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Politics

Definers says it wasn't hired by Facebook for opposition research

Facebook ended its contract with the PR firm following a bombshell report from The New York Times.

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James Martin/CNET

Definers Public Affairs, a Washington PR firm tangled up in the latest Facebook debacle, on Friday said it wasn't hired by the social network as an opposition research firm.

A bombshell report by The New York Times on Wednesday raised questions about how CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook leaders handled a series of scandals, including Russian election meddling and the mishandling of user data by Cambridge Analytica. The report said the social network had hired Definers to help fend off critics. The firm tried to link anti-Facebook sentiment to billionaire George Soros by circulating a research document and pressing reporters to look at financial ties between Soros and groups that protested the tech company at congressional hearings in July, according to the Times.

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Facebook on Thursday said it had ended its contract with Definers. The social network also pushed back against the Times report saying that it contains "a number of inaccuracies."

In a statement Friday on its work with Facebook, Definers said its main services for the social network were "basic media monitoring and public relations around public policy issues facing the company." The company said it did provide "research and background information about critics -- both on the left and the right" that was based on researching public records.

"To be clear: Definers was not hired by Facebook as an opposition research firm," the statement reads. "That might be the sexy story for media outlets because several of us have spent years doing research and communications for high-stakes political campaigns, but that was not the scope of work we had for Facebook."

The New York Times says it stands by its report.

"Our story is accurate and we stand by it," said Danielle Rhoades Ha, vice president of communications for The Timesin an email on Friday. "The months-long investigation by a team of reporters was based on interviews with more than 50 sources including current and former Facebook executives and other employees, lawmakers and government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members."

On the heels of the release of the Times report, Facebook said it's handing off editorial oversight to an independent board in 2019. And US Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, is reportedly looking into Facebook's alleged use of Definers to battle its critics.