Facebook fires consultants following damning New York Times report

WASHINGTON — Facebook has terminated its contract with political communications firm Definers Public Affairs following a New York Times report that described Facebook as hiring consultants there who spread negative stories about rivals and questioned its critics funding.

The Times found as part of a six-month investigation that staff at Definers and an affiliate wrote negative articles about Google and Apple that were frequently shared on conservative news sites. Facebook has clashed with both companies in various policy debates, including on privacy.

In a statement published early today, Facebook denied that Definers was asked to produce articles on its behalf. Instead, Facebook said Definers was used to contact journalists about “important press calls” and to investigate funding behind its critics at the organization “Freedom from Facebook.”

The Times found that Definers aimed to undermine the activists from that group by circulating a research document connecting their work to George Soros, a liberal financier maligned by conservatives. Criticisms of Soros, who is Jewish, often echo longstanding anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish financiers shaping world events.

“The intention was to demonstrate that it was not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but supported by a well-known critic of our company,” the Facebook statement said. “To suggest that this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue.”

A Definers spokesperson said the research referenced in the Times report “was entirely factual and based on public records, including public statements by one of its organizers about receiving funding from Mr. Soros foundation.”

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