Today a bit more clarification of recent events at Facebook puts COO Sheryl Sandberg back in the limelight. Not that she was ever out – Zuckerberg, Sandberg, and Facebook head of communications and policy Elliot Schrage have been at the center of recent controversy since well before Thanksgiving. Todays news has to do with George Soros and a speech he made at Davos in January of 2018.
In January 2018, philanthropist and investor George Soros made a speech at Davos. Below you’ll see a segment of that speech that centers on Facebook and Google. You can see an archived transcript of the speech on Soros’ webpage as well. In this speech, Soros calls Facebook (and Google) “a menace.”
“The internet monopolies have neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions,” said Soros. “That turns them into a menace and it falls to the regulatory authorities to protect society against them. In the US, the regulators are not strong enough to stand up against their political influence. The European Union is better situated because it doesn’t have any platform giants of its own.”
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An issue arose in recent weeks as it was revealed that Facebook worked with a group called Definers Public Affairs. This group is a Washington-based consultant group that generally works with political parties to shape public perception of political candidates. It’s in the language used by Sheryl Sandberg after the release of some of this information that brings us here today.
On November 15th, less than a day after the first Definers story was released, Sandberg released a note. In the note, she acknowledged the fact that Facebook worked with Definers and that they, as of November 15th or before, are no longer working with Definers.
Of Definers, Sandberg noted: “at the time, they were trying to show that some of the activity against us that appeared to be grassroots also had major organizations behind them. I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have.”
The “activity against us that appeared to be grassroots” was referencing the work of the group/movement “Freedom from Facebook.”*
Fast forward to Thanksgiving Eve and Sandberg released a note (on top of Schrage’s note) that she “did’t remember a firm called Definers” when she “read the story in the New York Times last week.”
Sandberg also noted that “I asked our team to look into the work Definers did for us and to double-check whether anything had crossed my desk. Some of their work was incorporated into materials presented to me and I received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced.”
So it’s clear that Sandberg may not have known precisely what Definers was or what it was doing. She suggests that she never really worked directly with Definers. Obviously that does not mean that Facebook didn’t work with Definers – because it definitely did.
Today’s news comes from an anonymous note that was confirmed by Facebook to Buzzfeed. A Facebook spokesperson shared the following.
“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. 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. But as she said before she takes full responsibility for any activity that happened on her watch.”
So while Sandberg suggests she did not know of Definers specifically, she did send an email suggesting Facebook look to see if Soros had any monetary motivation for making comments at Davos. That appears to be the long and short of Sandberg’s involvement in this situation – but as she is the COO, she continues to “take full responsibility.”