Erica Flores

No one on Facebook seems to know who hired a …

One of the largest pumps in The New York TimesThe massive Facebook investigation published yesterday was that the company had hired an opposition research and consulting firm known as Definers Public Affairs, which it said had created misleading news posts and pushed them onto a network of conservative websites. Now Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he has no idea who hired them.

The Definers were hired as part of a lobbying effort aimed at countering mounting criticism from Facebook over the past year. The firm’s role, among other things, included the circulation of a document linking a prominent anti-Facebook group to the funding of billionaire George Soros. Efforts to link liberal causes to Soros are a tactic often used by the upper right and other conservatives as a whistle for anti-Semitism.

Facebook rejected any anti-Semitic attempts by its agency’s work.

“Definers encouraged members of the press to study funding for ‘Freedom from Facebook,’ an anti-Facebook organization,” the company said in a blog post. “The intention was to show that it was not simply a spontaneous-based campaign, as I claimed, but was backed by a well-known critic of our company. To suggest that this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and false ”.

Facebook terminated its contract with the firm last night after the NYT investigation was released.

Additionally, Facebook is said to have turned to a Jewish civil rights group to paint criticism of the company as anti-Semitic. (Zuckerberg is Jewish). The combination of these revelations, as well as the detail that COO Sheryl Sandberg oversaw this lobbying effort to combat Facebook critics, are among the most condemned in the report.

Following the disclosures, Facebook announced this morning that it would cut ties with the firm. But neither Zuckerberg nor Sandberg could or would say who hired the firm, and the company’s two top executives were unaware of the relationship until yesterday, Zuckerberg said. In a call with reporters this morning to apparently discuss the company’s updated transparency and content removal report, Zuckerberg took a series of questions directly related to the Times investigation, and said he was not informed of the company’s involvement until yesterday. He also denied that Facebook instructed the firm to spread false information about critics of the company.

“From what I can tell, that is not true. We certainly never asked them to spread something that is not true. That is not how we want to operate,” Zuckerberg said in response to one of the many questions about Definitors. “In general, I think a lot of DC type companies can do this kind of work. I understand why other companies might want to work with them, but that’s not the way I want to run this company. “

Zuckerberg says he and Sandberg were informed of the firm’s involvement in their lobbying efforts at the same time, implying that Sandberg had nothing to do with hiring the Definitors or any of their operations. “I learned about this relationship when I read The New York Times “And like I said, as soon as I read it, I looked into whether this is the type of company we want to work with and we stopped working with them,” Zuckerberg said. “My understanding when talking to our team is not that we have attacked any competitor or anything like that.”

Zuckerberg added that he has “tremendous respect for George Soros, although we do not agree on the impact and importance of the Internet in general.” He also said that “Someone on our communications team must have hired them,” in response to another question about Definitors.

At the same time, yesterday’s blog post announcing that Facebook had fired the firm notes that “our relationship with the Definitors was well known to the media, among other things because on several occasions they sent invitations to hundreds of journalists about important press calls. ” on our behalf. “Clearly, someone The company knew about the company’s involvement, and the belief is spread that Facebook’s top executives didn’t know what one of its most prominent and expensive agencies was doing on its behalf last year.