By Sean Moran
Facebook and Google increasingly influence Congress as the social media giants censor conservative and alternative voices, dominate the Internet, and violate Americans’ privacy.
Facebook announced on Thursday that they have banned several conservative personalities such as Infowars host Alex Jones, Infowars contributor and YouTube personality Paul Joseph Watson, journalist and activist Laura Loomer, and Milo Yiannopoulus. The social media giant also banned Louis Farrakhan from its platforms.
Facebook said that they banned these personalities because they were “dangerous.”
Amid calls for greater regulation of social media companies’ potential anticompetitive behavior, censorship of conservative and alternative voices, and privacy violations, Facebook and Google have remained at the top of Open Secret’s database of top spenders lobbying Congress.
So far in 2019, Facebook spent $3,400,000 and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, $3,530,00 in lobbying Congress. Alphabet also ranked as the eighth total highest spender in lobbying in 2018, spending $21,740,000, while Facebook spent $12,620,000.
Facebook’s influence has continued to rise over the years. In the early years of President Barack Obama, Facebook spent below one million dollars in 2008 and 2009. From 2011 to 2018, Facebook’s lobbying spending skyrocketed and reached historic highs in 2018, when they spent $12.6 million.
In 2019, Facebook lobbied heavily on H.R. 1644, the Save the Internet Act, a Democrat bill which would restore the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission (FCC) net neutrality regulations, which arose as the result of Google’s heavy lobbying of the Obama administration. In 2019, Google also lobbied on the Save the Internet Act.
In 2018, one of Facebook’s bills on which they lobbied Congress was H.R. 2520, the Browser Act, sponsored by then Rep. and now Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), which would require social media companies such as Facebook and Google to obtain explicit permission from users for collecting their private data. The Browser Act would also stipulate that these social media companies cannot deny services to users who do not opt-in to these companies’ collection of their private data. In 2017, the Browser Act was the most important issue on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Blackburn said that her legislation would establish one set of rules that would balance the relationship between ISPs and Facebook and Google. The legislation would also prevent the social media giants from unfairly profiting off of Americans’ private data without their explicit consent.
“We need one set of rules for the entire internet ecosystem with the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] as the cop on the beat,” said Senator Blackburn. “The FTC has the flexibility to keep up with changes in technology and its principal mission is consumer protection. The BROWSER Act will enable consumers to make more educated decisions regarding the nature of their relationship with tech companies.”
Facebook and Google’s dominance on the Internet has become increasingly apparent as Google has approximately 90 percent of web search traffic, whereas in digital advertising, Google and Facebook amount to nearly two-thirds of American digital ad spending, with Amazon at a “distant third” at under nine percent.
In 2018, Google lobbied Congress fourteen separate times on multiple pieces of legislation that would have increased liability for companies that enabled sex trafficking.
Facebook and Google’s influence in Congress extends to its trade group, the Internet Association. In the fourth quarter of 2018, the Internet Association spent $840,000. In total, the social media giants spent $2.6 million in 2018 for lobbying. In 2019, the association has spent $690,000 so far. Over the last two years, the Internet Association has focused on the Save the Internet Act as well as on legislation that would increase edge providers’ liability for hosting content that enables sex trafficking.
Facebook and Google influence political elections as well. During the 2018 election cycle, Alphabet donated:
$223,269 to former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-TX) Senate campaign to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a prominent critic of Silicon Valley censorship.
$149,741 to Rep. Jacky Rosen’s Senate campaign (D-NV) to unseat Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV).
$135,625 to Rep. Josh Harder’s congressional campaign.
$124,508 to former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s unsuccessful re-election campaign.
$97, 364 to former Sen. Claire McCaskill’s failed re-election campaign.
During the 2018 midterm elections, Facebook donated:
$75,005 to O’Rourke’s Senate campaign.
$37,954 to Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) 2017 special Senate election against former Alabama judge Roy Moore.
$34,534 to Heitkamp’s Senate election.
$31,326 to McCaskill’s Senate campaign.
$29,387 to Rosen’s successful campaign to unseat Heller.
As Facebook and Google and other social media giants continue to increasingly censor and blacklist conservative and alternative voices, more and more conservative voices have called for addressing the social media giants’ dominance of the Internet. Facebook and Google’s influence in Congress also relates to political confrontations; during a hearing in December 2018, the then-ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee delivered a sharp rebuke of Republican accusations of Google’s political bias affecting its search engines, even though Google was his top donor.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in April, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said he envisions three potential remedies for big tech’s violation of free speech and dominance on the Internet.
Cruz’s three solutions include:
- Amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act
- Antitrust measures to address big tech’s dominant status on the Internet.
- Addressing potential cases of fraud and deception.
“No one wants to see the federal government regulating what is allowed to be said, but there are at least three potential remedies that can be considered by Congress or the administration or both,” Cruz said.