Patrick Gaspard, President Of $19B George Soros Foundation, Blasts Facebook For Smear Campaign Against His Boss

Written by Dana Sanchez

A New York Times investigation published Wednesday alleges that Facebook hired a Republican opposition research firm to exploit anti-Semitic feelings toward liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros, suggesting Soros was behind an anti-Facebook movement.

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Patrick Gaspard, president of Soros’ Open Society Foundations, addressed a letter to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, denouncing Facebook’s alleged actions and asking to speak with her in person.

In a Thursday blog post, Facebook said there were “a number of inaccuracies” in the NYT article, but also said it had severed ties with the opposition research firm.

Soros is a favorite target of the political right and was one of many liberal politicians who was sent a pipe bomb in October.

Gaspard became president of Soros’ global foundations in January. The Open Society Foundations, which hold the bulk of the Soros fortune, are in the No. 2 spot by assets among philanthropic organizations after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A former top aide to President Barack Obama, Gaspard was a national Democratic Party official and former U.S. ambassador to South Africa.

For more than a year, Facebook has faced accusations that it knowingly let itself to be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire hate campaigns around the world.

Scandals over data privacy breaches and misinformation drew a global backlash over how it handled the issues. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sandberg “ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view,” according to the report.

In a new New York Times investigation, interviews with more than 50 people reveal how the company fought its critics with delays, denials and Washington lobbying. Interviews include current and former Facebook executives and other employees, lawmakers and government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members. Most spoke anonymously because they had signed confidentiality agreements, were not authorized to speak to reporters or feared retaliation.

One of the Washington lobbying efforts involved Soros. Facebook expanded its work with a Washington-based consultant, Definers Public Affairs, that had originally been hired to monitor press coverage of Facebook. Founded by veterans of Republican presidential politics, Definers specialized in applying political campaign tactics to corporate public relations.

Director of the Office of Political Affairs Patrick Gaspard walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington as he accompanies President Barack Obama to Wisconsin and California, Monday, Aug. 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)


The research firm was hired to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to Soros, according to the NYT report. The firm also tapped Soros’ business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.

Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former security chief, was criticized as he investigated Russian activity on the platform. If Facebook kept implicating Russia, it was feared Republicans would accuse the company of siding with Democrats.

Facebook used Definers to take on Soros, a longtime critic of mainstream conservatives and the target of intense anti-Semitism on the far right. A research document circulated by Definers to reporters this summer, just a month after a House hearing, cast Soros as the force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.

Soros was a natural target, NYT reported. In a speech at the World Economic Forum in January, he had described Facebook and Google as monopolies and menacing, with “neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions.”

Definers asked reporters to explore the financial connections between Soros’s philanthropy and groups that were members of Freedom from Facebook, such as Color of Change, an online racial justice organization, as well as a progressive group founded by Soros’s son.  An official at Soros’s Open Society Foundations said the philanthropy had supported both member groups, but not Freedom from Facebook, and had made no grants to support campaigns against Facebook.

Gaspard posted on his Twitter account a letter addressed to Sandberg and copied CEO Zuckerberg along with several Facebook investors and Washington politicians, CNBC reported. Here is the full text of the letter:

Dear Ms. Sandberg:

I was shocked to learn from the New York Times that you and your colleagues at Facebook hired a Republican opposition research firm to stir up animus toward George Soros. As you know, there is a concerted right-wing effort the world over to demonize Mr. Soros and his foundations, which I lead—an effort which has contributed to death threats and the delivery of a pipe bomb to Mr. Soros’ home. You are no doubt also aware that much of this hateful and blatantly false and Anti-Semitic information is spread via Facebook.

The notion that your company, at your direction, actively engaged in the same behavior to try to discredit people exercising their First Amendment rights to protest Facebook’s role in disseminating vile propaganda is frankly astonishing to me.

It’s been disappointing to see how you have failed to monitor hate and misinformation on Facebook’s platform. To now learn that you are active in promoting these distortions is beyond the pale.

These efforts appear to have been part of a deliberate strategy to distract from the very real accountability problems your company continues to grapple with. This is reprehensible, and an offense to the core values Open Society seeks to advance. But at bottom, this is not about George Soros or the foundations. Your methods threaten the very values underpinning our democracy.

I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss this matter with you in person, and to hear what steps you might take to help remediate the damage done by this deeply misguided–and dangerous–effort carried out at Facebook’s behest.


Patrick Gaspard

President | Open Society Foundations