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Facebook's outgoing VP of comms defends using PR firm to dig up info on critics

Facebook CEO defends company amid scandals
Facebook CEO defends company amid scandals 00:59

Facebook's outgoing head of public policy and communications has taken full responsibility for hiring a controversial public relations firm accused of pushing critical stories on Facebook's opponents.

Elliot Schrage stepped down from his role at Facebook in June but remains as an adviser to the company's executive team. He took "full responsibility" for hiring Definers Public Affairs in 2017, just as Facebook was fighting the fallout of Russian interference on its platform.

On its website, Definers says it uses political campaign techniques to help companies with public relations (the company was founded by former Republican campaign operatives Matt Rhoades and Joe Pounder) and offers to compile dossiers on "opponents, competitors and agitators" of its clients.

Facebook has come under fire for using the firm, with the New York Times reporting this week that the company hired Definers to "deflect" from the Russian interference crisis and spread information to reporters and the media about Facebook's critics.

Sheryl Sandberg on alleged Facebook cover-up 04:50

In a memo first reported by TechCrunch and provided to CNET by Facebook, Schrage said Facebook hired Definers after facing "acute" pressure over allegations of Russian interference on its service, but denied Facebook had used the firm to push "fake news."

"We asked Definers to do what public relations firms typically do to support a company — sending us press clippings, conducting research, writing messaging documents, and reaching out to reporters," Schrage wrote in the memo.

"Some of this work is being characterized as opposition research, but I believe it would be irresponsible and unprofessional for us not to understand the backgrounds and potential conflicts of interest of our critics."

Schrage also admitted Facebook asked Definers to find information on liberal financier and outspoken critic of Facebook George Soros, but said this was compiled from publicly-available information.

Facebook severed ties with Definers on Nov. 15, according to The New York Times.

This article originally published on CNET.

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