Facebook hired PR firm to blame George Soros for rise of groups challenging tech giant: report

Facebook, already under scrutiny over security and other mishaps, came under added fire on Wednesday over a report suggesting its private voice and  public actions are not in sync.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that while chief executive Mark Zuckerberg "conducted a public apology tour in the last year," chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg "has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation."

According to the report, Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm, Definers Public Affairs, to "discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.”

Soros has been a source of controversy for decades. Soros, who made his fortune in hedge funds, has donated heavily to liberal causes and is vilified on the right. He is also the subject of many unfounded conspiracy theories. Recently, conservative critics have, without evidence, accused him of secretly financing a caravan of Central American migrants to make their way north toward Mexico and the U.S. Others have falsely accused the 88-year-old of being a Nazi collaborator during World War II, when he was a child in Hungary. Activists frequently post the addresses of homes he owns in Westchester County, north of New York City, on social media sometimes accompanied by ill wishes.

Freedom From Facebook, which calls itself a diverse group of organizations sharing deep concerns about Facebook’s extraordinary power over our lives and democracy, was astonished by the Times report.

“If anyone knows about spreading vile propaganda it’s Facebook and if they are hiring Republican political operatives to launch false attacks against the Freedom From Facebook coalition, clearly they are concerned about us and, judging by their stock price and employee morale, they should be,” Freedom From Facebook co-chair Sarah Miller said to Fox News in a statement following the Times report. “But nothing more perfectly summarizes our policy case — that nothing will change at Facebook unless the FTC and Congress act — than everything Facebook has done over the past year, as laid out in this New York Times piece.”

Social media companies have been under scrutiny following allegations that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica used data from tens of millions of Facebook accounts to profile voters and help President Trump's 2016 election campaign. News that the consultancy had used data from tens of millions of Facebook accounts to profile voters ignited a global scandal on data rights.

These bombshells have created a broad inquiry into how political parties, data companies and social media platforms use personal information to target voters during political campaigns.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.