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By Dennis Romero

Facebook on Thursday admitted that it not only probed billionaire George Soros' motivations for criticizing the platform but also any potential investments he might have in the social media juggernaut.

A statement from a Facebook spokesman said research on "potential motivations" for Soros' January tongue lashing of the platform was underway when Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg sent an email inquiring about Soros' possible position on Facebook stock.

The admission was a response to a New York Times story Thursday that Sandberg directed senior communications and policy executives to look into Soros' investments following a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland during which he called social media "nefarious."

The Times cited three unnamed sources.

Sandberg told staff to find out if Soros stood to gain financially from criticizing Facebook, according to the report.

"We researched potential motivations behind George Soros' criticism of Facebook in January 2018," the Facebook spokesman acknowledged. "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."

During his talk at the forum — Sandberg was reportedly at the event but did not attend his speech — Soros called social media a "menace."

"Something very harmful and maybe irreversible is happening to human attention in our digital age," the politically progressive philanthropist said. "Not just distraction or addiction; social media companies are inducing people to give up their autonomy."

The revelations come on the heels of a Times investigation that found Facebook earlier this year hired a Republican-affiliated firm, Definers Public Affairs, that spread negative stories about Facebook critics, including George Soros.

One former Definers employee told NBC News that the firm had an "in-house fake news shop," but Facebook said it did not ask for that particular service.

Even though Facebook's outgoing chief of communications, Elliot Schrage, said last week that responsibility for the Definers debacle was all his, Facebook's latest statement said Sandberg "takes full responsibility for any activity that happened on her watch."

David Ingram contributed.