Sunday, April 18, 2021

Big Tech targets DC with digital charm offensive

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Did you know Facebook supports updated internet regulations? I know it. Boy, I know that. I guess everyone who lives in the Washington, DC area knows that, too. For at least five weeks, Facebook flooded the region with announcements declaring support for the regulation. I first noticed that my morning ritual of watching basketball highlights on NBA.com was starting to get disturbed by the same 30 second Facebook post every time I wanted to watch a 3 minute video. . Let me see the slam dunks, please!

Somehow, despite seeing the ad dozens of times, I still couldn’t tell you which regulations Facebook really has in mind. This is probably because the ads are less about specific policy proposals and more about an attempt to improve Facebook. beaten reputation in the eyes of DC decision makers. Regulatory ads are part of a complete blitz by not only Facebook, but Google and Amazon as well. They, along with American Edge, a pro-tech lobby group that Facebook admitted to supporting, injected ads into the streams of DC’s political audience. A very visible part of this push has come in the form of newsletter sponsorships. After noticing a deluge starting in early February, the Tech Transparency Project followed the sponsorships of 10 super-inside-the-Beltway newsletters, Politico, The Hill, Axios and Punchbowl News. They found that for each day in February, at least one of the newsletters was sponsored by one of the three companies or American Edge. In the third week of the month, Facebook single-handedly sponsored three of them.

Each company has taken a different approach to convincing DC decision makers that it is a force for good. Facebook emphasized the “we support regulation” angle. American Edge highlighted “the critical long-term national security consequences that the United States faces if it gives up its role as a technology leader,” as an announcement put it. Amazon’s ads highlighted its support for a federal minimum wage of $ 15 – and its own initiative in 2018 to implement that pay floor for its employees. Google, meanwhile, has played on what it describes as its support for black-owned businesses.

It is nothing new for companies, both in Silicon Valley and outside, to call on Congress to take some sort of action – Mark Zuckerberg has been insisting for years that he supports a sort of federal legislation – but this latest ad campaign is remarkable in the face of Big Tech. real regulatory pressure for the first time. Facebook and Google already face federal antitrust lawsuits, and Amazon could still join them. (As has Apple, which has been notoriously absent from the advertising whirlwind – a sign, perhaps, that the company doesn’t feel so threatened by anti-tech energy on Capitol Hill.) Meanwhile, Congress is make noise about revising laws like section 230 of the Decency of Communications Act, which protects platforms like Facebook and YouTube from liability for user-generated content.

Businesses, for their part, have made it clear that they want Congress to pass laws on issues such as data privacy that would prevent the proliferating patchwork of state laws. Questions like these explain why these companies have been among the biggest lobby spenders in Washington for years. According to Open Secrets, Facebook, Amazon, and parent company of Google Alphabet spent $ 19.68 million, $ 18.73 million and $ 8.85 million respectively on lobbying in 2020. just people holding the hammers but also from the larger class of DC influencers.

“It is common for a business to sponsor newsletters when it has some sort of pending legislation that it is trying to get, when it is trying to get the attention of policymakers and Beltway elites,” he said. said Michelle Kuppersmith, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, the parent organization of the Tech Transparency Project. “But we noticed this because it was so unusually harsh. I’ve been doing accountability work for almost four years now, and I don’t think I’ve noticed this kind of attack.

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