[Plura-list] A(nother) way in which Facebook is the 21st Century's tobacco industry

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Tue May 17 23:50:18 EDT 2022

Read today's issue online at: https://pluralistic.net/2022/05/18/turfed/

Today's links

* A(nother) way in which Facebook is the 21st Century's tobacco industry: Millions for front groups who insist that only Mark Zuckerberg can save us from Xi Jinping.

* This day in history: 2007, 2012, 2017, 2021

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading


🌱 A(nother) way in which Facebook is the 21st Century's tobacco industry

Have you noticed some extremely normal ads from extremely normal "grassroots activists" who are really, really worried that if we break up Facebook, China will *destroy America* and that is why Congress must absolutely stop trying to regulate America's tech giants, the bristling colossi that stand guard to defend us from the menace across the ocean?


Those are extremely normal ads, because if there's one thing that extremely normal people love, it is *Facebook*. A lot of extremely normal people think Facebook is amazing, which is why extremely normal grassroots organizations like American Edge, "A coalition dedicated to the proposition that American innovators are an essential part of U.S. economic health, national security & individual freedoms," stick up for 'em.

Which is why the totally cool bros at American Edge found a bunch of extremely normal "economic development agencies" to publish op-eds in newspapers across the country to defend Facebook as a force for racial justice (no, really) and American prosperity. They also used all that grassroots money from extremely normal people like you and me to pay for a national advertising campaign about the "small businesses" that just *love* Facebook and want to keep Washington's "misguided" antitrust agenda in check.

American Edge, being both extremely normal and awesomely humble, kept their role in funding this national ad campaign a secret, not wanting to de-center those hardworking small business reps like Clayton Stanley who were stanning for the beloved folk hero Mark "Extremely Normal" Zuckerberg.

All of this is very normal and even heartwarming, and that is not diminished in the slightest by the fact that the hardworking grassroots activists at American Edge were working for an organization that was secretly founded and bankrolled by Facebook - a fact that was conspicuously absent from those ads and op-eds.

Indeed, even as Facebook was making nice to regulators and the American public and saying, "Please, just create some regulations that we can abide by so you'll stop being so gosh-darn mad at us," they were funding these heartfelt, sincere, secretly paid "activists" who were on a nationwide campaign to block all regulation of Facebook.

This revelation is both extremely predictable and extremely important, and Elizabeth Dwoskin and Cat Zakrzewski's *Washington Post* article on Facebook's sock-puppetry and American Edge's cowardly shilling is a must-read.


They note that American Edge used Facebook's millions to rope in "a surprising array of partners, including minority business associations, conservative think tanks, and former national security officials."

If this sounds familiar, it should. We've seen this playbook before: "It’s a political playbook more common to other industries, including pharmaceuticals, tobacco and telecommunications." And it's also just the latest revelation about Facebook secretly bankrolling dark PR companies to push anti-China messages to distract from the myriad of ways that Facebook is harming Americans.

In March, Taylor Lorenz and Drew Harwell revealed that Facebook had hired a GOP-aligned dirty tricks firm to plant stories about Tiktok's connection to the Chinese government, a whataboutism campaign that was meant to distract from Facebook's own domestic scandals.


The *Post*'s new report draws on research by the Tech Transparency Project - an org "that seeks to hold large technology companies accountable."


The *Post* quotes an anonymous insider who explains why Facebook wanted a fake grassroots org talking it up: "Facebook can’t be the messenger. If we are out there saying it, people won’t believe it as much, so the conversation is how can you set up a proxy.”

When asked about all this, American Edge CEO Doug Kelly had this risible reply: "The Washington Post may not display Amazon’s name on its front page, but the American Edge Project has displayed Facebook’s name prominently on ours since launch."

Of course, *every* mention of Amazon in the *Post* carries a prominent notice about Bezos's ownership, while American Edge's "prominent" display of Facebook's name was as an "affiliate" - a label that doesn't really convey the sense of Zuck's hand thrust so far up the org's asshole that he is able to operate them like a sock-puppet.

Facebook gets good value for its money. The US ex-spooks who sent a letter to Congress demanding that Facebook be left alone to save the nation from China? Included in their number - but undisclosed - were members of American Edge's "security advisory board."


Facebook laundered contributions to the National Black US Chamber of Commerce through National Edge, and then the Chamber's CEO published a Black History Month op-ed extolling Facebook's benefits to "Black-owned businesses."


National Edge hands out a lot of grants, and the grantees often go on to write op-eds about how totally cool Facebook is, and weirdly, none of them mention that they got a bunch of Facebook money before writing those op-eds.

