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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.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - World

Skripal poisoning suspects linked to Czech blast, as country expels 18 Russians

Combined images released by British police in 2018 of Alexander Petrov (L) and Ruslan Boshirov, who are suspected of carrying out an attack in the in the southern English city of Salisbury using Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, and also the2014 Czech depot explosion. Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images

Czech police on Saturday connected two Russian men suspected of carrying out a poisoning attack in Salisbury, England, with a deadly ammunition depot explosion southeast of the capital, Prague, per Reuters.

Driving the news: Czech officials announced Saturday they're expelling 18 Russian diplomats they accuse of being involved in the blast in Vrbětice, AP notes. Czech police said later they're searching for two men carrying several passports — including two with the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

Indianapolis mass shooting suspect legally bought 2 guns, police say

Marion County Forensic Services vehicles are parked at the site of a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Friday. Photo: Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images

The suspected gunman in this week's mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis legally purchased two "assault rifles" believed to have been used in the attack, police said late Saturday.

Of note: The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's statement that Brandon Scott Hole, 19, bought the rifles last July and September comes a day after the FBI told news outlets that a "shotgun was seized" from the suspect in March 2020 after his mother raised concerns about his mental health.

U.S. and China agree to take joint climate action

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry waves as he arrives at the Elysee Presidential Palace on March 10, 2021 in Paris. Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Despite an increasingly tense relationship, the U.S. and China agreed Saturday to work together to tackle global climate change, including by "raising ambition" for emissions cuts during the 2020s — a key goal of the Biden administration.

Why it matters: The joint communique released Saturday evening commits the world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases to work together to keep the most ambitious temperature target contained in the Paris Climate Agreement viable by potentially taking additional emissions cuts prior to 2030.