Facebook Under Fire For Allegedly Hiring A Republican Public Relations Team
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
So many conspiracy theories have suggested that so many people are secretly working for George Soros that we have called a man who actually does. To be precise, Patrick Gaspard works for the Open Society Foundations which the financier created. Gaspard is denouncing Facebook, which is in trouble for the way that it's shared people's data and the way it was used to spread disinformation in the 2016 election. The New York Times reported that a consulting firm hired by Facebook tried to defend the company by suggesting its critics were George Soros plants. Mr. Gaspard, welcome to the program.
PATRICK GASPARD: Steve, thank you so much for having me on on this important subject.
INSKEEP: What's wrong with what Facebook did?
GASPARD: Well, there are a number of things that are terribly wrong with what Facebook did. This was what one would call a black ops, false flag operation. There are Americans who are in high office and average Americans in civil society who have important questions that they're asking about the integrity of our elections and the way in which data that should be private that is contained by Facebook was exploited during the election season - really important questions. Facebook attempted to give the impression that these critics of their way of operating were somehow being orchestrated towards this criticism by the founder chairman of the Open Society Foundations, George Soros.
It's not dissimilar to what some on the extreme right did with the migrant caravan when they sent around video, sent misinformation to, again, suggest that George Soros was somehow puppet mastering all of this in some nefarious global plot against U.S. sovereignty.
INSKEEP: Has your organization or George Soros been involved in any way in criticizing Facebook?
GASPARD: Absolutely not. Well, in criticizing Facebook, we have absolutely been involved in a very public way, very transparent way in asking questions not just about Facebook, but about all the social media platforms, the right to privacy that we all cherish and hold dear and the ability to maintain the integrity of our elections. Out loud public rigorous debate on these questions, we have not been involved in any way, shape or form with funding a campaign against Facebook at all. And I think that it's profoundly insulting to the average Americans who've made their way to Capitol Hill, to their state capitols to have these important conversations, to suggest that someone is a puppet master steering them to do this. Yesterday...
INSKEEP: Now, we should mention, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook who's been linked to some of these has put out a post in the last several hours. She said, I did not know we hired Definers - which is the company involved here - or about the work we were - they were doing, but I should have. I have great respect for George Soros. And the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent - anti-Semitic because Soros is Jewish. Is that enough for you?
GASPARD: No. Of course that's not enough, but it's a first step. I appreciate the admiration that both Sheryl Sandberg, who I spoke to at length yesterday, and Mark Zuckerberg expressed with their public comments. But you can't express admiration one instant and offend with the other hand. We are demanding, insisting on a public apology from Facebook, not just to George Soros and the Open Society Foundations, but to all of those who are practicing their First Amendment rights and asking these important questions. We're also insisting that Facebook have a transparent, independent review of these black ops and the material that Definers provided to them and disseminated to the public.
GASPARD: I think - sorry, Steve.
INSKEEP: You just said you spoke at length with Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook yesterday. What was that conversation like?
GASPARD: I did. I did. I did. Look. I - through the foundation released a statement denouncing these tactics, making it evident and plain that we had absolutely nothing to do with the campaign that's been organized. Sheryl Sandberg reached out to me when she saw the note. And we had a discussion about the challenges that that platform faces, the challenges they've had in, frankly, policing in a responsible way the data of average Americans and people around the world. And I rehearsed to Sheryl Sandberg what I just said to you about the need for independent review, an investigation, transparency and an apology to those who have been smeared by these tactics. I just want to quickly add, Steve...
INSKEEP: Did she apologize?
GASPARD: She - what she said is that she was unaware of this, had not personally had played a role in the hiring of this firm and had terminated their contract immediately. It's just not - that's insufficient. I also want to quickly add, Steve, that now it turns out that this group, Definers, is the same organization that Scott Pruitt hired in a no-bid contract at EPA to smear employees at EPA who had been critical of his environmental policies, his environmentally degrading - former EPA administrator. Who's clear what Definers is? This is not a PR firm. This is a black ops firm that should never ever have been hired by Facebook to undertake this task on their behalf.
INSKEEP: I want to ask about one other thing, Mr. Gaspard...
INSKEEP: ...Because we should note - George Soros, he's a financier. He's Jewish, which is why people see the attacks against him as anti-Semitic. He is also someone obviously who has been politically active for many years, who has a passion for certain political issues, who has been in different degrees more or less involved in various American elections on various...
GASPARD: George has been a philanthropist, a public philanthropist for the last four decades of his life. And...
INSKEEP: But let me stop you for a second. This is the question I want to put on the table, Mr. Gaspard, because lots of Republicans bring up Soros's name a lot. He has been politically active, and so they would argue it's fair to criticize him. But, of course, there are criticisms that can be seen as anti-Semitic. What is the difference between a fair criticism of George Soros and one that would be out of bounds and anti-Semitic?
GASPARD: That's a fantastic question, Steve. I'm having this conversation with you from Berlin, where I've had to come with 200 of our colleagues who were forced to leave Hungary because of exactly these kinds of disinformation campaigns against migrants, against those who are working for equal access to justice and independent media. The difference between the two things is - you're right, Mr. Soros does have a history of political involvement in the United States, and on those issues that he litigates, he is more than open to criticism, to robust open debate on the facts. What were - what is reprehensible is when you have members of Congress like Matt Gaetz, for instance, in Pensacola, Fla., who email out or send tweets suggesting that George Soros is the hidden hand behind the migrant caravan.
INSKEEP: So if it's a lie, that's what would make it an unfair criticism.
GASPARD: Yeah, if it's a lie. And if it's a lie that is filtered through the lens of the kinds of anti-Semitic tropes that we have seen for decades now.
INSKEEP: Patrick Gaspard, I've got to stop you right there, But I've really enjoyed this conversation. Thanks so much.
GASPARD: Thank you, Steve. Really appreciate being on.
INSKEEP: He is the president of the Open Society Foundations which were founded by George Soros. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.