Facebook and its parent company, Meta, have been at the hub of several controversies in recent times. The company has been a subject of several antitrust investigations and legislations in different regions. Thus, it is not a surprise if the company fights back with any means possible. According to reports, Facebook is using a front office to launch propaganda through op-eds in local newspapers across the US. The aim of this propaganda is to lobby the US Congress. They want Congress to abandon antitrust legislation that promotes competition in the technology industry.
According to The Washington Post, American Edge, a political lobbying group founded by Facebook, launched a PR campaign in March. At the time, the U.S. Senate was about to unveil a bipartisan piece of legislation aimed at curbing tech giants.
Although the ads and op-eds claims to be from groups representing small businesses, they get funds from Facebook. The ads and paid-for articles warn that the new legislation “is a misguided agenda” that will “rake away the technology we use every day.”
Last month, The New York Post was the first to report that some local business owners had published dozens of op-eds and editorial letters in several small publications across the country. These were defending big tech companies like Facebook and Google. Furthermore, the wordings of these articles is eerily similar.
Legislation in the U.S. Senate targets tech companies with the largest valuations and user bases. The companies in this class includes the likes of Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft, among others. These companies would be banned from favouring their own products and services in search results. Also, the legislation proposes other measures aimed at promoting competition.
Facebook – the alledged founder of American Edge
According to The Washington Post, Facebook is the sole funder of American Edge, and the group pays to publish op-eds in dozens of local U.S. newspapers and make it look like a grassroots effort to oppose the antitrust legislation.
American Edge has also commissioned research to try to prove that the new legislation will hurt the U.S. tech industry. In some of its ads, the group warn that if the U.S. imposed antitrust restrictions on the biggest tech companies, it would lose the tech industry’s international edge.
Some of the ads appear to be from small business rights groups such as The Alliance, an economic development group in Mississippi. Clayton Stanley, president and CEO of The Alliance, wrote in the Mississippi Business Journal: “Rather than attacking these digital platforms, we need to partner with them to provide innovation and access to businesses, and help us survive”. Mississippi is thousands of kilometres from Silicon Valley, home to tech companies.
Critics have accused Facebook of hiding behind the scenes to deliver its message to an unsuspecting public. With a more transparent approach, the public would likely be reluctant to accept such information. On the other hand, in public, Facebook’s parent company Meta Platforms claim to be willing to work with lawmakers to push for reforms in the regulation of the internet industry.
“We’ve made it clear that we support American Edge’s efforts to educate the public about how helpful the U.S. tech industry can be,” a company spokesperson said. “At the same time, the proposed antitrust reforms do nothing to address areas of greatest concern. These problems could undermine U.S. competitiveness.”
American Edge accepts receiving funding from Facebook
American Edge CEO Doug Kelly said the group received “seed funding” from Meta. However, he also claims that the group now has other funders. We do not know whether or not other big tech firms are part of these funders. “This progress is driven by a strong realization that protecting America’s technological advantage is a worthwhile and meaningful endeavour,” he said.
However, Kelly denies that Stanley was paid to advertise. He also explained why his relationship with Meta was not disclosed in advertisements and op-eds. “The Washington Post may not reveal parent company Amazon’s name on the front page, but American Edge has prominently displayed Facebook’s name since its launch.”