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Free Minds & Free Markets

Facebook and Big Tech Discover That Political Friends Are Fickle Friends

As Facebook's supposed ideological allies unfriend the social media giant, the tech industry is learning that there are no permanent allegiances in politics.

Richard B. Levine/NewscomRichard B. Levine/NewscomIt's no secret that tech companies play at politics. But the big companies overwhelmingly favor only one of America's dominant political factions—the Democratic Party—even to the extent of shunning and shaming individuals in the industry who identify with conservatives.

Now the tech industry, led by Facebook, is discovering that it has accomplished nothing but to make itself a target for Republican officials without gaining lasting favor among Democrats. Politics remains a domain where loyalty is fleeting and "friends" are discarded as soon as they cease to be useful.

News that Facebook hired Definers Public Affairs, an opposition research firm that usually works for Republicans, "elicited fury from Democrats, who demanded a Justice Department investigation into Facebook's lobbying campaign," according to The New York Times. Sen, Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has raised more money from Facebook employees than any other Washington lawmaker, has visibly cooled on the company, and his former chief counsel, who he hand-picked for a slot on the Federal Trade Commission, is pushing for more monitoring of the tech industry.

That's probably not what tech workers expected when they opened their wallets for Democratic candidates. Just over 1 percent of their political contributions went to Republicans this year, while 23 percent went to Democrats, Wired reports (the rest went to more bipartisan company political action committees, and to nonpartisan groups).

Facebook went further and made Trump supporters such as Peter Thiel, who sat on the company's board of directors, feel uncomfortable over his political views. In response, Thiel denounced the industry's "intolerant, left-leaning politics" and has shifted his efforts away from Silicon Valley and what he describes as its "one-party state."

Palmer Luckey, who sold virtual-reality company Oculus to Facebook, suffered worse consequences for his ideological leanings. A prominent Trump fan, Luckey was reportedly urged to publicly support Libertarian Gary Johnson in the 2016 presidential race (apparently a more palatable choice to the tech industry) before being forced out of Facebook in 2017 over his political views.

That intolerance would seem to hit lower-level employees at least as hard. Brian Amerige, then a senior engineer at Facebook, complained that the company was "a political monoculture that's intolerant of different views." He subsequently quit after releasing a memo linking his departure to concerns about "free expression and intellectual diversity."

Majorities of libertarians and conservatives who work in tech are hesitant to express themselves because their ideology clashes with cultural norms in the industry, according to a survey conducted this year by the Lincoln Network, which promotes the expansion of liberty through technology.

Unsurprisingly, that "political monoculture" affects the way companies do business. Already under fire after allegations by former contract workers that their peers suppressed news of interest to conservatives, Facebook recently purged hundreds of pages and accounts that served conservatives, libertarians, and anti-establishment progressives. Whether that was intended to suppress unwelcome voices, reassure allies, or both, it certainly angered and unsettled those targeted.

If Republicans still cared about free markets, all this might make the party controlling the White House seethe over a hostile industry without necessarily looking to retaliate for what are company owners' and employees' private actions and preferences. But the Trump-era GOP is populist and perfectly capable of weaponizing the tools of government against its enemies (which, frankly, is how the tools of government are always used once they're unleashed).

With the president railing against the tech giants, the White House is looking into using the government's antitrust powers against the industry, including Facebook. Newly elected Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) went after Google as Missouri's attorney general and now vows to continue and expand his crusade at the federal level. Under Republican control, the House Judiciary Committee put the screws to social media companies over their censorship of ideas they oppose, and its subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice roasted the companies again when it revisited the topic in September.

Which means that the tech giants wager on Democrats and the political left better have paid off. But it doesn't look like that's the case.

Almost certainly, the problem for big tech companies is that they haven't confined themselves to cutting checks to politicians—they also started becoming political players themselves, by going after critics across the political spectrum and amplifying political messaging.

