Facebook is no fan of antitrust scrutiny. This much is obvious when you simply look at the stiff and rather uncomfortable exchanges between Mark Zuckerberg and any apprehensive lawmaker on Capitol Hill. So it's no surprise then that the digital giant is reportedly developing its own strategy to fight federal criticism and push against calls for big tech regulation.
According to The Washington Post, which cited anonymous sources close to the matter, Facebook is working with an advocacy group called American Edge, which is funded by dark money to navigate mounting calls for breaking up big tech. But while it may not reveal where it gets its cash from, the report notes the peculiar mix of people spearheading American Edge's board. Former Democratic and Republican representatives and governors, for instance, alongside an ex-commissioner with the Federal Election Commission are just some of the people behind this curious venture.
Why American Edge? — Facebook has repeatedly claimed that the marketplace is extremely competitive so its methods, while seemingly cutthroat, are a legitimate part of the environment. But regulators worry that Facebook, like other tech behemoths including Google and Apple, is trying to lobby support on Silicon Valley's side and thumb its nose at Washington, D.C.
What Facebook says — To The Washington Post, the company confirmed its involvement with the advocacy group, stating: "The United States leads the world in technology and we should be proud of that fact and promote it."
"We're working with a diverse group of stakeholders to help build support for our industry," it added, "and while we're leading an effort to start this coalition, it's one of many we are contributing to and supporting."
Here's the problem — While, yes, tech companies have the autonomy to join advocacy and promotional entities of their liking, they also have an ethical obligation to be open about their sources, specifically their donors. In American Edge's mysterious case, The Washington Post reports that the firm can do all promotional work for Facebook without ever having to disclose where it gets its money from. For reference, another political organization to do that is the National Rifle Association.
This lack of transparency around issues that necessitate clarity and openness inspires very little confidence — and directly contradicts Facebook's claims about accountability over the years. It also pokes a gaping hole in the company's move to appoint third party and supposedly impartial board members for content reviews and other subject matter. If you can't tell the public where your money comes from, you can expect suspicion and lack of trust in your enterprise.
Diversifying its counterattacks — Concerning as it may be, this is not the first time that Facebook has chosen to go down the adversarial route to thwart federal criticism. At the height of its Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook brought on Definers Public Affairs to launch attacks on its most public critics.
Where Definers Public Affairs' approach was based in offense, American Edge's strategy is all about defending and potentially persuading lawmakers on Silicon Valley's side. But they both share a common theme: Facebook's unending hostility to truly reconsider its chokehold over the market.