The Open Society Foundations (OSF) has demanded that Facebook apologize to its founder and primary donor, George Soros, after the tech giant reportedly hired political operatives who revealed his connections to digital rights activists.
According to a recent report by The New York Times, the social media network “employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit” its critics in part by linking them to Soros, who donated $18 billion to his international grant-making foundation last year to drive progressive change. The Times described Soros as “a longtime boogeyman to mainstream conservatives and the target of intense anti-Semitic smears on the far right.”
“This was what one would call a black ops, false flag operation,” said OSF President Patrick Gaspard on a recent episode of NPR’s Morning Edition, referring to a term used to describe covert political tactics. “Facebook attempted to give the impression that these critics of their way of operating were somehow being orchestrated towards this criticism by the founder/chairman of the Open Society Foundations, George Soros.”
“We are demanding, insisting on a public apology from Facebook, not just to George Soros and the Open Society Foundations, but to all of those who are practicing their First Amendment rights,” he continued.
The Times report said the consulting company, Definers Public Affairs, “pressed reporters to explore the financial connections” between Soros and several organizations advocating for tighter government regulation of Facebook. It also referenced a document distributed by the firm that “cast Mr. Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.”
Tim Miller, a former spokesman for Jeb Bush who now works for Definers, posted on Twitter: “Definers shared a narrow document about an anti-Facebook group’s funding. It was entirely factual, as Open Markets organizers have acknowledged they get funding from Soros. I have defended Soros from smears and conspiracies that weren’t based in fact.”
Gaspard lashed out at Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in an open letter, blaming the platform for spreading “hateful blatantly false and Anti-Semitic information” that has “contributed to death threats and the delivery of a pipe bomb to Mr. Soros’ home.” However, he did not cite any specific misinformation or objectionable content attributed to Definers.
“We’re no longer working with (Definers) but at the time, they were trying to show that some of the activity against us that appeared to be grassroots also had major organizations behind them,” Sandberg posted on Facebook. “I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have. I have great respect for George Soros – and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent.”
Definers was also accused of using staff members to write hit pieces disguised as news coverage. Facebook officials said the company never asked Definers to write articles on its behalf or to promote fake news.
“Definers did encourage members of the press to look into the funding of ‘Freedom from Facebook,’ an anti-Facebook organization,” the social media network said in a statement. “The intention was to demonstrate that it was not simply a grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but supported by a well-known critic of our company. To suggest that was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue.”
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.