- Facebook has hired an army of lobbyists to help it deal with pressure from the US and foreign governments as lawmakers become more fearful of the social network's power.
- CEO Mark Zuckerberg has hired people who previously worked for Democrats and Republicans to deal with any arising crisis. Both parties have their grievances with the company and Facebook is under a microscope from Congress, the White House, the Justice Department.
- Former government figures such as Nick Clegg, once a well-known UK politician, and Joel Kaplan, a veteran of the George W. Bush administration are among the people Facebook has ready to fight its battles. Former State Department lawyer Jennifer Newstead came aboard last year as general counsel.
- As the boss, Zuckerberg has been at the forefront of guiding Facebook through the choppy partisan waters of the nation's capital. He has met with President Donald Trump and other Republicans to allay their concerns as they accuse the social network of anti-conservative bias.
- Zuckerberg is set to once again appear before Congress at a Senate hearing on October 28 where he can expect a grilling from all directions.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Facebook doesn't have that many friends left in Washington. But it's hired a bunch of political veterans to help it deal with governments in the US and abroad as lawmakers seek to control the company's reach.
Both Democrats and Republicans have cranked up the heat on the social network. While their criticism may differ, they share a concern that Facebook has accumulated too much power and has grown so big that it's nearly impossible to moderate.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are threatening to revoke or rewrite Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields internet companies from liability for the speech in their users' posts. Facebook's critics say the company has used that part of the law to avoid responsibility for the content on its platform.
Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg will be one of three tech executives appearing before a Republican-controlled Senate committee on Wednesday for a hearing on whether to alter or revoke Section 230.
In the House, Democrats conducted a broad antitrust investigation of Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon that concluded in a report accusing the company of engaging in monopolistic practices.
As the scrutiny intensifies, Facebook has built a revolving door on Washington's front stoop, hiring lobbyists who have worked for both Democrats and Republicans to deal with any arising crisis. They're veterans of Congress, presidential campaigns, and the White House. They're lawyers and public relations pros. Most of them have one job: to ensure that Facebook escapes with as little unfavorable regulation and government interference as possible.
And as the top boss, Zuckerberg is at the frontlines of the fight for his company's survival and reputation. He has held secretive dinners with President Donald Trump and conservatives to allay their concerns as they claim the platform is biased against them. On the contrary, a Washington Post report found that Facebook has allowed conservative media to skirt its content rules for fears of angering the right.
These are some of the most important Facebook policy figures and power players shaping Facebook's relationship with Washington and fighting off the federal government's reach. We'll update this list regularly with new names.
Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO
Zuckerberg has hired an army of lobbyists and government insiders to argue Facebook's case in Washington. But at the end of the day, the 36-year-old CEO still calls the shots and takes the most heat.
For most of the Trump era, Zuckerberg has aimed to smooth over relationships with Republicans, while also infuriating Democrats who still seethe over the company's role in allowing disinformation to proliferate during the 2016 election and in the years since.
Zuckerberg has made several trips to Washington for highly-publicized Congressional hearings as well as secretive dinners with Trump and off-the-record gatherings with Republicans. Conservatives have argued — without evidence — that social media giants such as Facebook are biased against them and suppress their viewpoints.
Congressional Democrats, have also summoned Zuckerberg for Capitol Hill grillings, most recently before the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust subpanel led by Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island.
Since Trump used Facebook to successfully win the presidency in 2016, Zuckerberg has faced intense criticism for his unwillingness to remove disinformation posted by the president and the rightwing media outlets that support him. But in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook has started taking more aggressive action against Trump's posts that contain disinformation about voting and the pandemic.
Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs and communications
Facebook's head of global affairs and communications was a storied politician in the UK prior to joining the social media giant in 2018. Until 2015, he served as both head of the Liberal Democrats and as the UK's deputy prime minister under David Cameron.
Since arriving at Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, Clegg has been instrumental in shaping the company's image — one that's taken hit after hit over its handling of user data, hate speech, and political misinformation. In a recent Politico profile, Clegg is credited with helping to make the company more accountable and transparent to its users.
In the waning days of the 2020 presidential election, Clegg has taken the lead in rolling out Facebook's policies surrounding political advertising, fact-checking, and disinformation.
Joel Kaplan, vice president of global public policy
Kaplan has worked at Facebook since 2011, but he's more recently come under fire from Democrats and Facebook critics after a series of reports in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal revealed he had argued against more stringent actions for right-wing outlets that violated the company's content policies.
Kaplan was a well-known Washington figure before the social network hired him. He served in the George W. Bush administration as deputy head of the Office of Management and Budget and later as deputy chief of staff for policy. At the White House, he overlapped with Brett Kavanaugh, who years later become Trump's second Supreme Court appointment in one of the most contentious confirmation since Justice Clarence Thomas.
During Kavanaugh's 2018 confirmation hearings, photographers captured Kaplan sitting in the audience behind his friend. The appearance caused an internal outcry at Facebook as employees accused him of siding with Kavanaugh who was facing sexual assault accusations. Kaplan later apologized to Facebook staff.
He has played a critical role in steering the company's relationship with the Trump administration as conservatives continue to say that the major social media networks are biased against them and as GOP lawmakers threaten action to reign them in. Kaplan oversees Facebook's increasingly vital Washington office where he manages a large team with aides plucked from both sides of the aisle.
