Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg reportedly asked communications staff to dig up information on George Soros’ financial ties in response to the billionaire liberal donor’s remarks against the social media giant, according to a New York Times report on Thursday.
Citing three people with knowledge of Sandberg’s request, the Times report claims that the chief operating officer asked staff to look into Soros’ financial connections to see if he stood to gain from reaction to his criticisms of the social media giant.
Sandberg reportedly made the request in January, days after Soros called Facebook a “menace to society” during a speech at the World Economic Forum.
Facebook is under intense scrutiny after an investigation by the Times revealed that the company hired Definers Public Affairs, a Republican opposition research firm, to discredit anti-Facebook activists by linking them to Soros, a Jewish philanthropist who is often the target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories spread by the far-right.
Sandberg previously claimed she was not aware that Facebook had hired Definers and had no knowledge of the type of work they were doing, though she did acknowledge that they were researching organizations who opposed the company.
“I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have,” Sandberg said of Definers. “I have great respect for George Soros ― and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also denied any knowledge of the Definers research targeting Soros until after the Times investigation was published.
On Nov. 21, Facebook’s head of communications, Elliot Schrage, took the blame for hiring Definers and directing them to gather information on Soros.
“Mark and Sheryl relied on me to manage this without controversy,” Schrage wrote in a statement, noting that he approved the decision to hire Definers “and similar firms.”
“I’m sorry I let you all down,” he added. “I regret my own failure here.”
CLARIFICATION: This article has been updated to make it clear the staff research sought on George Soros involved his financial interests.