More fallout from that NY Times story about Facebook

Last Wednesday, the NY Times published a lengthy story on Facebook and how the company has responded to increasing political concern, especially on the left, about the company’s business model. A lot of the story is just a rehash of things we’ve been hearing about for two years now, i.e. progressives angry at Facebook over Russian interference in the 2016 election. But one aspect of the story that made news had to do with how Facebook responded to an anti-Facebook campaign called “Freedom from Facebook.”


In July, organizers with a coalition called Freedom from Facebook crashed a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, where a company executive was testifying about its policies. As the executive spoke, the organizers held aloft signs depicting Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Zuckerberg, who are both Jewish, as two heads of an octopus stretching around the globe.

Eddie Vale, a Democratic public relations strategist who led the protest, later said the image was meant to evoke old cartoons of Standard Oil, the Gilded Age monopoly. But a Facebook official quickly called the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish civil rights organization, to flag the sign. Facebook and other tech companies had partnered with the civil rights group since late 2017 on an initiative to combat anti-Semitism and hate speech online.

That afternoon, the A.D.L. issued a warning from its Twitter account.

“Depicting Jews as an octopus encircling the globe is a classic anti-Semitic trope,” the organization wrote. “Protest Facebook — or anyone — all you want, but pick a different image.” The criticism was soon echoed in conservative outlets including The Washington Free Beacon, which has sought to tie Freedom from Facebook to what the publication calls “extreme anti-Israel groups.”

Here’s what that looked like:


But at the same time the NY Times suggests this image created by Freedom from Facebook was being intentionally misinterpreted as anti-Semitic, the paper goes on to say that Facebook also connected groups supporting the protest to George Soros, which it frames as an anti-Semitic trope:

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

He was a natural target. In a speech at the World Economic Forum in January, he had attacked Facebook and Google, describing them as a monopolist “menace” with “neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions.”

Definers pressed reporters to explore the financial connections between Mr. Soros’s family or philanthropies 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 Mr. Soros’s son. (An official at Mr. 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.)

It’s not hard to catch the many cues the authors (there are five of them) of this NY Times piece are dishing out to readers, i.e. Soros, the left-wing billionaire, is a right-wing “boogeyman” and a victim of smears from the far right. The fact that Facebook was criticizing Soros can only mean they are bad people too, maybe even right-wingers!


You’ll notice that Soros doesn’t deny he supported some of the groups who supported the anti-Facebook group. He only denies having directly supported the group. No doubt the left is good at forming layers of public interest shell companies to make it difficult to trace who is funding what, but at a minimum, some of Soros’ money is one step from this organization. Soros spends a lot of his money on left-wing organizations. It’s not inherently anti-Semitic to notice that or even to complain about it.

Today, Facebook admitted in a statement that it did hire the PR firm Definers to investigate who was behind the anti-Facebook campaign:

In January 2018, investor and philanthropist George Soros attacked Facebook in a speech at Davos, calling us a “menace to society.” We had not heard such criticism from him before and wanted to determine if he had any financial motivation. Definers researched this using public information.

Later, when the “Freedom from Facebook” campaign emerged as a so-called grassroots coalition, the team asked Definers to help understand the groups behind them. They learned that George Soros was funding several of the coalition members. They prepared documents and distributed these to the press to show that this was not simply a spontaneous grassroots movement.

The other fallout that happened last night is that a never Trump conservative named Tim Miller, who was connected to Definers, has been dumped by the team at Crooked Media (the Obama guys behind Pod Save America):


So I guess, to sum this up, anti-Semitic tropes like the Octopus made up of two Jews is not anti-Semitic if Facebook complains about it. Complaining about an anti-Facebook campaign funded by a bunch of groups supported by George Soros is anti-Semitic or something approaching that. And finally, the left will show zero loyalty to people on the right who made a name for themselves trashing President Trump for a left-wing audience.

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