Speaking in Davos, billionaire and philanthropist George Soros accused Facebook of working for the re-election of US President Donald Trump, in a speech where he also targeted “would-be dictator” Matteo Salvini as one of the biggest threats to European democracies.
In his traditional speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos (Switzerland) late on Thursday (23 January), Soros said “the survival of open societies is endangered and we face an even greater crisis: climate change.”
Meanwhile the US, China and Russia were in the hands of “would-be or actual dictators,” the billionaire philanthropist said.
He described Trump as the “ultimate narcissist” whose self-absorption developed a “pathological dimension” when he arrived to the White House.
As a large number of social media “followers” bought into “his alternative reality”, his narcisism turned into a “malignant disease” during his presidency, Soros continued.
Asked about Facebook, one of his favourite targets, Soros said the company was helping Trump win the US Presidential election in November.
Mark Zuckerberg’s company is not doing “at all” a better job today, he said.
Soros accused Facebook of playing “an important role” in electing the Republican candidate back in 2016, and said it could play the same role this year. He also spoke of a “kind of informal mutual assistance operation or agreement developing” between the US president and the company.
“Facebook will work to re-elect Trump and Trump will work to protect Facebook, so that this situation cannot be changed, and it makes me very concerned about the outcome for 2020,” he said.
Soros, who did not provide any evidence to back his claims, already came out against the social media platform over the past couple of years. Last year, he compared the firm with a gambling company that fuels addiction among users and only cares about profits and praised EU antitrust commissioner Margrethe Vestager for going after IT giants.
Following Soros’s attacks against Facebook in Davos in 2018, the company’s number two, Sheryl Sandberg, requested his team to collect information about the billionaire’s financial interests, and hired a PR firm to orchestrate a campaign against Soros.
Xi’s ‘total control’
In his speech, Soros also went against the other all-powerful man of the planet: Xi Jinping.
He said that Xi “became a dictator as soon as he gained sufficient strength to do so,” used artificial intelligence “to achieve total control” over its 1.3 billion citizens, and “exploit Trump’s weaknesses”
But as Trump will have to fight for his reelection, XI’s success is “far from assured”, Soros said. He listed China’s dependence on US technology – including the microprocessors itsneeds for 5G development –, China’s worsening economic situation, its ageing population and the bipartisan consensus in the US to push back against China’s rise to economic superpower.
Last year, Soros focused his speech on Xi, “the most dangerous enemy” of open societies, and called on Trump to “crack down” on Chinese telecommunication giants ZTE and Huawei.
This year, Soros also came out against Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and the leader of the Italian far-right Matteo Salvini.
The far-right Italian leader is the “would-be dictator of Italy”, he said, praising the movement of Sardines opposing Salvini.
Regarding Orbán, Soros argued that he represents “the perfect example of dictators who does’t know when to stop being repressive”. The consequence of his overreach was that he lost local power, including in Budapest.
One billion for universities
Turning to the future, Soros placed his hope on youth movements and education. For that reason he said that he would invest €1 billion in funding a new network of universities, the Open Society University Network (OSUN).
He described this project to support students, professors and researchers as “the most important and enduring” of his life. Soros explained that this network will build on his Budapest-based campus, the Central European University, and Bard College in New York.
The goal, he said, is to build “a new and innovative educational network that the world really needs”, inviting “farsighted partners” to join.
The Central European University has been at the centre of Soros’s dispute with Orbán, who expelled the university from his territory.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]