know to be false” — a suggestion that alarmed tech-policy observers, who said such a move would cause more problems than it solved.
Under Section 230, Facebook “can post deliberately misleading or false statements by candidates for public office and others, and take no responsibility for them,” Soros wrote in the Times essay. “The responsible approach is self-evident. Facebook is a publisher not just a neutral moderator or ‘platform.’ It should be held accountable for the content that appears on its site.” It’s not clear whether Soros was advocating for the repeal of Section 230.
Facebook has come under fire for running an ad bought on behalf of Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign that asserted without evidence that Biden gave the Ukrainian attorney general a $1 billion bribe to not investigate his son.
In his op-ed, Soros cited evidence about an alleged Facebook-Trump alliance, pointing to Zuckerberg’s meeting with Trump at the White House in September 2019 and Trump’s comments at the World Economic Forum on Jan. 22 in which the president said Zuckerberg “told me that I’m No. 1 in the world in Facebook” and that Zuckerberg has “done a hell of a job, when you think of it.”
Soros, a frequent subject of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, was targeted by crisis PR firm Definers as part of its work on behalf of Facebook. Definers, founded by Republican political strategists, launched a campaign linking anti-Facebook advocacy group Freedom From Facebook to Soros. Freedom From Facebook was formed by a coalition of liberal organizations, including Open Markets Institute, whose backers include Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
Both Zuckerberg and Sandberg denied having any knowledge about Facebook’s hiring of Definers before it was revealed in a 2018 New York Times report; subsequently, outgoing comms exec Elliot Schrage took the blame for contracting with Definers.
This week, Facebook reported a quarterly record $21.08 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2019, up 25% year over year, and announced that its core app now reaches 2.5 billion users each month. In discussing the earnings, Zuckerberg said the company is “very focused on election integrity.” He admitted that Facebook was “behind in 2016,” when Russian operatives used the service to spread misinformation, but that it had made significant strides since then.
“There’s still going to be debates about what kinds of political speech should be allowed, especially as the 2020 elections heat up, but by any objective measures, our efforts in election integrity have made a lot of progress,” Zuckerberg told analysts on the Jan. 29 call.