A week after a New York Times report led Facebook to cut ties with conservative-leaning political consulting firm Definers, Facebook’s outgoing global communications vice president has taken the blame for hiring the outfit.
“Responsibility for these decisions rests with leadership of the Communications team. That’s me,” wrote Elliot Schrage in an internal memo obtained by TechCrunch.
The Times reported a week ago that Facebook used the research firm to target competitors and critics over the last year. The campaign included trying to tie protesters to financier George Soros.
Schrage, who described hiring Definers as a political necessity following the 2016 election, said in the memo that his team did indeed ask the firm to investigate Soros’ involvement in “Freedom from Facebook,” an effort to encourage people to stop using the platform. Definers concluded Soros funded “several of the coalition members,” Schrage said. Soros, through a spokesperson, told the Times last week that he has never specifically funded any activity against Facebook.
Schrage said also that he requested Definers target Facebook’s competition.
In the memo, Schrage also said Facebook did not ask Definers “to distribute or create fake news.” The Times did not report that Facebook made such a request, but it did say Definers promoted or disseminated articles and op-eds critical of companies and people who spoke out against Facebook.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has denied any prior knowledge of his company’s relationship with Definers, and said he learned about it from The Times’ report. In his memo, Schrage backed Zuckerberg, stating neither he nor COO Sheryl Sandberg were involved with hiring Definers. “Mark and Sheryl relied on me to manage this without controversy,” said Schrage.
In a follow-up memo, also obtained by TechCrunch, Sandberg thanked Schrage, but clarified that she oversees Facebook’s communications teams, and takes “full responsibility for their work and the PR firms who work with us.”
Schrage announced earlier this year that he intended to resign from Facebook. The company hired Nick Clegg, former deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom, to replace Schrage in October.
Facebook and Definers did not immediately respond to requests for comment from TheWrap.