Facebook’s Elliot Schrage Defends Opposition Research on George Soros

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. was within its rights to research George Soros after the billionaire critiqued the social network publicly, Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s outgoing policy chief, said.

Schrage, who has worked at Facebook since 2008, has been a central figure at the social-media giant during its year of turmoil over misinformation and privacy breaches that have sent its shares sliding. The latest scandal, over Facebook’s hiring of Definers, a Republican-linked opposition research firm, has placed pressure on Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. Last month, Schrage wrote a note to employees saying he was responsible for hiring the firm.

Definers tried to deflect criticism of Facebook by encouraging reporters to look into whether Soros supported anti-Facebook groups. Soros, 88, has been a frequent detractor of Facebook, calling it a “menace” earlier this year.

Schrage defended the move on Wednesday at an event in San Francisco hosted by The Atlantic magazine, saying that it’s a legitimate strategy to discuss the potential motivations of investors who are critical of companies.

"The principle that somebody who is a critic of yours, who is an investor and who is making statements criticizing you in a public debate on a public issue, if they are entering that public fray and they’re making statements, I don’t think it is all illegitimate," Schrage said, according to a transcript of his talk. "Indeed I think it is legitimate to honestly, accurately, and transparently communicate about that."

In June, Schrage said he was stepping down. He is currently training his replacement, Nick Clegg, a former U.K. government official.

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