Facebook policy boss says he hired controversial PR firm, defends Zuckerberg and Sandberg

Elliot Schrage, right, shown in 2006, said in June that he would be leaving his post as Facebook’s head of communications and policy.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

Facebook Inc.’s head of communications and policy said in a blog post he is responsible for hiring a controversial public relations firm that targeted the company’s critics.

Elliot Schrage, who said in June he would leave the company but is still working, said Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg shouldn’t be blamed for hiring Definers Public Affairs, a Republican-linked firm, in 2017 as the social media giant came under intense scrutiny for failing to stop Russian disinformation during the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Schrage said Definers was hired to ensure that Facebook could understand and lobby Republican lawmakers as well as Democrats.

At one point, Definers tied critics of the company to billionaire financier George Soros, who has been a target of anti-Semitic attacks and conspiracy theories. Schrage said Facebook asked Definers to investigate Soros, defending the move as legitimate because Facebook wanted to understand his motivation for attacking the company in a speech.


“Definers helped us respond to unfair claims where Facebook was been singled out for criticism,” Schrage wrote. “Responsibility for these decisions rests with leadership of the Communications team. That’s me. Mark and Sheryl relied on me to manage this without controversy.”

Zuckerberg ordered Facebook to cut ties with Definers after the New York Times published a report last week detailing the company’s effort to ward off the crisis from the misinformation campaign and a data privacy scandal.

The New York Times story included criticism that Sandberg and Zuckerberg weren’t as involved with the serious issues facing the company as they should have been and were more concerned about defending Facebook’s reputation and embarked on an aggressive lobbying campaign to fend off critics.

Sandberg, in a comment on Schrage’s blog post, repeated her contention that it was “never anyone’s intention to play into an anti-Semitic narrative against Mr. Soros or anyone else.”


TechCrunch reported earlier on Schrage’s blog post, which at the time was an internal company memo. Facebook posted the memo publicly Wednesday.

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