Facebook Jumps Into the Political Fray

The resolution of the flap over campaign ads paid for by a group (Fwd.us) funded by some leading tech barons, most notably Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, is going to be revealing of many things.

Perhaps for the first time the tech industry is giving financial and intellectual support to political campaigns that are bound to attract the enmity of many of the most fanatical people and organizations in the country: nativists, the public education lobby, and environmentalists among them.

The goals of Fwd.us are few but clear.  They want immigration reform, education reform, and support for scientific research.  It doesn’t sound all that radical, but in fact it puts the political neophytes from Silicon Valley directly in the crosshairs of a number of groups, evidence of which has come already via an organized campaign mounted by the Sierra Club in opposition to the campaign ads at issue.

The ads support two U.S. senators, a Republican (Graham) and a Democrat (Begich), both of whom favor immigration reform but who represent deep Red states whose citizens are believed to be hostile to the idea.  So the thrust of the ads is not about immigration, but about the senators’ views on environmental issues.  Graham favors the Keystone pipeline and Begich favors drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

In feverish opposition to this, the Sierra Club and like-minded “progressives” have organized “Dislike” campaigns against Zuckerberg, and held demonstrations outside of Facebook’s headquarters.  Given the cachet that environmentalists enjoy with the press, it’s clear that this campaign is going to create some ripples within Fwd.us, and among some of that organization’s tech industry backers.

So the question is, what will they do?  Will they buckle under the pressure and bad press, or will they dig in and move on?  It is, of course, ironic that the first of the organization’s kerfuffles is with environmentalists, since neither environmentalism (nor anti-environmentalism) is part of the group’s mission statement.

Not so in the case of their stance on public education.  The thrust of the spare language in the Fwd.us statement of principles is unmistakable.  It says they favor “Education reforms that produce more graduates in the science, technology and math fields and ensure all children receive a high quality education from effective teachers and accountable schools” (emphases added).

How, as a practical matter, this will sit with a public education lobby that resists any and all attempts at such reform, even as evidence of its manifest failure is everywhere apparent, is predictable and certain to embroil Fwd.us in other fractious debates.

Finally, there is the issue of immigration reform.  The two most prominent fears associated with the concept are (1) that it amounts to a kind of political power grab, or as Jay Leno quipped, that the new immigrants would go from being illegal aliens to “undocumented Democrats,” and (2) that there would be a huge rise in the social welfare cost of massive new immigration.

These are not irrational fears, but they could be ameliorated by legislative language. Meanwhile, the need for the USA to attract and retain large numbers of immigrants is clear if we are to stay competitive around the world, especially in the area of technology, and if we are to enlarge the work force that will soon be needed to pay for the retirement of millions of baby boomers.

For many years now, the tech industry has operated above and beyond the kind of messy and rancorous issues that the rest of us live with, and that Fwd.us has now engaged. It is a welcome development, but time will tell whether they are up to the challenge.


The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.