Sheryl Sandberg Asked Facebook Staff to Investigate George Soros in January

Facebook recently cut ties with consultants behind PR campaign against liberal billionaire

Sheryl Sandberg Facebook COO
Via Recode / Vox Media

Facebook has acknowledged that COO Sheryl Sandberg requested in January that employees investigate whether billionaire George Soros had criticized the company in an effort to enrich himself.

“We researched potential motivations behind George Soros’s criticism of Facebook in January 2018. Mr. Soros is a prominent investor and we looked into his investments and trading activity related to Facebook,” a Facebook representative said in a statement provided to TheWrap.

“That research was already underway when Sheryl sent an email asking if Mr. Soros had shorted Facebook’s stock. Sheryl never directed research on ‘Freedom from Facebook,’” the statement said, a reference to an anti-Facebook coalition whose members were later targeted by a consulting group hired by the company. “But as she said before she takes full responsibility for any activity that happened on her watch.”

The statement follows a New York Times report Thursday night that Sandberg’s request came after a speech by Soros at the World Economic Forum, in which he called for tech companies like Facebook and Google to be regulated by the government.

According to the Times, Sandberg emailed subordinates asking them to find out if Soros’  criticism was motivated by financial interests.

The line of investigation requested by Sandberg has parallels to a campaign conducted by the conservative political consulting firm Definers Public Affairs on Facebook’s behalf over the last year. The firm, hired by Facebook in 2017, targeted both competitors and critics and included efforts to tie protesters to Soros that some have condemned as anti-Semitic.

The campaign was exposed in a New York Times report earlier this month, after which Facebook quickly cut all ties with Definers.

At the time, Sandberg denied knowing anything about Facebook’s relationship with Definers and specifically said, “I have great respect for George Soros — and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent.”

But last week, Sandberg said in a statement that over the last year “some of their work was incorporated into materials presented to me and I received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced.”

In her new statement, Sandberg did not address whether or not she had asked anyone to investigate Soros but did say, “it was never anyone’s intention to play into an anti-Semitic narrative against Mr. Soros or anyone else. Being Jewish is a core part of who I am and our company stands firmly against hate. The idea that our work has been interpreted as anti-Semitic is abhorrent to me — and deeply personal.”

Facebook’s outgoing global communications chief Elliot Schrage has taken full responsibility for both hiring Definers and the subsequent campaign against Soros, though he said Facebook did not ask Definers “to distribute or create fake news.” The Times did not report that Facebook made such a request.

Sean Burch contributed to this report.