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While Warren Fights Facebook, O’Rourke Embraces It

Beto O'Rourke, a possible Democratic 2020 hopeful, has spent record amounts on Facebook advertising. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Following Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s announcement that she would seek to break up Facebook, Amazon and Google if elected president, Facebook removed an advertisement run by Warren’s page that was critical of big tech. The ad was restored Tuesday, but it essentially supported her argument and put further pressure on potential Democratic hopefuls to revisit their relationships with Silicon Valley.

“Thanks for restoring my posts,” Warren tweeted in regard to the story, “But I want a social media marketplace that isn’t dominated by a single censor.” A spokesperson for Facebook said the ad was removed because it violated policy by using Facebook’s logo.

Another potential Democratic contender, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, has a closer relationship with Facebook. Its employees gave him more than $68,000 in 2017-18, according to campaign finance data. The social network’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has commended O’Rourke on his use of the live-streaming program, Facebook Live, for “civic engagement.”

Facebook employees who have donated to O’Rourke include Paul Beddoe-Stephens, the head of platform strategy at Facebook; David Fischer, Facebook’s vice president of business and marketing partnerships; and Margaret Gould Stewart, the vice president of product design at Facebook, according to data compiled by MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization. O’Rourke has also received top contributions from employees at Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon.

The group Beto for Texas has spent more than $8 million on Facebook ads in the past 12 months. The page has more than 300 active ads prompting users to sign up on a mailing list to learn whether or not O’Rourke will run for president. By contrast, two groups representing Warren’s presidential run have spent about $300,000 in the past year.

The only politician who outspent O’Rourke on Facebook ads is Donald Trump, whose presidential campaign and joint fundraising committee with the Republican National Committee have spent more than $10 million combined this year. Other top Facebook spenders have paid out between $3 and $4 million, including oil and gas corporation ExxonMobil, philanthropist and liberal activist Tom Steyer, the progressive political group MoveOn, and Concealed Online, a company offering online concealed firearm certifications.

Facebook collects data on people regardless of whether or not they have an account and has in-depth metrics about users that can be appealing for advertisers.

“Facebook can learn almost anything about you by using artificial intelligence to analyze your behavior,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Peter Eckersley. “That knowledge turns out to be perfect both for advertising and propaganda. Will Facebook ever prevent itself from learning people’s political views, or other sensitive facts about them?”

Warren’s proposal is a possible way to regulate major tech companies that are resistant to transparency and often, user input.

“I personally don’t believe that very many people would like to pay to not have ads,” Zuckerberg said last month. He added that “the ads, in a lot of places, are not even that different from the organic content in terms of the quality of what people are being able to see.”

Naomi LaChance
Blogger / Editorial Assistant
Naomi LaChance has written for local newspapers such as the Berkshire Eagle and the Poughkeepsie Journal as well as national outlets including NPR, the Intercept, TYT Network and the Huffington Post. Her…
Naomi LaChance

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