Internal Facebook memo sees outgoing VP of comms Schrage take blame for hiring Definers

TechCrunch obtained an internal memo published by Facebook's outgoing public policy chief Elliot Schrage in which he is accused of hiring the Definitors of the public relations firm. He admits that the company has pushed negative narratives about the competitors, but he says that Facebook did not even ask the Definitors to publish false news. The Director of Operations, Sheryl Sandberg, left a comment in the note and said that it was never the intention of Facebook to participate in anti-Semitic theories about George Soros.

The note includes a question and answer session on the points raised by a New York Times article that details how the Definitors worked to spread the word. Negative publicity about Google and other technology giants to make Facebook look better, and that the firm's employees also published biased articles hitting competitors and critics of Facebook through a news site called NTK Network that is affiliated with the Definitors.

In the note, Schrage justifies the use of the opposition's investigation, and punishes Facebook employees for allowing the internal remarks surrounding their problems of the last two years to be made public. He also notes that his replacement, Facebook's new head of global policy and former British Prime Minister Nick Clegg will review his work with all political consultants, which could generate more skeletons.

Facebook's former political and communications chief, Elliot Schrage (left) meeting with former President George W. Bush. [Image publicly shared by Facebook’s Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth]

Schrage announced in June that he would retire after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but would stay to help find a replacement. Many have asked who, if anyone, they would fire him for putting Facebook in collusion with the Definitors. As TechCrunch reported earlier, Schrage was at the top of the chain of command here. Given his extensive experience in public policy, he was probably very aware of the nature of the work of the Definitors. Schrage taking the blame provides a convenient solution to the problem, since he is already dating.

"The responsibility for these decisions rests with the leadership of the Communications team. That's me. Mark and Sheryl trusted me to handle this without controversy, "writes Schrage. "He knew and approved the decision to hire Definitors and similar firms. He should have known about the decision to extend his mandate. . . I'm sorry to have disappointed you all. I regret my own failure here. "This explanation serves to protect Zuckerberg and Sandberg from additional guilt, even when Sandberg struggles to prove that he is not passing the ball by saying" I want to make it clear that I oversee our communications team and I take full responsibility his work and the public relations firms that work with us. "

Schrage's defense of his bosses provides additional coverage for Zuckerberg's comments from a CNN interview that took place tonight in which he said he will not resign to be the president of Facebook and hopes to continue working with Sandberg for decades to come The memo could have been aimed at defusing internal turmoil about Facebook's main lobbyist, Joel Kaplan, his ties to the Republican Party, support for the judge Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and his involvement in Facebook's latest public relations problems led some employees to question his employment.Now Facebook has someone else to deal with the problem.

Schrage is jumping on the grenade here. [19659002] The memo and comment can be found below:

Internal note from Facebook by Elliot Schra ge

Many of you have raised questions about our relationship with the consulting firm Definers. We have been researching this and although it is close to a vacation for many of you, I wanted to share an update on what we have learned and where things are:

Why do we hire Definitors?

We hired Definitors in 2017 as part of our efforts to diversify our DC advisors after the election. Like many companies, we needed to expand our reach. We also face increasing pressure from competitors in technology, telecommunications and media companies that want the government to regulate us.

This pressure became particularly acute in September 2017 after we published details of Russia's interference in our service. We hired associated companies with both Republicans and Democrats: the definitors were one of the companies affiliated with the Republicans.

What did we ask them to do and what did they do?

As we continue to review our relationship with the definitors, we know the following: We ask the Definitors to do what public relations companies usually do to support a company: send us press clippings, conduct research, write message documents and reach the journalists.

Part of this work is being characterized as opposition research, but I think it would be irresponsible and unprofessional for us not to understand the background and possible conflicts of interest of our critics. This work can be used internally to inform our messages and, when appropriate, can be shared with journalists. This work is also useful to respond to unfair claims that have criticized Facebook, and to distinguish ourselves positively from our competitors.

As the pressure on Facebook grew throughout the year, the Communications team used the Definitors more and more. At Sheryl's request, we did all the work they did, but we learned that as the commitment was expanded, more people worked with them on more projects and the relationship was managed less centrally.

Did we ask you to do it? Do you work for George Soros?

Yes In January 2018, investor and philanthropist George Soros attacked Facebook in a speech in Davos, calling us "a threat to society." We had not heard such criticisms from him before and wanted to determine if he had any financial motivation. The definitors investigated this using public information.

Later, when the "Facebook Freedom" campaign emerged as a so-called grassroots coalition, the team asked the Definitors to help understand the groups behind them. They learned that George Soros was funding several of the coalition members. They prepared documents and distributed them to the press to show that this was not simply a spontaneous grassroots movement.

Do we ask you to work on our competitors?

Yes As I indicated earlier, the Definitors helped us respond to unfair claims in which Facebook was qualified [sic] to be criticized. They also helped us to distinguish ourselves positively from competitors.

Did we ask you to distribute or create false news?

No.

Who knew about this work and who approved it?

Responsibility for these Decisions fall on the leadership of the Communications team. That's me. Mark and Sheryl trusted me to handle this without controversy.

He knew and approved the decision to hire Definitors and similar firms. He should have known about the decision to extend his mandate. During the last decade, I created a management system that relies on teams to escalate problems if they are not comfortable with a project, the value it will provide or the risks it creates. That system failed here and I regret having disappointed you. I regret my own failure here.

Why have we stopped working with them?

Mark has asked us to reevaluate how we work with communications consultants. It is not about the Definitors. It's about us, not them.

Mark has made it clear that since Facebook is a mission-driven company, he wants us to have a higher standard. He feels uncomfortable trusting any outside company to make decisions about how to defend our case about our mission, policies, competitors and critics until he can feel comfortable with our administration, supervision and escalation.

Where are we now?

Many people in the company feel uncomfortable when they find out about this job. Many people in the Communications team feel attacked by the press and even by their colleagues. I am deeply disappointed that so much internal discussion and finger pointing have been made public. This is a serious threat to our culture and our ability to work together in difficult times.

Our culture has always been to move fast and take risks. Many times we have moved too fast and we always learn and try to do our best. This will not be an exception.

What happens next?

Our legal team continues to review our work with the Definitors to understand what happened. Mark and Sheryl also asked Nick Clegg to review all of our work with communications consultants and propose principles and management processes to guide the work of the team in the future. We all want to make sure that we, our advisors and advisors, reflect better the values ​​and culture of Facebook.

Comment the memorandum by Sheryl Sandberg

Thank you for sharing this, Elliot.
I want to be clear that I oversee our communications team and take responsibility for their work and the public relations firms that work with us. I truly believe that we have a world class communications team and I want to acknowledge the enormous pressure the team has faced over the past year.

When I read the story in the New York Times last week, I do not remember a firm called Definitors. I asked our team to examine the work the Definitors did for us and to check again if something had crossed my desk. Part of their work was incorporated into the materials that were presented to me and I received a small amount of emails that were referred to the Definitors.

I also want to emphasize that it was never the intention to participate in an anti-Semitic narrative against Mr. Soros or any other person. Being a Jew is a fundamental part of who I am and our company is firmly against hate. The idea that our work has been interpreted as anti-Semitic is abominable to me, and very personal.

I know this has been a distraction at a time when we all work hard to close the year, and I am. sorry. As I said in All Hands, I deeply believe in the work we do and we are very grateful to everyone for doing so much every day. Thanksgiving seems like the right time to thank you once again.

Additional information by Taylor Hatmaker