The idea that monopolists are how America keeps evil foreigners at bay isn't new. During the *seven decades* during which the US Government was trying to break up AT&T, the company used its status as a "national champion" to win multiple stays of execution. Like, when it got the Pentagon to cool out the DoJ by claiming that the Bell System was necessary to secure victory in Korea (oops):


This "national champion" talk went into overdrive in the eighties, just before the DoJ actually *did* break up Ma Bell. Back then, the evil, authoritarian Asian country full of copycats stealing American ideas and destroying its tech industry was...Japan.


This warmed-over "Yellow Peril" scare-talk is no different. AT&T wasn't America's national champion - it was a boot on the throat of the American tech industry. AT&T's major project was suppressing the spread of modems. Breaking up AT&T gave us the commercial internet and forty years of unsurpassed projection of American soft power around the globe.

You know who gets this? China. China's been doing antitrust at scale and speed. They don't exalt their tech leaders as national champions who will defeat Zuckerberg and win cyberspace for the CCCP. They treat their tech leaders as threats - would-be usurpers who don't represent Chinese interests, only their own:


China has *hamstrung* its Big Tech companies, and not because it secretly wants to make it easy for Zuck and Nick Clegg as they straddle the globe and dare Baidu to knock a chip off their shoulder, if they're so big.


There used to be a lot of talk about how "addictive" Facebook is, but really, the company's "addictiveness" primarily springs from its ability to defend its walled garden and keep you hostage, by making the price of leaving severing contact with all the customers, communities and friends who stay behind.


But even if Facebook isn't addictive, it does share important commonalities with Big Tobacco: it's a company that ruins millions of American lives, and defends itself by hiring sock-puppets, shills and astroturfers to run around looking busy and making it appear - superficially, at least - that the lurkers totally support them in email.


Facebook may find it easy to hire shills, but it's really struggling to hire engineers. The company is increasingly turning into a tech ghost-ship, experiencing massive shortfalls in its recruiting goals. Apparently, coders have higher standards than "think tanks."



🌱 This day in history

#15yrsago Why AACS keys will leak faster than they can be patched https://freedom-to-tinker.com/2007/05/18/aacs-updated-broken-again/

#15yrsago Saturday Evening Post poster for Silver Snail comics’s birthday https://memex.craphound.com/2007/05/18/saturday-evening-post-poster-for-silver-snail-comicss-birthday/

#10yrsago Associate editor of Elsevier’s Genomics resigns, vows to devote energies to open access https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2012/may/16/system-profit-access-research

#10yrsago HOWTO make cupcakewurst https://www.cupcakeproject.com/cupcakewurst/

#10yrsago Touring indie band picks up hitchhiker who looks like John Waters. It was John Waters https://dcist.com/story/12/05/16/hitchhiking-director-john-waters-pi/

#10yrsago UK civil servants routinely snoop on citizens’ private financial and health information https://www.zdnet.com/article/uk-government-staff-caught-snooping-on-citizen-data/

#5yrsago Apple, CTA and Big Car are working in secret to kill New York’s Right to Repair legislation https://www.vice.com/en/article/nz85y7/apple-is-lobbying-against-your-right-to-repair-iphones-new-york-state-records-confirm

#5yrsago The abysmal information security at Trump properties has probably already compromised US secrets https://www.propublica.org/article/any-half-decent-hacker-could-break-into-mar-a-lago

#1yrago What Would Open Source Look Like If It Were Healthy https://pluralistic.net/2021/05/18/unhealthy-balance-sheet/#user-personas

#1yrago Apple's complicity in Chinese state oppression https://pluralistic.net/2021/05/18/unhealthy-balance-sheet/#think-manorialism


🌱 Colophon

Today's top sources: Karen Gullo.

Currently writing:

* Some Men Rob You With a Fountain Pen, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. Friday's progress: 520 words (5457 words total)

* The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso: 569 words (2213 words total)

* Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Yesterday's progress: 508 words (92849 words total) - ON PAUSE

* A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

* Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EXPERT REVIEW

* Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FINAL DRAFT COMPLETE

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Revenge Of The Chickenized Reverse Centaurs

Upcoming appearances:

* ABC Copyright Conference keynote (University of Western Ontario/London)

* OpenJSWorld Keynote (Austin), Jun 8

* UK Competition and Markets Authority Data Technology and Analytics conference (London), Jun 15-16

* A New HOPE (NYC), Jul 24

Recent appearances:

* Revolutionizing Activism — The Power of Utopia (Center for Artistic Activism)

* A Little Patience and a Lot of Tape (This Week in Tech)

* Blockchain, Crypto & Web3 (Life Itself podcast)

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1562/_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer.html.

Upcoming books:

* Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press, September 2022

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