Congress Just Can't Quit Facebook
Bloomberg Businessweek|November 15, 2021
Lawmakers of both parties assail the tech giant but are hooked on its core product
Amanda Kolson Hurley

For years, Nancy Pelosi has been so fed up with Facebook’s “shameful” behavior that the company’s lobbyists are banned from her office. But if you want to watch her weekly press conference, you have to click over to her Facebook page, the only place where her livestream is available to the public.

Facebook is so crucial for reaching voters—and raising money—that it’s hard for elected officials to quit the platform, even as they bemoan its corrosive influence on public discourse and American democracy. Pelosi, the speaker of the House, has shunned the company since 2019, when it declined to remove a doctored video that her opponents spread to make it appear she was slurring her words. But she still has an official page on the site with more than a million followers.

Washington’s anger at Facebook has only grown since a whistleblower last month disclosed internal research detailing the individual and societal risks associated with its platforms. But even the members of Congress threatening to subpoena Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and pushing to break up the parent company, now known as Meta Platforms Inc., use Facebook to broadcast events, interact with constituents, and add to their campaign mailing lists.

Facebook uses its omnipresence and utility to its advantage on the Hill, deploying digital consultants to offer training on new features. In pre-Covid times, Facebook staffers held office hours at the Dunkin’ in the basement of a House office building. If a Democratic or Republican office in either chamber needs a livestream tutorial or help getting an official account verified, they know who at the company will pick up the phone.

For Facebook lobbyists seeking an audience with lawmakers who are often peeved about something happening on the platform, this kind of customer service is an asset. Katie Harbath, who spent 10 years at Facebook building up the team that supports congressional offices before starting her own consulting company in April, says there was a constant exchange between the policy and support teams.

Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google also reach out to congressional offices, but on nowhere near the same scale, according to several aides of both parties who oversee digital strategies. The timeline-based format of Twitter and the video-only options for Google’s YouTube are simpler, the aides said, and neither platform offers the constant interaction with constituents and broad scope of Facebook. In a survey earlier this year by Pew Research, more than two-thirds of U.S. adults reported using Facebook, compared with 23% for Twitter and 21% for TikTok.

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