Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s departing head of public policy and communications, is taking responsibility for hiring Definers Public Affairs -- the Republican consultancy that sought to undermine the company’s critics by linking them to billionaire financier George Soros.
Schrage made the admission in a new internal memo, which was obtained and published by TechCrunch on Tuesday.
In the memo, Schrage defended Definers use of what was essentially “opposition research.”
“I believe it would be irresponsible and unprofessional for us not to understand the backgrounds and potential conflicts of interest of our critics,” Schrage writes. “This work can be used internally to inform our messaging and where appropriate it can be shared with reporters.”
In his memo, Schrage also said Facebook specifically asked Definers to look into Soros and negative comments he had been making about the company.
During a speech at Davos earlier this year, Soros characterized Facebook as a “menace to society,” Schrage recalls. “We had not heard such criticism from him before and wanted to determine if he had any financial motivation,” Schrage notes.
Schrage also defended linking anti-Facebook coalition Freedom From Facebook to Soros on the basis that Soros was funding several of the coalition members.
Since The New York Times first reported the business relationship between Facebook and Defines last week, critics have accused the company of playing into an anti-Semitic narrative against Soros.
Schrage insists that nothing could be further from the truth.
“Being Jewish is a core part of who I am and our company stands firmly against hate,” Schrage insisted in the memo. “The idea that our work has been interpreted as anti-Semitic is abhorrent to me -- and deeply personal.”
Immediately following the bombshell report in The Times, Facebook severed ties with Definers.
Cofounder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg has both denied having any knowledge of the Facebook’s relationship with Definers -- a story that Schrage supported in his memo.
Schrage, who reports directly to Sandberg, announced plans to leave Facebook earlier this year -- a decision that connected to the company’s mishandling of the Cambridge Analytica controversy.