For instance, in hiring Definers to research and counter its critics, Facebook engaged in the sort of bare-fisted tactics that may not be nice, but are extremely common for businesses and politicians alike. Facebook may have paid to target George Soros, the 800-pound gorilla of Democratic donors, but the Democrats' own 2016 champion, Hillary Clinton, "helped fund research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about President Trump's connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin," according to The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, Facebook and other tech giants haven't contributed enough cash to buy off people who like having the political field to themselves and don't want to see new entrants. Together, employees of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft contributed about $15 million to political causes this year. Coincidentally, that's just about exactly what Soros spent all by himself—and he's only number seven on this year's list of top contributors to political causes.

So, now Facebook, Google, Twitter, and the other tech behemoths will find themselves the target of regulatory efforts from Democrats as well as Republicans, and claims that relatively low-budget foreign propaganda shenanigans helped swing elections, rather than the foibles of the candidates and the preferences of the voters. Through their political activism and favoritism, the tech companies have put targets on their own backs without acquiring enough clout to defend themselves.

As Facebook's supposed ideological allies unfriend the social media giant, the tech industry is learning that there are no permanent allegiances in politics—only pitfalls and potential enemies.

Photo Credit: Richard B. Levine/Newscom

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  • JJ||

    Georges Danton sadly shakes his (severed) head in understanding

  • Sevo||

    "It's no secret that tech companies play at politics. But the big companies overwhelmingly favor only one of America's dominant political factions—the Democratic Party—even to the extent of shunning and shaming individuals in the industry who identify with conservatives.
    Now the tech industry, led by Facebook, is discovering that it has accomplished nothing but to make itself a target for Republican officials without gaining lasting favor among Democrats. Politics remains a domain where loyalty is fleeting and "friends" are discarded as soon as they cease to be useful."

    Somebody (it's on the shelf right over there) wrote the book on MS having to, in effect, buy itself out of government extortion. Until one of them says 'stuff it up your ass', they have no alternative.
    Unless they really want to be libertarians, that is..

  • Illocust||

    Stuff it up your ass gets you and anti monopoly inquisition.

  • Doug Heffernan||

    Even if facebook didn't hedge its bets by buying off both parties, won't at least one party still want facebook's sweet sweet moolah going forward? When you've got a lotta money, all you need to do in order to fix your political problems is to throw some more money around. Facebook only needs to spend enough in order to buy gridlock (or pro-facebook regulation) on the relevant issues.

  • Here for the outrage||

    How many caravans can you buy with 15 million bucks?

  • Here for the outrage||

    To actually address the article....

    Conservatives have defended these companies' rights from the start. Seems like a very libertarian and American position to hold.

    IBoth sides tho, Amiright?

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    Sorry, what? Let me guess, you didn't RTFA.

    Newly elected Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) went after Google as Missouri's attorney general and now vows to continue and expand his crusade at the federal level. Under Republican control, the House Judiciary Committee put the screws to social media companies over their censorship of ideas they oppose, and its subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice roasted the companies again when it revisited the topic in September.
  • BigT||

    This was a response to FB private censorship. Absent that the Heffalumps have been hands off.

  • JesseAz||

    Let me guess, you didn't go farther than this article to inform yourself of hawleys issue with Facebook? He's pretty clear on his motivation. Facebook has been given legal protections for being a neutral platform. If they are not neutral, those protections should end. The horror.

  • DrZ||

    You only RTFA if all else fails.

    Whoops...that's RTFM, but only if all else fails.

    Sorryboutthat.

  • DajjaI||

    Sorry this is completely wrong. The tech giants relish regulation. First of all because it gives something for their employees to work on, and secondly because it's a tremendous regulatory hurdle for their competition, which they can quickly and easily sabotage into accruing violations. It will only cement their status as industry leaders. So yeah, expect lots of crocodile tears.

  • BigT||

    Depends on the regs.

    "the White House is looking into using the government's antitrust powers against the industry, including Facebook."

    This, they won't like.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Depends on the regs.

    It really doesn't. Once you can afford the attorneys, accountants, and strategists, all regulations become a defensible wall against competitors trying to claw their way up.

