Facebook announced on Thursday it has ended its relationship with Definers, a right-leaning political consulting firm that led a crusade against the company’s critics, following a critical report on how the social network has handled recent crises.
Facebook did not give a reason for terminating its relationship with Definers. The New York Times on Wednesday reported Facebook used the research firm to target both competitors and critics in the last year, including tying protesters to financier George Soros, a longtime target of conservatives and anti-Semites for his financial contributions to left-wing causes.
On behalf of Facebook, Definers also posted several disparaging articles about Google and Apple on an affiliated website, according to The Times.
Facebook, in its statement announcing it has ended its relationship with Definers, pushed back against the claim it ever asked the firm to smear other companies.
“The New York Times is wrong to suggest that we ever asked Definers to pay for or write articles on Facebook’s behalf — or to spread misinformation,” the company said in a blog post. “Our relationship with Definers was well known by the media — not least because they have on several occasions sent out invitations to hundreds of journalists about important press calls on our behalf.”
The company added: “Definers did encourage members of the press to look into the funding of ‘Freedom from Facebook,’ an anti-Facebook organization. The intention was to demonstrate that it was not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but supported by a well-known critic of our company. To suggest that this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue.”
A rep for Definers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Facebook expanded its partnership with Definers in October 2017, according to the Times, in order to combat mounting criticism.
Following barbs from Apple chief Tim Cook earlier this year, NTK Network, a site connected to Definers, published several stories critical of Apple, the Times wrote. One story blasted Cook for being “hypocritical,” the Times reported, since Apple also collects data from its users. NTK Network often has its posts picked up by conservative sites like Breitbart.
Definers also went after Soros, according to the Times, after he blasted Facebook earlier in the year as a “menace” with “neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions” at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
Paul Gaspard, president of George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, in a letter to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on Thursday, called it “frankly astonishing” that the company shared “vile propaganda” against Soros.
“It’s been disappointing to see how you have failed to monitor hate and misinformation on Facebook’s platform,” Gaspard said in the letter obtained by Axios. “To now learn that you are active in promoting these distortions is beyond the pale.”