Facebook hired a PR firm with close ties to the Republican party, which then lobbied against the threat of regulation by painting anti-Facebook activists and protesters as operatives funded by George Soros, according to a blockbuster new story in the New York Times. The firm also previously worked with a number of right-wing groups and helped feed stories to hyper-partisan far-right media outlets like Breitbart.
After mounting public anger in wake of security breaches, privacy concerns, and Facebook’s failure to properly handle Russian interference on its platform last year, Facebook hired Definers Public Affairs, to apply “campaign-style opposition research” to Facebook’s PR problems. The firm was founded by “veterans of Republican presidential politics” and is headed by Joe Pounder, who previously worked for Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker.
Definers Public Affairs’ Silicon Valley office, meanwhile, is run by Tim Miller, a former communications official for Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign and current contributor to Crooked Media — which publishes the much-hyped liberal podcast Pod Save America. In a statement, Crooked Media said that they need to “get to bottom of Tim’s involvement in this work,” and would not be contributing to Crooked Media in the meantime.
— Crooked Media (@crookedmedia) November 15, 2018
After the New York Times report, many accused Facebook and their hired consultants of anti-Semitism, noting that the rhetoric closely mirrors that of Donald Trump and other anti-Semites who routinely and baselessly demonize wealthy Jewish philanthropists like George Soros.
“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,” Miller wrote on Twitter. “I’m really blown up by the accusations. I’m disgusted by the rise of anti-Semitism including people who have falsely targeted Soros.”
Miller had previously told the website Recode that Silicon Valley’s brands need to ensure “you have positive content pushed out about your company and negative content that’s being pushed out about your competitor, or regulator, or activist groups or activist investors, that are challenging you.”
But what makes the Soros “negative content” (and the anti-Semitic dog whistles that accompany it) so outright disgusting is that it is the same trope that every far-right troll under the sun has employed for years, and that the wider Republican Party has readily adopted — even at a time when anti-Semitic attacks are rising, including the mass murder of eleven worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in late October and the attempted assassination of Soros himself.
For some context: around the same time Facebook was hiring those GOP lobbyists who smeared FB critics as Soros-pawns, civil society groups & US officials say FB didn't have enough staff devoted to Myanmar, where Facebook was facilitating terrible violence https://t.co/prBUKe1EaE pic.twitter.com/b31pRhLKn5
— Avi Asher-Schapiro (@AASchapiro) November 15, 2018
However Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer) were more than happy to play the aggrieved victims when it suited them. When signs depicting Sandberg and Zuckerberg as heads of an octopus stretching across the globe were seen at a hearing at the House Judiciary Committee, Facebook quickly called the Anti-Defamation League, which then described the images as a “classic anti-Semitic trope.”
Sandberg and Zuckerberg could also turn to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who has consistently worked to advance Silicon Valley’s interest and whose daughter, conveniently enough, now works for Facebook’s New York office as a marketing manager. According to the Times, in at least one instance Schumer told Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) to back off any attempts to impose new regulations and that he should find ways to work with Facebook, not against it.
Late on Wednesday, Facebook announced it was cutting ties with Definers, however the company strenuously objected to the notion that the ads they pushed were anti-Semitic.
“Definers did encourage members of the press to look into the funding of ‘Freedom from Facebook,’ an anti-Facebook organization,” Facebook said in a statement. “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.”