  • JesseAz||

    It was h and r block proposing regulations on preparers, as an example. Democrats really seem to be ignorant to this cycle.

  • DrZ||

    Ignorant? I would think it is a money fountain. Once the regs are established, those companies desiring the regs will pay to keep them going.

    Politicians know exactly where the cookie jar is located.

  • gaoxiaen||

    It was the big trucking companies (who could afford large staffs and lobbyists) that proposed loads of regulations and red tape for independent truckers. After the independent truckers folded, that same staff got to work on rolling back the bullshit.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    This article written by J.D. Schadenfreude.

  • maddarter||

    You really think Dems are upset because they hired Tim Miller and Defining America? Miller is a contributor to left-wing media outlet Crooked Media, or at least he was until this episode. It's fair to criticize the clubbiness of the DC political machine, but that makes the opposite point to the one here. Many of these political types are just different sides of the same coin. This view actually fits better Reason's all-sides-suck mindset.

    The reason for the controversy and anger by Democrats is that attacks on George Soros, while usually paranoid and false anyway (paying Hondurans in the "caravan"?), are often done to appeal to anti-Globalist (really, anti-Jewish) conspiracies. There's a guy named Matt Welch who has written about this recently in The Atlantic. Maybe you've heard of him. Meanwhile, the agency was claiming that criticism of FB was anti-Semitic -- you know, Zuckerberg and Sandberg. Those are the things that crossed the lines in Democratic circles, not just hiring Republicans as implied.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Ima gonna start foxnewsbook.

  • creech||

    I remember the heady days of the libertarian movement in the 1970s. Lots of tech savvy libertarians, Lou Rosetto founding "Wired," etc. We were told the tech/computer/internet revolution would pave the way for libertarian ideas to run roughshod over the statists. What the heck happened????

  • Bubba Jones||

    Money. Regulatory capture.

    Any time a disruptive idea succeeds, the first order of business is to make damned sure it doesn't happen again.

  • Brandybuck||

    I'll tell you what happened. Techies. As someone deeply embedded into the techie sphere the problem is with techies themselves. The reason is that their whole being orbits around the notion that they can engineer and design the world. Software engineers are the worst.

    They don't understand complex systems. And society is the most complex system. To them society is just a machine with knobs they can twiddle until they get it just right. They love technocracy and the Democrats promise Enlightened Technocracy.

  • Arizona_Guy||

    Bingo

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    reason is that their whole being orbits around the notion that they can engineer and design the world.
    [...]
    To them society is just a machine with knobs they can twiddle until they get it just right.

    You're also describing why the universities and the "educated" lean left.

  • JesseAz||

    Only idiots think today's bachelor of arts programs are actually education. A large set of today's college graduates barely make it past calculus one. What passes for many college departments today is not educational in any way.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Math is hard!
    -Barbie

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    Bravo, this ticks all the bigot boxes. Keep hate alive, and keep smearing undefinably broad classes of people!

  • ArielKC||

    Indeed.

  • Dillinger||

    >>>libertarian ideas

    aren't for the masses.

  • Longtobefree||

    No regulations needed.
    Just a finding that the operations of those social media companies is not consistent with section 203, and let the class actions lawsuits begin.

  • Shirley Knott||

    You're going to love the new version of NAFTA.
    See Article 19.17 in the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I knew this was too-chilly before I read the byline.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    "free expression and intellectual diversity."

    Dog-whistle terms for the alt-right.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    As Facebook's supposed ideological allies unfriend the social media giant, the tech industry is learning that there are no permanent allegiances in politics—only pitfalls and potential enemies.

    If we can just force Microsoft to allow users to uninstall IE 4.0, all will be well in tech.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Better yet, get Microsoft to include a fucking media player in their overpriced grab bag of useless shit that no one ever uses. Instead, you get a stupid cartoon paperclip.

  • prakashdagade07||

    nice post really i like it

    railway group d result
    https://www.railwaygroupdresults.in

  • maxsal||

    Ok, that started out weak, but the last two sentences brought it home. Not bad.

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