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Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told the company's communications staff to carry out research on the financial interests of liberal billionaire George Soros, The New York Times reports.
Sandberg asked for the information in an email in January to senior communications and policy executives, the Times reported late Thursday, citing three unnamed sources with knowledge of her request.
The request came after Soros bashed Facebook and Google in a January speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, calling them a "menace." At the time, Facebook was facing new scrutiny over its handling of Russian misinformation campaigns and the proliferation of hate speech its platform.
Sandberg told subordinates to look into Soros' criticism and whether he stood to gain financially from the attacks by shorting its shares, the Times said.
A spokesperson for Facebook told CNBC the company researched possible motivations behind Soros' criticism of Facebook in January, before Sandberg inquired about Soros.
"Mr. Soros is a prominent investor and we looked into his investments and trading activity related to Facebook. That research was already underway when Sheryl sent an email asking if Mr. Soros had shorted Facebook's stock," the spokesperson said. "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."
Freedom from Facebook is an anti-Facebook group.
Earlier this month, an extensively reported New York Times article described how CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg downplayed internal efforts to assess Russia's misinformation campaigns, and then tried to deflect public scrutiny onto Facebook's competitors instead.
The report added that even as Facebook claimed some criticism of the company was anti-Semitic, a Republican-linked opposition research firm it worked with was trying to plant the idea that Soros — himself a frequent target of anti-Semitic attacks — was behind the growing anti-Facebook movement.
For her part, Sandberg responded by saying some of the allegations were "simply untrue" but acknowledged that the company was "too slow" to respond to the Russian interference on the site. On Soros, Sandberg said in a Nov. 15 Facebook post she wasn't aware that Facebook had hired opposition research group Definers Public Affairs or the work it was doing. "I have great respect for George Soros — and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent," she added in the post.
But in a memo a week later, she acknowledged "Some of their work was incorporated into materials presented to me," the Times has reported.
Last week, Facebook's outgoing head of communications and public policy, Elliot Schrage, reportedly took the blame for hiring Definers, which Facebook dropped after the initial Times story on Nov. 14.