A small agency referred to as Definers Public Affairs introduced the darkish arts of Washington’s backroom politics to Silicon Valley when, whereas working for Fb, it started disparaging different tech firms to reporters.

However a number of days earlier than Sheryl Sandberg, Fb’s chief working officer, testified to Congress in September, Definers set its sights on a unique goal: the senators about to query Ms Sandberg.

In a single doc circulated to reporters, Definers tallied what software program the 15 members of the Senate Intelligence Committee used to trace guests to their Senate web sites. One other doc detailed how a lot every senator spent on Fb advertisements and the way a lot that they had acquired in marketing campaign donations from Fb or different large tech firms.

Identified within the political enterprise as opposition analysis, the paperwork pushed out by Definers neatly supplied reporters with the ammunition they would wish to counsel the senators grilling Ms Sandberg had been hypocrites for criticising Fb.

Whereas senators are not any strangers to opposition analysis — they use it on a regular basis in opposition to political rivals — they take a dimmer view when it’s used in opposition to them outdoors of election season. That’s very true when the analysis is being paid for and shovelled to reporters on behalf of an organization that’s saying it desires to work with lawmakers, not in opposition to them.

And corporations dealing with scrutiny in Washington normally keep away from doing something that might antagonise lawmakers.

“On the identical time that Fb was publicly professing their want to work with the committee to deal with these points, they had been paying a political opposition analysis agency to privately try to undermine that very same committee’s credibility,” Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the highest Democrat on the panel, mentioned in a press release. “It’s very regarding.”

The paperwork obtained by The New York Instances present a deeper take a look at Definers’ techniques to discredit Fb’s critics. The Instances reported on Wednesday that Definers additionally distributed analysis paperwork to reporters that solid liberal donor George Soros as an unacknowledged power behind activists protesting Fb, and helped publish articles criticising Fb’s rivals on what was designed to appear like a typical conservative information web site.

Late on Wednesday, after The Instances printed its findings, Fb lower ties with the agency.

“I perceive that numerous DC-type companies would possibly do this type of work. Once I realized about it I made a decision that we don’t need to be doing it,” Mark Zuckerberg, Fb’s chief govt, mentioned on Thursday throughout a name with reporters.

Colin Reed, managing director of Definers, mentioned in an e-mail his agency merely compiled public info and what Definers did was “customary working process” for public affairs outfits. “It shouldn’t be shocking to reporters at The New York Instances that a PR agency can be offering context for reporters forward of a consumer’s testimony on Capitol Hill,” he wrote.

Fb initially employed Definers to watch information in regards to the social community. It expanded its relationship with the agency in October 2017 when scrutiny of Fb was rising over how Russian brokers had used the location to sow discord earlier than the 2016 US election.

Definers started doing a little basic communications work, comparable to operating convention requires Fb. It additionally undertook extra covert efforts to unfold the blame for the rise of the Russian disinformation, pointing fingers at different firms like Google.

A key a part of Definers’ technique was NTK Community, a web site that seemed to be a run-of-the-mill information aggregator with a right-wing slant. In truth, a lot of NTK Community’s tales had been written by staff at Definers and America Rising, a sister agency, to criticise rivals of their shoppers, in response to one former worker not allowed to talk about it publicly. The three outfits share some workers and places of work in Arlington, Virginia.

Earlier than Ms Sandberg’s Senate testimony, Fb lobbyists pushed lawmakers to chorus from questioning her about privateness, censorship and different points, and to stay to election interference. The committee’s chairman, Senator Richard Burr, R-NC, was swayed and warned members to stay to the listening to’s deliberate subject, The Instances reported on Wednesday.

Just like the paperwork on the senators, Definers distributed different memos that sought to put out proof for angles it needed reporters to pursue. The memos had been sometimes primarily based on public info like press clippings and social media posts.

Definers urged reporters to discover the monetary ties between Mr Soros and Freedom From Fb, a coalition of teams that had criticised the corporate. The concept was to steer reporters that the coalition was not a honest motion of like-minded teams however fairly an orchestrated marketing campaign by a wealthy, partisan opponent.

A two-page doc Definers distributed about Freedom From Fb famous “not less than 4 of the teams within the coalition obtain funding or are aligned with George Soros, who has publicly criticised Fb.” The 4 teams named within the doc do seem to have acquired funding from Mr Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

A second, 12-page doc sought to hyperlink Freedom From Fb to Mr Soros and to David Brock, a Democratic operative who’s broadly portrayed in conservative circles as a grasp of political soiled methods. Whereas pushing the connection to Mr Soros, the doc highlighted that protesters from Freedom From Fb held up indicators with pictures paying homage to outdated, antisemitic propaganda.

Definers mentioned in a press release the doc was “solely factual and primarily based on public data.”

Eddie Vale, a Freedom From Fb spokesperson, mentioned the coalition’s major funder was the pc scientist David Magerman however he declined to reveal different funders. Mr Vale mentioned the coalition didn’t obtain cash from companies. Open Society Foundations mentioned it didn’t fund the coalition.

Laura Silber, a spokesperson for Open Society Foundations, mentioned the philanthropy’s president spoke with Ms Sandberg on Thursday and requested Fb fee an unbiased evaluation of the corporate’s relationship with Definers, with outcomes made public inside three months.

The current work by Definers was not the primary time Fb has tried to smear its rivals. In 2011, Fb employed the public-relations agency Burson-Marsteller to induce reporters to analyze Google for invading individuals’s privateness. The transfer backfired when reporters revealed the plan.

The New York Instances

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