Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg asked for information about billionaire George Soros and his financial interest in the company’s stock, Facebook has confirmed.
Facebook’s statement late on Thursday followed new reports from The New York Times and Buzzfeed News that said Sandberg was more closely involved with a request to look into Soros than she had previously claimed.
Sandberg had initially denied any knowledge of Facebook’s relationship with Definers Public Affairs, a conservative PR firm hired by the company to do opposition research. Then, on the night before Thanksgiving, she made a post on Facebook acknowledging that she knew about some of its work.
Definers circulated information on Soros earlier this year, which attempted to link him to groups pushing for more regulation of Facebook, according to a New York Times report. Facebook severed ties with the firm two weeks ago, following that story.
In Thursday’s statement, Facebook (FB) said that Definers’ research was already underway when Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, sent an email asking whether Soros had “shorted Facebook’s stock,” a maneuver that bets on a stock losing value.
Elliot J. Schrage, the outgoing Facebook vice president of communications and public policy, has taken responsibility for hiring Definers.
“As Elliot said last week, we researched potential motivations behind George Soros’s criticism of Facebook in January 2018. Mr. Soros is a prominent investor and we looked into his investments and trading activity related to Facebook,” Facebook said in its statement on Thursday.
“That research was already underway when Sheryl sent an email asking if Mr. Soros had shorted Facebook’s stock,” the company added.
Facebook admitted earlier this month that Definers “did encourage members of the press” to examine the funding of “Freedom from Facebook,” an anti-Facebook group. But it said Thursday that Sandberg was not involved in that process.
“Sheryl never directed research on Freedom from Facebook. But as she said before she takes full responsibility for any activity that happened on her watch,” Facebook added.
Sandberg first addressed the controversy over Definers in a Facebook post on November 15, but denied knowing that Facebook had hired them.
“I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have. I have great respect for George Soros — and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent,” she said.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also denied any knowledge of Definers before the latest New York Times report.
Sources told the NYT that Sandberg’s email request came after Soros called Facebook and Google a “menace” during a talk at the World Economic Forum in January. The company has said it was looking into possible financial reasons that the liberal billionaire would have for speaking out against Facebook.