Sheryl Sandberg's Request For Info On George Soros Was 'Entirely Appropriate,' Facebook Board Says

Photo: Gregory Bull, AP

Facebook’s board of directors appears to be sticking to the script in the defence of its opposition research into George Soros, a vocal critic of the platform. In a letter reported Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal from Facebook’s board of directors to Patrick Gaspard, the president of George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, the company defended its Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and her request for information on the billionaire philanthropist.

The letter followed Gaspard’s own letter to Facebook’s board members on Tuesday regarding Sandberg’s involvement with Facebook’s opposition campaign against Soros and in which he questioned whether Sandberg had been truthful with him about it.

In the company’s response on Wednesday, Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch came to Sandberg’s defence by claiming that “she had not known about the work done by the Definers public relations firm related to Mr. Soros.” The letter also characterised Sandberg’s request for staff to look into the billionaire following his public criticism of the platform as “entirely appropriate.”

As you know, in January of this year, George Soros gave a highly publicized speech to business and political leaders in which he called our company a “menace to society.” As is to be expected following an attack from such a well-known and widely respected figure, Facebook staff immediately initiated research to attempt to understand the motivations driving the criticism, financial or otherwise. That research was underway when Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, sent an email asking if Mr. Soros had shorted Facebook stock. To be clear, Ms. Sandberg’s question was entirely appropriate given her role as COO.

The response follows a series of reports that Sandberg may have had more knowledge about the opposition work than she initially let on.

As acknowledged by the board in their response to Gaspard, it was revealed last week that Sandberg herself requested information on Soros.

In his letter to Facebook’s board on Tuesday, Gaspard said Facebook’s failure to “take responsibility for the content published on your platform” had “implications for democracy itself.” He called for an independent investigation into Facebook’s opposition campaign against Soros and said that Sandberg had not spoken “in good faith” when she reportedly told Gaspard that she knew nothing about such work by Definers, the opposition research firm that distributed factually misleading information about Soros to reporters on Facebook’s behalf.

As Gaspard noted, there have been inconsistencies in Sandberg’s own admission of how much she knew of Definers’ work for the company. She initially denied altogether knowing about Definers, only to later concede that “[Definers’] work was incorporated into materials presented to me and I received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced.”

The board’s defence of Sandberg on Wednesday falls in line with its claim last week that research into Soros’ financial interests was “already underway” when Sandberg requested information on him. That being said, and as Gaspard noted in his letter, “the story from [Facebook] keeps changing with each new headline.”

[Wall Street Journal]

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