Facebook increases lobbying presence on Capitol Hill before Zuckerberg testimony

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Both Zuckerberg and Facebook’s corporate Pac have donated to politicians from both parties. In 2016, Facebook gave $519,500 to federal candidates, 55% of which went to Republicans.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Facebook increases lobbying presence on Capitol Hill before Zuckerberg testimony” was written by Ben Jacobs in Washington, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 28th March 2018 21.03 UTC

Facebook is increasing its lobbying presence in Washington DC before Mark Zuckerberg’s expected testimony on Capitol Hill.

The company has listed 12 policy-related job openings based in Washington DC as it faces increased scrutiny over its privacy policies after it was reported that Cambridge Analytica had obtained data from up to 50 million Facebook users.

The revelation sparked new concern about the amount of information that the company had collected from its users and with whom it was shared.

The job listings include a Washington DC-based public policy manager “to work with both the legislative branch and third-party groups as a clear line of communication, helping to advocate on behalf of the company’s mission and goals” as well as a politics and government manager to “work with candidates, elected officials, and others in the US political system to use our platform and civic engagement tools to connect in meaningful and innovative ways”.

The social media website has long faced scrutiny over the use of its platform by Russia to influence the 2016 election. In October 2017, a lawyer for Facebook testified before Congress that Russian-backed content may have reached up to 126 million Americans on the website. In addition to this content, political advertisements bought by Russia may have reached as many 10 million people.

Luther Lowe, the vice-president for public policy at Yelp, told the Guardian that Facebook’s DC hiring spree represents an effort to “play catch up with Google”. He noted that Facebook’s presence in Washington is currently about half the size of Google, a company that has had several privacy scandals over the past decade.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, spent $18m on lobbying in 2017 including $6m alone in one three-month period. This was more than any other company spent on lobbying in Washington DC. Its top lobbyist in Washington, Susan Molinari, is a former Republican congresswoman who also had a brief stint as a television anchor at CBS. The company’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, also served as an informal adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016 although he has since praised Donald Trump at a White House meeting.

The United States has lagged behind the European Union in the past in oversight of tech companies and social media but Lowe noted “both the Android data leaks over the weekend and Cambridge Analytica news are forcing mechanisms on Congress to catch up with Europe on consumer privacy protections”.

In contrast to the United States, the European Union has had tougher regulations on tech companies and fined Google €2.4bn ($2.95bn) in 2017 for abusing its dominance in the search engine market to favor its own products.

Zuckerberg’s expected testimony, likely to take place in April, before the House energy and commerce committee marks the first time the Facebook founder will appear under oath to discuss the controversy.

The Senate judiciary committee and Senate commerce committee have also invited him to testify.

In 2017, Facebook spent over $11m on its lobbying effort in Washington, representing an increase of nearly $3m on its expenditures in 2016. The company has increased its spending in Washington almost every year since 2009 when it spent just over $200,000.

The company has long had links to prominent Democrats. One of Facebook’s founders, Chris Hughes, left the company in 2007 to work for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Hughes’s husband later mounted an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2014 in upstate New York. It also worked closely with the Obama re-election campaign in 2012.

Both Zuckerberg and Facebook’s corporate Pac have donated to politicians from both parties. In 2016, Facebook gave $519,500 to federal candidates, 55% of which went to Republicans. Zuckerberg was also the founder of a pro-immigration reform group FWD.US and was criticized by Donald Trump in 2015 as a result.

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