Facebook is facing calls to conduct an external investigation into its own lobbying and PR activities by an aide to billionaire George Soros.
BuzzFeed reports that Michael Vachon, an advisor to the chairman at Soros Fund Management, made the call in a letter to friends and colleagues.
The call follows an explosive investigation, published yesterday by the New York Times based on interviews with more than 50 sources on the company, which paints an ugly picture of how Facebook’s leadership team responded to growing pressure over election interference, in the wake of the Kremlin ads scandal of 2016, including by engaging an external firm to lobby aggressively on its behalf.
The firm used smear tactics targeted at Soros, according to the NYT report, with the paper writing that: “A research document circulated by Definers [the PR firm engaged by Facebook] to reporters this summer, just a month after the House hearing, cast Mr. Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.”
Wikipedia describes Definers as “an American right leaning opposition research firm… [that] performs media monitoring services, conducts research using the Freedom of Information Act and also creates strategic communication to negatively influence the public image about individuals, firms, candidates and organizations who oppose their clients”.
Facebook has since responded to the NYT article, rejecting some of the report as inaccurate — and denying outright that it ever asked Definers to smear anyone on its behalf.
“The New York Times is wrong to suggest that we ever asked Definers to pay for or write articles on Facebook’s behalf – or to spread misinformation,” the company writes. “Our relationship with Definers was well known by the media – not least because they have on several occasions sent out invitations to hundreds of journalists about important press calls on our behalf.
“Definers did encourage members of the press to look into the funding of ‘Freedom from Facebook,’ an anti-Facebook organization. The intention was to demonstrate that it was not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but supported by a well-known critic of our company. To suggest that this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue.”
In a follow up report today the NYT says Facebook cut ties with the PR firm on Wednesday, after the publication of its article.
In his letter, Vachon describes it as “alarming that Facebook would engage in these unsavory tactics, apparently in response to George’s public criticism in Davos earlier this year of the company’s handling of hate speech and propaganda on its platform”.
“What else is Facebook up to? The company should hire an outside expert to do a thorough investigation of its lobbying and PR work and make the results public,” he adds.
We contacted Facebook for a response to Vachon’s call for an external investigation of its internal conduct. A company spokesman just directed us to its earlier response to the NYT article.
Facebook has recently faced calls for an external security and privacy audit from the European parliament in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal.
And calls for its CEO and founder to face up to international politicians’ questions over fake news and election interference. Although Zuckerberg has continued to decline to attend.
So the external pressures keep piling up…