The Defender scandal saw Facebook rent Washington, DC, rescue research companies with the same name to link anti-Facebook groups to…
The Defender scandal saw Facebook rent Washington, DC, rescue research companies with the same name to link anti-Facebook groups to left billionaire financier George Soros, who also happens to be Jewish, sparking allegations that Facebook was directly involved in anti-Semitic campaigns . Defenders, according to Facebook’s command, also tried to report spreading criticism against rival Apple by cutting negative stories about the company to the press.
TechCrunch received an internal memo written by Schrage, who announced in June earlier its departure from the company in the wake of the Cambridge Analytic scandal. In the memorandum, Schrage says that he “knew and approved the decision to hire Definers and similar companies. I should have known the decision to extend my mandate … I regret my own failure here.”
The complete memo is below, followed by An Internal Comment to Memo by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg:
Internal Facebook Memo by Elliot Schrage
Many of you have raised questions about our relationship with the consultancy firm Definers. We’ve looked at this and although it’s close to a vacation for many of you, I want to share an update about what we’ve learned and where things stand:
Why did we rent Definers?
We employed Definers in 201
7 as part of our work to diversify our equivalent advisors after the election. Like many companies, we needed to broaden our outreach. We also met increased pressure from competitors in technology, telecom and media companies that want the government to settle.
This pressure became particularly acute in September 2017 after we released details of Russian involvement at our service. We employed companies that were associated with both Republicans and Democrats. Definers was one of the Republican affiliated companies.
What did we ask them to do and what did they do?
While we continue to review our relationship with Definers, we know the following: We asked Defers to do what PR companies usually do to support a business – send us press clippings, conduct research, write message papers and reach out to journalists .
Some of this work is characterized as opposition research, but I think it would be irresponsible and unprofessional for us not to understand the background and potential conflicts of interest of our critics. This work can be used internally to inform our messages and, where appropriate, it can be shared with reporters. This work is also useful in helping to respond to unfair claims where Facebook has been designated for criticism and that we positively distinguish ourselves from competitors.
When the press on Facebook was built throughout the year, the Communications team Defers used more and more. At Sheryl’s request, we review all the work they did, but we learned that when involvement was expanded, more people worked with more projects and the relationship was less centrally managed.
We asked them to do work at George Soros?
Yes. In January 2018, investors and philanthropists attacked George Soros Facebook in a speech in Davos and called us a “threat to society”. We had not heard such criticism from him before and wanted to decide if he had any financial motivation. Definers investigated this using public information.
Later, when the “Freedom from Facebook” campaign emerged as a so-called grassroots coalition, the team called Defenders to understand the groups behind them. They learned that George Soros financed several of the coalition members. They prepared documents and distributed them to the press to show that this was not a spontaneous grassroots movement.
We asked them to do work on our competitors?
Yes. As I stated above, Definers helped us respond to unfair demands where Facebook was [sic] designated for criticism.
We asked them to distribute or create false news
Who knew about this work, and wrote on it?
Responsibility for these decisions rests on the leadership of the communications team. That’s me. Mark and Sheryl trusted me to handle this without controversy.
I knew and approved the decision to hire Definers and similar companies. I should have known the decision to extend its mandate. Over the last decade I have built a management system based on the law to escalate problems if they are unpleasant for any project, the value it will give or the risks it creates. That system failed here and I’m sorry to let you down. I regret my own failure here.
Why have we stopped working with them?
Mark has asked us to reevaluate how we work with communication consultants. It’s not about Definers. It’s about us, not them.
Mark has made it clear that since Facebook is a missionary company, he wants to stick to a higher standard. He is uncomfortably dependent on any external company to make decisions about how we make our case about our mission, policies, competitors and critics until he can become comfortable with our management, monitoring and escalation.
Where are we now?
Many people across the company feel uncomfortable to find out about this work. Many in the communication group feel under attack from the press and also from their colleagues. I am deeply disappointed that so much internal discussion and pointers have become public. This is a serious threat to our culture and ability to work together in difficult times.
Our culture has long been moving fast and taking risks. Many times we have moved too fast and we always learn and continue to try our best. This is no exception.
What’s happening now?
Our team team continues to review our work with Definers to understand what happened. Mark and Sheryl have also asked Nick Clegg to review all our work with communication consultants and propose principles and management processes to guide the team’s work forward. We all want to make sure that we, our advisors and consultants, better reflect Facebook’s values and culture.
Thank you for sharing this, Elliot.
I want to be clear that I monitor our Comms team and take full responsibility for their jobs and PR companies working with us. I really believe we have a world-class Comms team and I want to acknowledge the huge pressure that the team has met during the past year.
When I read the story in the New York Times last week, I did not remember a company called definers. I asked our team to look at the work Definers did for us and to double check if something had crossed my desk. Some of their work was incorporated into material that was presented to me and I received a small number of e-mail messages where Definers was referred.
I would also like to stress that there was never anyone’s intention to record an anti-Semitic narrative against Soros or anyone else. Being Jewish is an important part of who I am and our company is hateful. The idea that our work has been interpreted as antisemitically is detrimental to me – and deeply personal.
I know this has been a distraction at a time when you’re all working hard to close the year – and I’m sorry. As I said at All Hands, I think so deeply of the work we do and feel so grateful to all of you to do so much everyday. Thanksgiving seems the right time to say a big thank you again.