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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Outgoing Facebook policy boss defends hiring controversial firm

Elliot Schrage said Definers was hired to ensure company could understand and lobby Republicans as well as Democrats

Facebook hired a controversial public relations firm that targeted the company’s critics. AFP
Facebook hired a controversial public relations firm that targeted the company’s critics. AFP

Facebook’s head of communications and policy said in a blog post he is responsible for hiring a controversial public relations firm that targeted the company’s critics.

Elliot Schrage, who said in June he would leave the company but is still working, said Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg shouldn’t be blamed for hiring Definers Public Affairs, a Republican-linked firm, in 2017 as the social-media network came under intense scrutiny for failing to stop Russian disinformation during the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Schrage said Definers was hired to ensure that Facebook could understand and lobby Republican lawmakers as well as Democrats.

At one point, Definers tied critics of the company to billionaire financier George Soros, who has been a target of anti-Semitic attacks. Mr Schrage said the company asked Definers to investigate Mr Soros, defending the move as legitimate because Facebook wanted to understand his motivation for attacking the company in a speech.

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“Definers helped us respond to unfair claims where Facebook was been singled out for criticism,” Mr Schrage wrote. “Responsibility for these decisions rests with leadership of the Communications team. That’s me. Mark and Sheryl relied on me to manage this without controversy.”

Mr Zuckerberg ordered Facebook to cut ties with Definers after a scathing New York Times report last week detailing the company’s effort to ward off the crisis from the misinformation campaign and a data privacy scandal.

The Times story included criticism that Ms Sandberg and Mr Zuckerberg weren’t as involved with the serious issues facing the company as they should have been and were more concerned about defending Facebook’s reputation and embarked on an aggressive lobbying campaign to fend off critics.

Ms Sandberg, in a comment on Mr Schrage’s blog post, repeated her contention that it was “never anyone’s intention to play into an anti-Semitic narrative against Mr Soros or anyone else.”

TechCrunch reported earlier on Mr Schrage’s blog post, which at the time was an internal company memo. Facebook posted the memo publicly on Wednesday.