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George Soros deputy calls on Congress to investigate Facebook 'smears'

James Cook
Facebook hired a public relations firm which encouraged journalists to investigate claims that George Soros backed Facebook critics - REUTERS

Facebook’s use of a public relations firm which sought to smear George Soros should be investigated by the US Congress, according to a senior official from the billionaire tycoon's Open Society Foundation.

Patrick Gaspard, the president of Mr Soros’ Open Society Foundations charity, tweeted on Wednesday evening after Facebook admitted that it had asked Definers, a public relations firm, to conduct opposition research on its critics.

Facebook published an internal memo written by its current head of public policy, Elliot Schrage, in which he took responsibility for hiring Definers.

Mr Schrage wrote that he had told Definers to conduct opposition research. “I believe it would be irresponsible and unprofessional for us not to understand the backgrounds and potential conflicts of interest of our critics,” he wrote.

Definers sent a document to journalists which sought to link Mr Soros to several groups which had publicly opposed Facebook.

Mr Gaspard called these allegations “smears” and demanded that the US government investigate Facebook’s use of the public relations firm. The Open Society Foundations has denied funding any groups which criticise Facebook.

“Sorry, but this needs independent, congressional oversight,” Mr Gaspard said in his tweet on Wednesday.

The executive also criticised the timing of the memo, which Facebook published on the afternoon before Thanksgiving in the US.

Mr Schrage’s memo and the decision to publish the document has helped to divert criticism away from Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and the social network’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Several Facebook investors have publicly called on Mr Zuckerberg to relinquish his role as chairof Facebook’s board in order to focus on leading the company as chief executive.

When asked about those calls earlier this week in an interview with CNN, Mr Zuckerberg said “that’s not the plan... I’m not currently thinking that that makes sense.”

Mr Schrage announced in June that he plans to leave Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The company has subsequently hired former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Nick Clegg to replace him.