Sheryl Sandberg said to have asked Facebook staff to research Soros

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg requested opposition research into liberal billionaire George Soros, internal emails reveal.

Sandberg's initial denial came in response to a bombshell New York Times story saying, among many other things, that Facebook had retained the public relations firm Definers to collect information on the company's opponents and critics, as well as plant news stories containing negative information about them. Sandberg reportedly wanted to know whether Soros stood to benefit financially from attacks on the tech mammoths.

The PR firm was hired to look into links between Soros and purportedly grassroots groups, such as "Freedom from Facebook", that publicly lambasted the social network owner. The company said that while Sandberg "takes full responsibility for any activity that happened on her watch", she did not personally direct any research on Freedom from Facebook, an anti-Facebook coalition whose members were among the subjects of Definers's later work.

Facebook acknowledged Thursday that Sandberg asked her staff to conduct research on the Hungarian-born billionaire following his remarks early this year, out of concern that he held a "short" position that would profit from a decline in shares. When questioned about this, Facebook stated: "Mr. Soros is a prominent investor and we looked into his investments and trading activity related to Facebook".

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Zuckerberg himself, meanwhile, said he hadn't heard of Definers before reading a report from the New York Times about his company's misstep. Just two weeks ago, Sandberg denied knowing about a separate, later effort to push stories about Soros by a political firm hired by the social media giant.

"We communicated to Ms. Sandberg that Facebook has a lot of work to do to gain public's trust, and failure to follow through and act will lead to a continued escalation in demands for accountability from Americans of all backgrounds, lawmakers and shareholders", said Rashad Robinson, the president at Color of Change, in a release. Definers also helped respond to what Schrage described as unfair claims about the company.

Among the tech whiz kids, Sandberg as chief operating officer offered a steadier hand as a result of her background working for former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers and the philanthropic arm of Google. Last week's admission by Schrage - a Sandberg confidante who announced in June that he was leaving the company - was widely viewed inside and outside the company as an effort to insulate her from damage. The Times also found that when Facebook was confronted last spring with revelations that the privacy of tens of millions of users had been compromised by Cambridge Analytica, a Trump-linked data firm, Sandberg and Zuckerberg sought to downplay the problem and deflect blame.