Sheryl Sandberg reportedly asked Facebook’s communications staff to research George Soros’s financial interests after his high-profile attacks on tech companies, according to the New York Times.
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The report indicates that Facebook’s second in command was directly involved in the social network’s response to the liberal billionaire.
Sandberg, who is Facebook’s chief operating officer, asked for the information in an email to a senior executive in January that was forwarded to other senior communications and policy staff, the people familiar told the Times.
The email came within days of a blistering speech Soros delivered that month at the World Economic Forum, attacking Facebook and Google as a “menace” to society and calling for the companies to be regulated.
Facebook later contracted a campaign-style opposition research effort by Definers Public Affairs a Republican-linked firm, which gathered and circulated to reporters public information about Soros’s funding of American advocacy groups critical of Facebook.
Those efforts, revealed this month in a New York Times investigation, set off a public relations debacle for Sandberg and for Facebook, which was accused of trafficking in anti-Semitic attacks against the billionaire. Facebook quickly fired Definers
The people with knowledge of Ms. Sandberg’s email asked for anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the message and feared retribution.
In a statement, Facebook said that the company had already begun researching Soros when Sandberg made her request.
“Mr. Soros is a prominent investor and we looked into his investments and trading activity related to Facebook,” the company said. “That research was already underway when Sheryl sent an email asking if Mr. Soros had shorted Facebook’s stock.”
The company said that while Sandberg “takes full responsibility for any activity that happened on her watch,” she did not personally direct any research on Freedom from Facebook, an anti-Facebook coalition whose members were among the subjects of Definers’ later work.
Eddie Vale, a spokesman for Freedom from Facebook, said he was skeptical of the company’s account, according to the Times.