TTP Investigation: Facebook, Google Still Offering ‘Embed’-Like Consulting to Campaigns
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 26, 2020
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report showing how Facebook and Google employees continue to offer specialized consulting services to political candidates, repeating a pattern that sparked questions about improper involvement four years ago. After facing heavy criticism for “embedding” staff with the Trump campaign in 2016, Facebook promised to scale back its on-site help for candidates and focus instead on a website that provides basic training on how to use its tools. But a review of LinkedIn profiles and other research by TTP suggests that Facebook and Google staffers continue to offer strategic advice to political campaigns that goes far beyond technical guidance.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “Facebook and Google’s ultimate goal is to sell more ads, so it is unsurprising that they would construct a customer service apparatus that seeks to maximize the number of political ads on their platforms. The fact that these platforms are advising on the types of advertising decisions often made by political consultants or campaign staffers displays a concerning level of influence.”
TTP’s review found no evidence of tech employees embedding with political campaigns during the 2020 election cycle, something that may not be possible amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, as with the campaign embeds from 2016, the Facebook and Google employees identified by TTP describe their roles as helping candidates to mold and shape their online campaigns, a level of involvement that appears to go beyond basic training.
The TTP investigation, for example, identified a Facebook employee with a Republican background who helps develop “narratives and collateral” for political organizations, a Facebook staffer who ensures Democrats running for office can “navigate the ever-changing digital landscape,” and a Google employee who helped manage relations with the Trump administration and now works with “political creators … to engage their audiences” on YouTube. The findings raise questions about whether the two companies, by providing this kind of strategic advice, are creating an unregulated influence channel to politicians in a position to oversee the tech sector.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “The findings in TTP’s report display one of the many ways that Facebook and Google attempt to build influence and curry favor with candidates on both sides of the aisle. If these companies continue to play an active role in advising politicians on how to use their tools to get re-elected, how can citizens have faith in the same politicians to rein in the very platforms that helped them win?”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.