TTP Investigation: Facebook Targets Washington Crowd Ahead of Zuckerberg Testimony
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 9, 2021
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 the results of a month-long project tracking Big Tech’s sponsorships of newsletters targeted to Beltway insiders. TTP found that Facebook, currently amid a public-relations push promoting Section 230 reform, among other things, sponsored at least one major Beltway newsletter every weekday from the start of February through the first week of March.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “It’s not news that corporations use sponsorships to put their message in front of powerful people, but Facebook’s recent newsletter saturation stands out and shows an ongoing campaign to garner soft power over the DC insiders who will eventually decide its fate in regulatory matters.”
For its review, TTP tracked the sponsorships of: POLITICO’s Morning Tech, Huddle, and Playbook; The Hill’s Morning and 12:30pm Reports; Axios AM, PM, Sneak Peek, and Login; and Punchbowl. These newsletters typically allow their sponsors to insert a message of choice inside the digest. Within the 56 examples of Facebook newsletter sponsorships identified by TTP over this period, the following message was typically included:
“A message from Facebook: It’s time to update internet regulations. The internet has changed a lot in 25 years. But the last time comprehensive internet regulations were passed was in 1996. We want updated internet regulations to set clear guidelines for addressing today’s toughest challenges.”
This campaign appears to be a lead-in to the March 25 Big Tech CEO hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee where Mark Zuckerberg will testify and face questions about the spread of misinformation online for the first time since the January 6 insurrection. Despite the vague message in support of regulation, the specific proposals supported by Zuckerberg and Facebook have a number of self-serving elements. For one, Facebook’s white paper on online content warns against making internet platforms liable for what users post and instead recommends rules such as “periodic public reporting of enforcement data”—something Facebook already does. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg’s proposal for “data portability”—giving people a choice to move their online data between different services—is undermined by the fact that Facebook already owns other key social networks Instagram and WhatsApp.
This PR campaign is supported by additional Beltway newsletter sponsorships from American Edge, a new tech advocacy group backed by Facebook. The group, which advocates generally for US technology superiority, has been running a parallel campaign, warning lawmakers that a weakening of US Big Tech firms may cede ground to countries like China and Russia. TTP counted 35 newsletter sponsorships by American Edge Project during this five-week period, bringing the total sponsorship count between the two friendly entities to 91.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “Facebook’s recent ad blitz is a blatant effort to control the national conversation around Big Tech regulations and position itself as a responsible actor in the fight against a problem that it itself has caused. Ad brokers and influential readers of these newsletters should be aware of Facebook’s soft power grab, and carefully consider how these expensive ad buys influence public opinion.”
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.