On April 5, President Obama kicked off his newly-minted presidential campaign by announcing that he would be conducting a “Facebook town hall” event streaming live via the website and via the White House website on April 20. Just to ensure that the Facebook audience recognizes that this isn’t merely another media appearance but an endorsement of Obama by the Facebook executives, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg quizzed Obama before an audience of over 1,000 Facebook employees and other internet mavens.
The recorded result will be chopped up and distributed via Facebook and the White House website over the coming months. “We’re honored that President Obama will be visiting headquarters later this month and will be using the Facebook platform to communicate with an international audience,” Andrew Noyes, Facebook spokesman, gushed.
Obama isn’t the first politician to use Facebook as a fundraising platform. But he is the first politician to be granted the privileged insider status of visiting HQ to do so. Facebook has been one of Obama’s most important supporters over the past several years. And Facebook is hardly the only Silicon Valley organization backing Obama. Apple and Google have also become vocal supporters of the administration. Steve Jobs dined with Zuckerberg and Obama in February to discuss job creation; Google CEO Eric Schmidt was one of Obama’s earliest backers for the presidency; Chris Hughes, one of Facebook’s founders, became Obama’s internet czar in 2007. In fact, prior to the election of 2008, Schmidt toured the United States with Obama’s soon-to-be FCC Commissioner Julius Genachowski to stump for Obama’s net neutrality policies.
On the surface, this makes little sense. Obama’s policies have targeted businesses with remorseless cruelty, setting them up as villains in the class conflict Obama wishes to precipitate. Facebook, Apple, and Google are three of the most successful businesses of the 21st century. Yet all three seem to be mobilizing in favor of the Obama Administration.
That’s because all three must dance for their political master.
Because the federal government is so large and so powerful, and because President Obama is obviously willing and able to use government weight to press forward his agenda, major businesses in the United States must look to appease him. Obama has no problem wielding the heavy club of regulation to hurt his political enemies, or to help his political friends. Major businesses like Facebook, Google, and Apple have all felt the sour stings and warm embraces of big government. And all of them prefer the warm embraces.
President Obama has already promoted Facebook and Google openly: in his State of the Union address, for example, Obama stated, “We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook.” Obama’s net neutrality policy, which may or may not be backed by Google, would lock Google into place as the leading search engine on the internet – other search engines would not be able to pay internet service providers (ISPs) to make their websites run faster. Obama has promoted Apple publicly too, particularly Jobs.
By the same token, Obama has also targeted each and every one of these businesses, making it clear that they had better get in line. Obama’s Justice Department has cracked down on Google Books, covertly threatening antitrust lawsuits. The DOJ has also pledged to shut down Google’s acquisition of ITA, a flight data and software company. Michelle Obama has said that Facebook is no place for children, and President Obama has stated that iPads and iPods threaten the republic, making “information … a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment … it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy.”
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