Facebook has been accused of “threatening the very values underpinning our democracy” by allowing anti-Semitic conspiracies to spread on its social network and commissioning “vile propaganda” about billionaire financier George Soros.
The accusations were made by Open Society Foundations, a non-profit group founded by Mr Soros, following an investigation into Facebook’s alleged use of underhand and aggressive tactics designed to divert attention away from its own scandals.
The tech giant hired Definers Public Affairs, a Washington DC based political consultancy specialising in opposition research, to attack critics of the firm, according to the New York Times.
Definers Public Affairs sent journalists a research document connecting Mr Soros to “a broad anti-Facebook movement”, according to the New York Times. It encouraged journalists to look into links between Mr Soros and groups such as “Freedom from Facebook”, a lobby firm that campaigns against Facebook.
Patrick Gaspard, president of Open Society Foundations, said the strategy was “dangerous.”
“It is disappointing to see how you have failed to monitor hate and misinformation on Facebook’s platform,” he wrote in an open letter. “To now learn that you were active in promoting these distortions is beyond the pale.”
Mr Soros, the Jewish billionaire investor and philanthropist, has long been the target of conspiracy theories spread by far-right outlets.
Mr Gaspard said that there was a “concerted rightwing effort to demonise Mr Soros”, which had led to the delivery of a pipe bomb to his home.
“You are no doubt also aware that much of this hateful and blatantly false and anti-Semitic information is spread via Facebook,” he said.
The Open Society denies direct financial funding to “Freedom from Facebook”, although it has supported other organisations that have been critical of Facebook.
The smear story was one of several spread by Definers Public Affairs, the New York Times said. Facebook said on Thursday it had cut its ties to the company.
The Republican-leaning PR group published several negative articles about other rival companies, including Google and Apple, on NTKNetwork.com.
In one, it said Apple’s CEO Tim Cook was hypocritical for criticising Facebook over privacy. Many of NTK’s articles were picked up by conservative sites such as Breitbart.
It added that top Facebook executives were unaware of the details of the attack strategies being waged by Definers against its clients rivals.
The report paints an unflattering picture of Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
“Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view,” it said. “At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.”
“While Mr Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics.”
Facebook’s lobbying efforts to discredit opponents took place as the companyfaced grillings on Capitol Hill in hearings surrounding the company’s efforts to take down Russian disinformation on its social network and in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal which saw tens of millions of users’ data exposed.
Damian Collins, the Conservative MP leading an inquiry into tech companies, said on Twitter the report was “a damning story”.
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