Facebook’s PR and lobbying work ‘should be independently reviewed’

Facebook, Gadgets


(Sean Dempsey/PA)
George Soros (Sean Dempsey/PA)

The head of the foundation created by philanthropist George Soros has called for an independent review into Facebook’s lobbying practices amid allegations the site used a PR firm to undermine its critics.

A New York Times report claimed Facebook used Definers to smear critics of the social network by suggesting not-for-profit anti-Facebook groups were, in fact, being bankrolled by the billionaire investor.

Mr Soros, who is Jewish, has been the subject of many unfounded online conspiracy theories, including some with an anti-Semitic tone.

The president of Mr Soros’ Open Society Foundations, Patrick Gaspard, called Facebook’s actions “astonishing” in a letter to the firm’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

“It’s been disappointing to see how you have failed to monitor hate and misinformation on Facebook’s platform,” he wrote.

“To now learn that you are active in promoting these distortions is beyond the pale.”

Mr Gaspard has since said Ms Sandberg responded to his letter with a phone call in which he called for a “thorough and independent inquiry on Facebook’s lobbying and PR work”.

“Our hope is to turn this disappointing moment into an opportunity for debate about how Facebook can be used to push out fake news and hate and the threat disinformation campaigns pose to democracy more broadly,” he added.

Facebook’s senior management has claimed it had no knowledge of the company’s relationship with Definers.

Founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told reporters in the US he had only learned about the alleged tactics by reading the New York Times report.

Mr Zuckerberg said once he knew of the allegations he instructed Facebook to sever ties with Definers.

“As soon as I read about this in The New York Times, I got on the phone with our team and we’re no longer working with this firm,” he said.

I want to address some of the claims that have been made in the last 24 hours. On a number of issues – including…

Posted by Sheryl Sandberg on Thursday, November 15, 2018

In a further response to the report, Ms Sandberg took to Facebook to call the range of accusations against the company “untrue” and also claimed she did not know about Definers’ work with the site.

“I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing but I should have,” she wrote on the site.

“I have great respect for George Soros – and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent.”

The New York Times report and Facebook’s response to it has again increased scrutiny on the company following a series of recent scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica data leak, another high profile data breach, as well as wider questions over the site’s ability to remove fake and malicious content and social media’s impact on public health.

Chris Price
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