Facebook is not serious about its politics. How do I know this? The government wants Facebook to follow the same rules as every other media company. That is, if a political action committee runs an ad on Facebook, then Facebook should have to tell everybody who paid for it. Facebook doesn’t want to do that, because that would be mean regulation, which is another way of saying that Facebook would have to abide by the law. Who would want to do such a thing? So, Facebook has decided to keep on running fake news—and why not? False information is real money to Menlo Park.
Facebook’s fight to keep the dark money mills running illuminates a political conflict running the length of the American left. As it turns out, Facebook’s ad hustle is one more proxy battle between the two wings of the Democratic party—the corporate centrists, and the left. As the theme song to Ghostbusters reminds us, “Busting makes me feel good,” and there will never be enough busting where the center is concerned. A corporate Democrat, it turns out, is behind the pro-Facebook push.
The man representing Mark Zuckerberg’s company is Dem “superlawyer” Marc Elias, who represented the Book of Faces in a 2006 lawsuit. Those of you who keep abreast of rulings before the Federal Electoral Commission—which, let’s be honest, is probably none of us—may remember that Elias argued for the social media giant in front of the FEC.
Elias, as they say, is a political lawyer, the go-to guy for recounts. He was general counsel to John Kerry’s presidential run back in 2004. When Al Franken had a recount in 2008, Elias oversaw the legal end of the process. And, most recently, Mr. Elias was Clinton’s general counsel in 2016. As Law dot com reminds us, “Election law just isn’t what it used to be. With more money and more people involved in campaigns at every level, lawyers working in the relatively small field are seeing an uptick in business opportunities and job demands.”
You said it! Profitable is the word.
Here is how the Post described Elias:
Even if anyone tried, there would be no way to separate Elias the voting rights lawyer from Elias the political lawyer. Asked about the clients he and his colleagues at the law firm of Perkins Coie represent, Elias replies: “We represent the DNC, the DSCC, the DCCC, the DGA, the DLCC, House Majority PAC, Senate Majority PAC, Priorities USA, Emily’s List, 40-plus Democratic senators, 100-plus Democratic House members.” Translation in outside-the-Beltway English: the national Democratic Party, its governors, almost all of its members of Congress and its campaign and fundraising apparatus.
We have a picture of Elias—an extremely well-connected Democratic lawyer. Hired by Facebook to aid them with the FEC. Now, what was Elias arguing? The issue, as mentioned above, was simple. Facebook was running political ads. The government, correctly, disliked this. They said Facebook was intruding into American political life. Under our laws, big media companies are obliged to tell who pays for political ads. Facebook is a big media company running political ads. Simple, right?
Facebook did not see it that way. Since they started making huge money, Google and its frenemy Facebook have pushed back hard against any regulation. That’s how the 2006 lawsuit worked, too. The Bush FEC stalemated over the issue; they couldn’t pass a ruling. As a result, Facebook was at liberty to host whatever political ads it liked. The sponsors stayed hidden. Now the issue has returned, like the bad old blues coming back after the bridge. According to Splinter:
Now, Democratic senators Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner have introduced a bill that would, finally, regulate political ad disclosure online. And Elias’ firm will once again be aiding Facebook and Google as they seek to, as the New York Times puts it, “navigate legal and regulatory issues.” This is a very Times way of saying “lobby to make any regulations easier to comply with and therefore likely much more toothless.” The Times’ Kenneth Vogel also reported that “government officials working on the investigations into the Russian-funded ads and the efforts to enact stricter disclosure requirements say Facebook and Google have been less than enthusiastic partners.” What a shock!
As the article points out, it was only in September that Facebook and Google stopped targeting ads based on race and religion. It’s a not a pretty history, as the martyr expert said to the housewife. As Pro Publica told us on September 14:
Until this week, when we asked Facebook about it, the world’s largest social network enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” or, “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’” To test if these ad categories were real, we paid $30 to target those groups with three “promoted posts” — in which a ProPublica article or post was displayed in their news feeds. Facebook approved all three ads within 15 minutes. After we contacted Facebook, it removed the anti-Semitic categories — which were created by an algorithm rather than by people — and said it would explore ways to fix the problem, such as limiting the number of categories available or scrutinizing them before they are displayed to buyers.
The conclusion should be obvious: the Dems don’t care. Not about the Facebook links that supposedly sunk Hillary. No matter what the centrists of the Democratic Party tell you, they are indifferent to social justice when it’s a corporation doing the dirty work. Elias is the closest thing the modern Dems have to a legal department, and he’s working for Zuckerberg. That’s the whole story, right there. Klobuchar and Warner on one side, and the corporate Dems on the other.
What about The Social Network? Well, Facebook’s moral disgust is a late-blooming phenomenon. Seeing this company doing wrong is like seeing hog butchery at the county fair: it’s not supposed to happen in public view, but hardly surprising. Business claims to police itself, just as junkies swear up and down they can quit. But they can’t. Elias, like most neoliberals in the Democratic Party, is apparently totally fine with the awesome work corporations are doing to secure and safeguard our Republic.
Elias’ work for Facebook and Google puts him at odds with the two prominent Democrats who are proposing the new legislation, not to mention the larger Democratic focus on hammering all aspects of The Russia Story. The bill is, unsurprisingly, framed as an attempt to stop “foreign” influence over elections—which, to be clear, is bad!— but its effects would actually be much wider, and would apply to domestic actors too, in addition to ads that are about national issues rather than candidates. If the Koch brothers, or Tom Steyer or George Soros, wanted to buy Facebook ads, they’d have to disclose at least some more information about it. (Of course, it’s still far too easy to set up a super PAC and an anonymous LLC in Delaware and do all your transactions through that, but progress is progress.)
The centrists are curious people. Their mouths say “Russia,” but their actions speak another language entirely. If the Dem Leadership actually believed that fake news scuttled Clinton, then they’d hardly let their top gun go to bat for Zuckerberg. Or, perhaps, is Fake News an excuse? Perhaps they’re not as serious as they claim.
Indeed, why do Elias and Facebook war against transparency? Their motives are as clear as glass. What Facebook does remains in the shadows; what they are is brought to light.