Fresh calls to break up Facebook emerged this week after new reporting revealed the tech giant is the guiding force behind a new lobbying group aimed at battling back regulatory scrutiny of Silicon Valley.
The new group, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, is called American Edge, and while Facebook may not be the only entity behind it, "Facebook is viewed as a critical, primary driver."
The lobby group intends to roll out "a barrage of advertising and other political spending to convince policymakers that Silicon Valley is essential to the U.S. economy and the future of free speech."
For its creation, American Edge took a page from the National Rifle Association to avoid disclosing donors. From the Post:
In December, American Edge formed as a nonprofit organization, and last month, it registered an accompanying foundation, according to incorporation documents filed in Virginia. The setup essentially allows it to navigate a thicket of tax laws in such a way that it can raise money, and blitz the airwaves with ads, without the obligation of disclosing all of its donors. Many powerful political actors—including the National Rifle Association—similarly operate with the aid of "social welfare" groups.
The newly formed group will argue that "strong restrictions imposed on tech giants could hurt U.S. firms and ultimately serve to aid their competitors, particularly in China, according to another person familiar with the effort, who described it as a 'fake grass-roots' attempt to influence the policy debate in Washington," aded the Post.
According to Demand Progress, American Edge's creation is unsurprising given that Facebook is "fighting back as lawmakers conduct an antitrust probe and are realizing what happens when we leave tech monopolies unchecked."
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Facebook is secretly setting up a lobbying group to fight government oversight of big tech. No surprise––it’s fighting back as lawmakers conduct an antitrust probe and are realizing what happens when we leave tech monopolies unchecked. We need to #BreakUpFacebook now. https://t.co/GiuCh2dzTX— Demand Progress (@demandprogress) May 12, 2020
"It's no surprise that Facebook wants to go faceless," added Robert Weissman, president the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.
Facebook's reputation, according to Weissman, "has been sullied beyond repair due to an endless string of illegality, misdeeds, and controversies." Weissman pointed to Facebook's violations of user privacy and questions over its commitment to transparency as recent examples.
The company's "hopes and ambitions are the stuff of techno-dystopia," added Weissman, "and conflict with the maintenance of a robust democracy, in which the people, not giant corporations, control the government and establish the rules of the economy."
"Facebook thus faces a conundrum," he continued. "A functioning, independent government is a threat to its global dreams, but even with its fabulous wealth, the company's shameful record of wrongdoing prevents it from compromising government sufficiently. And so, we have the prospect of Facebook creating a front group and secret money machine."
"Money gets you an awful lot in Washington, but even in D.C., there are limits," said Weissman. "American Edge of Despair is not likely to rescue Facebook from the overdue regulatory, antitrust, and civil rights scrutiny that is now coming its way."