Big Tech aims for DC with offensive digital charm

Did you know Does Facebook support updated internet regulations? I know that. Boy, I know that. I guess everyone who lives in the Washington DC area knows that, too. For at least the past five weeks, Facebook has flooded the region with ads declaring their support for regulation. I originally noticed this when my morning ritual of watching basketball highlights on was disrupted by the same 30-second message from Facebook every time I wanted to watch a 3-minute video. Let me just see the victims, please!

Despite the fact that I’ve seen the ad dozens of times, I still could not tell you what regulations Facebook really has in mind. This is probably because the ads are less about specific policy proposals than trying to improve Facebook’s battered reputation in the eyes of DC decision – makers. The regulation ads are not only Facebook but also Google and Amazon. Together with American Edge, a pro-tech lobby group that acknowledges Facebook’s support, it pumped ads into the DC policy audience’s feeds. A very visible part of the push comes in the form of newsletter sponsorships. After noticing a flood in early February, the Tech Transparency Project tracked down the sponsorships of ten super-within-the-Beltway newsletters, from Politico, the Hill, Axios and Punchbowl News. They found that at least one of the newsletters for each day in February was sponsored by one of the three companies or American Edge. In the third week of the month, Facebook only sponsored three of them.

Every company has taken a clear approach to convincing DC decision makers that it is a force for good. Facebook went hard on the “we support regulation” angle. American Edge stressed “the critical long-term consequences for national security that the United States faces if it relinquishes its technological leadership role,” as one ad put it. Amazon’s ads highlighted support for a $ 15 federal minimum wage – and its own move in 2018 to implement the pay floor for its employees. Google, meanwhile, has played down the description of its support for black-owned businesses.

It’s not new to businesses, both inside and outside Silicon Valley, to call on Congress to take some kind of action – Mark Zuckerberg has been insisting for years that he supports some kind of federal law – but this latest advertising print is notable because Big Tech is facing. actual regulatory pressure for the first time. Facebook and Google are already facing federal antitrust lawsuits, and Amazon could still join. (So ​​did Apple, which was absent especially in the whirlwind of advertising – perhaps a sign that the company does not feel so threatened by the anti-technological energy on Capitol Hill.) Meanwhile, Congress is making noises about revisiting laws such as section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects platforms such as Facebook and YouTube from liability for user-generated content.

The companies, in turn, have made it clear that they want Congress to pass laws on issues such as privacy of data that will prevent the spreading blanket of state laws. Issues like these are the reason why these businesses have been one of the largest lobbying expenditures in Washington for years. According to Open Secrets, Facebook, Amazon and Google’s parent company Alphabet spent $ 19.68 million, $ 18.73 million and $ 8.85 million respectively on lobbying in 2020. What is more unusual is the extensive and very public effort to to win hearts, not only the people holding the hammer, but also the wider DC influence class.

“It’s common for a company to sponsor newsletters if they have some kind of pending legislation that they’re trying to get, if they want to get the attention of policymakers and Beltway elites,” said Michelle Kuppersmith, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability. the parent organization of the Tech Transparency Project. ‘But we noticed it because it was so unusual. I’ve been doing accountancy work for almost four years now and I do not think I have noticed this kind of onslaught. ”

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