Nov 15, 2018

Facebook fires Republican consulting firm that invoked Soros

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Photo: Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images

Facebook has ended its contract with Definers Public Affairs, a consulting firm that came under fire on Wednesday after the New York Times published an investigation focused in part on the tactics it had used to take on critics of the social giant.

The big picture: The Times story portrayed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg as disengaged from some of the key debates over speech and misinformation at the company.

Details: The New York Times story said that Definers had distributed materials trying to link Freedom From Facebook, which advocates the breakup of the company, to the liberal donor George Soros, who has been subject to anti-Semitic attacks.

  • Soros' Open Society Foundations funds non-profits that are part of the coalition but has long said it is not funding the specific Facebook breakup campaign itself.
  • A conservative site called NTK Network with ties to Definers also reportedly posted stories critical of Facebook's competitors.

Facebook ended its relationship with the right-leaning Definers on Wednesday as criticism mounted, including from the president of the Open Society Foundations. The decision was first reported by the Times.

  • "The New York Times is wrong to suggest that we ever asked Definers to pay for or write articles on Facebook’s behalf — or to spread misinformation," the company said in a blog post.
  • A Facebook source familiar with the matter said that Zuckerberg and Sandberg had not been aware of the work the consulting firm was doing for the company.

What they're saying: "We are proud to have partnered with Facebook over the past year on a range of public affairs services," said a spokesperson for Definers in a statement.

  • "The document referenced in the Times story regarding the anti-Facebook organization's potential funding sources was entirely factual and based on public records, including public statements by one of its organizers about receiving funding from Mr. Soros' foundation."

What's next? Facebook pushed back against the broader contention that major company executives had mishandled controversy after controversy. "Mark and Sheryl have been deeply involved in the fight against false news and information operations on Facebook — as they have been consistently involved in all our efforts to prevent misuse of our services," the company said in the blog post.

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World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Brazil registered on Monday for the first time more deaths from the novel coronavirus in a single day than the United States, Reuters notes. Brazil reported 807 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, compared to 620 in the U.S. for the same period.

By the numbers: Almost 5.5 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.2 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.6 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,900 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 5,490,954 — Total deaths: 345,962 — Total recoveries — 2,228,915Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 1,662,250 — Total deaths: 98,218 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 33 mins ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: Authorities issue warning as Americans venture out for Memorial Day weekend

Ocean City in New Jersey on May 25. Photo: Donald Kravitz/Getty Images

Authorities urged Americans to maintain social distancing and wear masks to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus amid reports of packed beaches and bars during the Memorial Day weekend.

Details: Law enforcement stepped up beach patrols, and there were crowded scenes in several places, notably at Lake of the Ozarks bars in Missouri and at Daytona Beach and on the Gulf Coast in Florida, per AP. Police dispersed crowds in some places, ABC notes. But many Americans did take precautions against COVID-19 as they ventured outside for the long weekend, some three months after the pandemic began in the U.S.