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Faceboook VP Elliot Schrage takes blame for hiring Definers PR firm

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Elliot Schrage, Mike Schroepfer, and Gokul Rajaram.
Elliot
Schrage.

Araya Diaz/Getty Images for
TechCrunch


  • Facebook‘s
    outgoing policy and comms boss says he’s to blame for hiring an
    opposition-research firm.
  • Definers tried to smear Facebook’s critics with links
    to George Soros, a line of attack that has been labeled
    anti-Semitic.
  • Elliot Schrage, who announced he was leaving back in
    June 2018, is taking responsibility — a move that may help
    protect senior leadership, like Sheryl Sandberg, from the
    fallout.
  • Sandberg also conceded, in an internal response to
    Schrage’s memo, that “some of [Definers’] work was
    incorporated into materials presented to me and I received a
    small number of emails where Definers was
    referenced.”

Facebook’s outgoing boss of policy and communications, Elliot
Schrage, says he’s taking the blame for the hiring of a
controversial PR firm whose attacks on Facebook’s critics led to
accusations of anti-Semitism.

TechCrunch
has obtained an internal memo
that Schrage sent his
colleagues at Facebook about the controversy, in which he said
the hiring of Definers was his responsibility and he apologized
for “my own failure.”

“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,” he wrote.

“I knew and approved of the decision to hire Definers and similar
firms. I should have known of the decision to expand their
mandate. Over the past decade, I built a management system that
relies on the teams to escalate issues if they are uncomfortable
about any project, the value it will provide or the risks that it
creates. That system failed here and I’m sorry I let you all
down. I regret my own failure here.”

Definers, a PR and opposition research firm, has come under
intense scrutiny since the publication of a New York Times
investigation that detailed how the firm attempted to smear
critics of Facebook by linking them to billionaire Jewish
financier George Soros, a line of attack that has been criticized
as anti-Semitic. 


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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg have denied
any prior knowledge that Facebook was working with Definers,
instead blaming the communications team broadly for the issue.
But in a response to Schrage, also
obtained by TechCrunch
, Sandberg conceded that “some of
their work was incorporated into materials presented to me and I
received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced,”
even though she apparently didn’t remember them.

In his memo, Schrage admitted that Facebook asked Definers to
look into George Soros. “In January 2018, investor and
philanthropist George Soros attacked Facebook in a speech at
Davos, calling us a ‘menace to society.’ We had not heard such
criticism from him before and wanted to determine if he had any
financial motivation. Definers researched this using public
information,” he wrote.

“Later, when the ‘Freedom from Facebook’ campaign emerged as a
so-called grassroots coalition, the team asked Definers to help
understand the groups behind them. They learned that George Soros
was funding several of the coalition members. They prepared
documents and distributed these to the press to show that this
was not simply a spontaneous grassroots movement.”

Schrage’s ownership of the latest scandal may help to shield
Zuckerberg and Sandberg from some of the fallout. The COO has
come under intense scrutiny following the company’s latest round
of controversies,
with some Facebook investors now asking if they should be worried
about her leaving
. (Zuckerberg says she’s not going
anywhere.)

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