Setting the Record Straight Regarding My Facebook Work
Over the past 48 hours I’ve had some extremely serious accusations leveled against my integrity and my work. So I want to be upfront about this and share my personal thoughts. While I understand the intention behind the accusations, I believe them to be unfair, so I want to give people my perspective.
I want to start at the beginning, which is what it is that I do here. I’m an independent public affairs consultant who does work for a variety of companies and advocacy groups — some that would be considered liberal and others conservative. For some of this work, I partner with Definers Public Affairs because it requires more staffing and support. Other PR work I do independently. I also do political commentary on the side although that is not where I earn my income.
One of those corporate clients was Facebook. The New York Times wrote a story that said Definers pitched opposition research for Facebook and specifically cited work looking into the groups Freedom From Facebook (FFF) and the Open Markets Institute.
Before I get into that, I want to talk about what we actually did for Facebook day-to-day because the Times was not interested in that. While I have a reputation for past work doing opposition research — and reporters tend to find that interesting or sexy — that’s not really what the preponderance of our work was for Facebook. Definers’ main service was basic media monitoring and PR around public policy issues facing the company. We helped them roll-out announcements about changes they were making to ad and hate speech policies, addressing bias on the platform, or making news around what they were doing to crack down on coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and other things of that nature. Given that, nearly all the reporters involved in covering tech knew we were helping Facebook over the past year, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Definers also would provide background briefings or information packets for reporters to suggest story angles, provide context, or frame the facts around news events or congressional testimony — such as the one the New York Times wrote about yesterday.
Another part of our work for Facebook was helping them push back on critics. Over the past year, these critics were of all ideological stripes. If you search my Twitter archive, you will see that I personally push back on conservative Facebook critics like Diamond & Silk who were misrepresenting the truth. I didn’t find any of this work to be particularly controversial as it is how any political PR person would do their job when their client is being attacked. My perception today is that because of other problems and the nature of their company, people see this type of work as problematic coming from Facebook in particular.
That brings us to the document on Freedom From Facebook and Open Markets, mentioned in the New York Times. The genesis of this was pretty simple. This spring, a new group popped up called Freedom From Facebook that wouldn’t explain who their donors were. As is absolutely standard for any advocacy group — no matter the ideology the first question is, who funds them and what is their angle/motivation? Ask any of the groups funded by Koch or Adelson or any big left-wing donor what the first question they get is: “are you going to reveal your donors?”
I had several tech reporters ask me if I knew who was funding Freedom From Facebook to further prompt this line of inquiry.
This was a relevant question, not just for the political or ideological reasons. It matters because people should know whether FFF is a grassroots group as they claimed or something being run by professional Facebook critics.
So Definers looked into what the reporters had asked about and found that the parent group, Open Markets, had said that they receive funding from George Soros in an interview with Bloomberg. Additionally, they found that some of the groups FFF were partnering with were also Soros funded. And that there was a wide network of interest groups supporting the effort backed by a liberal PR firm. Regardless of whether you think it’s a good or bad thing, this funding is potential news for a reporter who covers tech policy to explore. We shared it with that in mind back in the early summer. Following the Times story this week, Axios reported that one of the funders for FFF was David Magerman, a philanthropist out of Philadelphia, reaffirmed that the Soros Foundation has funded associated groups like Open Markets, and said the group remains mum on whether there are any other donors.
To sum up: a few months ago Definers staff sent a background document to reporters that included these connections. That is literally all that was done on this issue. I never publicly said anything about Soros related to Facebook. Or ran any ads about it. Or did anything else except have verbal conversations with reporters about their funding questions. I never even saw what was shared by Definers staff on background with reporters until the Times contacted us because this was a standard reporter background document and not something being put out publicly.
I understand that there is sensitivity — for very good reason — these days around making claims that Soros is behind some globalist cabal to ruin our country. These irresponsible public claims have potentially contributed to recent domestic terror attacks.
I have resoundingly criticized those conspiracies and smears. And did so well before I was contacted by the Times about this story. I’ve also strongly defended Soros on his financial support for refugees — an issue that I am more passionate about than maybe any other.
But here’s the thing: while refugees are an area of agreement when it comes to other policy areas we have a lot of differences. My client at the time — and incidentally this continues to be my personal view — doesn’t agree with Soros and others on the left and right who think Facebook should be broken up or nationalized. In fact, I think it’s a radical and potentially very harmful policy that won’t actually achieve any of the intended goals. I certainly don’t think conservatives want a board of unelected bureaucrats in DC having control over social media platforms.
And I don’t think pointing out to reporters that someone funds or supports a group that the organizers have admitted he funds/supports is out of bounds. Reporters and political opponents repeatedly point out which organizations are funded by the Kochs or Sheldon Adelson. It is relevant and fair game. And these factual points are many degrees of difference from spreading innuendo or anti-semitic globalist conspiracies. People who fund advocacy groups across the spectrum know that those donations will often be disclosed.
Yesterday a friend emailed to say that no matter what the facts, bringing up Soros is wrong because that motivates white supremacists. And honestly that stuck with me because I have a visceral hatred for white supremacists and alt-right trolls. I have fought with them, campaigned against them, and spoken out repeatedly when anyone in the GOP caters to them. Because of that my twitter mentions include some prominent alt-righters dunking on me over this latest controversy. I have no patience for anyone who gives an ounce of cover to these bottom feeders.
With that in mind, I think there has to be a way for Soros to be held accountable for political activities he funds or other legitimate lines of inquiry without veering off into the alt-right. But I certainly understand the view of my friend who disagrees.
I know everyone is not going to be satisfied by my view on this and it’s hard particularly in these fraught times to see what is in others’ hearts or know their values if you don’t know them. But if you came to this post and you don’t know me I want you to know I am someone who respects people of diverse backgrounds and cultures, and in recent years in particular I’ve been challenging myself to understand my own blind spots. This cultural understanding is something that for deeply personal reasons is an absolutely core value for me.
As for my work. PR isn’t for everyone, and at times people are going to think it’s shady. But I like being a passionate advocate for clients. I think I’ve been good at executing the work I’ve been brought on to do. As long as Twitter isn’t paying me per tweet I’m going to continue to do it.
That includes fighting for companies of all shapes and sizes that are trying to understand how to navigate a rapidly changing news and political culture, promoting stories that advance their interests, and push back on those who are misrepresenting them. I’m also going to continue the rewarding PR work I’ve done advocating for people who don’t have access to national media and need someone like me to get their story out. I hope to keep flapping my jaw about politics and possibly work for candidates that I believe in even if the tides of the times seem to be flowing away from my center-right worldview.
In all this work I’m going to endeavor to live up to the values I laid out here, fighting hard but fair for causes and people and organizations that I support.
Thanks for reading.