Just like every internet troll, Facebook tried to paint George Soros as a villain

Always the boogeyman.
Always the boogeyman.
Image: AP Photo/Thomas Peter
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A Republican-linked consultancy hired by Facebook tried to paint George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist and the global right’s favorite boogeyman, as the motor of an anti-Facebook movement, according to a bombshell investigation of Facebook’s handling of its scandals by The New York Times. (paywall)

This summer, the agency, Definers Public Affairs, sent reporters a document in which it urged them to look at ties between Soros and groups affiliated with the Freedom from Facebook campaign, which wants to break up the powerful company into smaller entities, the Times reported.

Soros had come out against Facebook in remarks at Davos earlier this year.

Soros, a Holocaust survivor, is a frequent target of anti-semitic sentiment. Conservatives, including the leaders of Hungary, Poland, and the United States, accuse him of being the puppet master behind liberal and progressive movements all around the world.

The attempt to portray Soros as a powerful villain, the Times reported, came after Freedom from Facebook staged a protest during a congressional testimony of a Facebook executive. Activists from the organization raised placards showing Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and her boss Mark Zuckerberg, both Jewish, as heads of an octopus trying to envelop the Earth with its tentacles. Freedom from Facebook said the image was meant to evoke portrayals of Standard Oil, but a Facebook official quickly contacted the Anti-Defamation League, which said the image played on an anti-Semitic trope.

Among those singled out by Definers as Soros-sponsored was racial-justice group Color of Change, which is not an official member of Freedom from Facebook, as the Times piece implies, but partners with the coalition. Color of Change has been working with Facebook on implementing a civil rights audit of its platform.

“Facebook needs to be deeply ashamed,” the head of the group, Rashad Robinson, told Quartz, that it had hired a firm that “in this moment would throw gasoline on anti-Semitic flames around Soros and the idea that this Jewish donor controls the world.” He added that Soros was not among the biggest donors to Color of Change.

Robinson said his organization was “sitting across the table” from Facebook for over a year, calling for the civil rights audit and engaging with the company on the issue. The Times report would affect their work with Facebook going forward, he added, but he also said: “In so many ways it’s firming up our resolve because the fact that they would hire a PR firm so comfortable with promoting anti-Semitic and racist tropes to get them out of dealing with their problems, means there is a lot of work to do.”

Facebook was not immediately available for comment.