How Facebook and Google Win By Embedding in Political Campaigns

By: Sarah Emerson, Motherboard, August 15, 2018

“Facebook plays a positive role by helping leaders like you connect with voters,” Mark Zuckerberg told European Parliament members in May.

The CEO’s appearance was meant to clarify Facebook’s influence on global politics—one of several testimonies that arose from this year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. Yet, despite the interrogation of Zuckerberg and other tech leaders, questions about their companies’ intimacy with election campaigns have gone largely unanswered.

But an investigation from the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit and ethics watchdog group, reveals new details about the political embeds of Facebook and Google. It calls the discreet relationship a conflict of interest, and a surprisingly unregulated one. Campaigns receive free tools and services, it says, while platforms curry insights and powerful political allegiances.

“We are so close with [the campaigns] that we are typically sitting in their offices or having daily calls,” said Ali Jae Henke, a Google employee embedded in a 2016 Republican presidential campaign.

Sometimes Google’s embeds switched between roles—problematically, between ad sales and lobbying, the Campaign for Accountability found via LinkedIn. Google’s head of international elections outreach, Lee Dunn, formerly led the company’s White House outreach, for instance. In this latter role, Dunn had lobbied the Trump administration on digital taxes and copyright. Google’s team lead for US politics, Rob Saliterman, sold ads to campaigns while simultaneously lobbying lawmakers on various policies, the report notes.

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