As Mark Zuckerberg takes up his cross and trudges to Capitol Hill this week, Facebook is on an extreme apology tour, rushing to put all sorts of initiatives in place which will have no impact on the midterms but will likely impact the 2020 election.
This one defies all logic. In an announcement today, Facebook announced a new academic initiative to "provide independent, credible research about the role of social media in elections, as well as democracy more generally."
Instead of hiring independent researchers for the project, they're handing it off to a cabal of foundations. Here is the list:
- John and Laura Arnold Foundation
- Democracy Fund (created by Pierre Omidyar)
- William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
- John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
- Charles Koch Foundation
- Omidyar Network
- Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Yes, that's right. There are at least three right-wing libertarian anti-regulation foundations on that list: Omidyar, Koch, and Arnold. (Note: Though I have been told that Omidyar is not right- wing, I beg to differ. He is not a social conservative, but still fiercely libertarian with regard to right-wing priorities like taxes, and economic policy, which includes the social safety net.)
Charles Koch is virulently anti-government and anti-regulation, He has spent millions -- possibly billions -- building a robust right-wing network and infrastructure to tear down regulations and indeed, the entire federal government. Who better to help fund an initiative and accept data for said initiative than the guy who wants to kill Social Security, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and any other social safety net for which he might have to give up an extra penny in taxes?
Finally, there is Pierre Omidyar, who is less of an idealogue but no less libertarian than the rest of them. He has invested in and promoted online journalism with his megabucks from the sale of eBay.
Hewlett, Sloan and Knight Foundations are corporate-funded non-profits with links to technology and journalism but which are not particularly ideological. Hewlett is a family foundation, again not especially ideological.
Facebook and other tech companies do not want to be regulated. They do not want the government to oversee the way they sell and profit from users' data. I can see no better way for them to pretend they are doing something about how their users' privacy was violated than to hand off all the data to a cabal of nonprofits which are intended to give the appearance of a non-partisan blend of interests.
Any time you put the Kochs and the Arnolds in the mix, partisanship will result. They make no bones out of the fact that they exist to fight all regulation, tooth and nail.
Worse yet, the Kochs funded much of the astroturf efforts to game social media toward right-wing interests in the name of defeating any liberal initiatives. Now they want to STUDY it? Sure thing.
If this is Mark Zuckerberg's penance, he's laughing all the way to the damned bank.
This article was edited to clarify the Hewlett Foundation's funding source and why I included Pierre Omidyar in the right-wing side of things.