Jennifer Newstead, general counsel
Newstead, a former top lawyer in Trump's State Department, joined Facebook in 2019 as the company prepared to go to battle with Congress and the Justice Department.
Newstead's job requires her to defend the company against fire coming from all directions, including governments around the world that seek to draft and pass legislation to curb the social network's power.
In the US, Facebook faces antitrust probes from Congress and the Justice Department, as well as intense criticism from the president, whose posts frequently flout the social network's content rules. Trump frequently threatens retaliation if moderators take action against his posts.
Newstead has had a long career in Washington, and in her early years helped draft and pass the Patriot Act in 2001 when she worked for the George W. Bush administration. The law significantly expanded federal surveillance power, and Facebook has long engaged in a tug of war with the government over access to its users' data.
During the George W. Bush administration, she worked at the Office of Management and Budget, the Justice Department, and served as an associate White House counsel.
Peter Thiel, early Facebook investor and board member
It's not surprising that the first person to ever invest money in Zuckerberg's idea has the ear of the CEO. Thiel's early 2004 investment in Facebook turned into a stake worth more than $1 billion, and his early advice for Zuckerberg earned him a key spot on the company's board of directors in 2005.
From his perch there, Thiel has exerted his influence over the company's policies regarding politics. Thiel and Zuckerberg were reportedly dinner guests at the White House in October 2019. Thiel has praised Zuckerberg for standing by his decision to allow political ads on Facebook without fact-checking them, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Facebook has since banned new political ads from starting the week before Election Day.
Thiel is a cofounder of Palantir Technologies and a storied billionaire Silicon Valley investor. His ties to Republicans are well-documented: He's an outspoken conservative and has publicly backed Trump. He donated to Trump's election campaign and spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2016, although the Journal reported this summer he had yet to get involved in Trump's 2020 campaign.
Katie Harbath, public policy director, global elections
Like Kaplan, Harbath joined Facebook in 2011 after a career in GOP online politics. She helps lead Facebook's election strategies, relationships with governments, and its civic initiatives. She has played a significant role in the years-long effort to get governments around the world — from the local to regional and national levels — to adopt Facebook as a way to communicate with constituents.
Before joining Facebook, Harbath was the chief digital strategist for the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. She was also a digital strategist for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's failed 2008 presidential bid.
Catlin O'Neill, director, US public policy
O'Neill comes from a famous Washington family; her grandfather, Rep. Tip O'Neill of Massachusetts, was speaker of the House from 1977 to 1987.
When Catlin O'Neill entered politics, she found herself in a familiar place: working off and on for California Democrat Nancy Pelosi. She began as Pelosi's special events coordinator in 2001, before leaving to work for former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. O'Neill returned to Pelosi's team in 2003 as an assistant.
She worked her way up the ladder in Pelosi's office, ultimately serving as her chief of staff for two years until she departed for Facebook in 2013 to lobby on behalf of the social media giant.
O'Neill helps make Facebook's case to lawmakers and pushes for legislation that's friendly to the company. She has accompanied Zuckerberg to congressional hearings.
Brian Rice, director of public policy
Rice was part of the entourage that accompanied Zuckerberg when the CEO testified on Capitol Hill in 2018 over Cambridge Analytica's role in the 2016 election. Rice's presence solidified his role in Facebook's political operations: If Myriah Jordan is in charge of corralling GOP support, Rice is tasked with wooing Democratic backing of the social network.
Rice entered the political world in 2006, starting as a policy advisor for then Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who later became secretary of State under the Obama administration.
Rice also a lobbyist for Verizon until he left in 2014 to join Facebook.
Myriah Jordan, director of public policy
Myriah Jordan has been part of Facebook's public policy team since 2011 when she was hired to focus on congressional relations as part of the company's growing Washington presence at the time.
Jordan is another policy hire coming from the right. She overlapped with Kaplan at the White House, serving in the George W. Bush administration as a special aide on policy. Before Facebook, she worked as general counsel for North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr.
She also served as deputy general counsel in the office in charge of Iraq's reconstruction following the US-led 2003 war in that country.
Kevin Martin, VP of US public policy
Kevin Martin is another key staffer Facebook picked up from the George W. Bush administration. Martin was the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission for a five-year term, during which he issued a record number of consumer protection-related fines.
But Martin's tenure is also spotted by controversy. A 2008 congressional report said he had abused his power and neglected his responsibilities by ignoring signs of FCC mismanagement.
At Facebook, Martin was vaulted to the role of interim vice president of US public policy in 2018 after joining the social network three years prior as a vice president of mobile and global access policy. Martin switched to the policy role just after Facebook came under a microscope for its handling of data privacy and foreign influence of the 2016 election.
Tucker Bounds, vice president of communications
As one of the highest-level communication executives at Facebook, Bounds is charged with shaping Facebook's image in the media and to the public. Bounds first started working at Facebook in 2011, although he left for a three-year hiatus before returning in early 2017. He started off working on the communications team for corporate and executive matters, giving him an entry point at an early stage of his Facebook tenure.
Bounds was a longtime communications professional for GOP lawmakers and congressional campaigns prior to joining Facebook. He played a pivotal role back in 2002 handling press strategy for former Oregon GOP Sen. Gordon Smith and the Republican National Committee. He was also deputy communications director for John McCain's 2008 presidential run and also worked for the 2010 California gubernatorial campaign of Meg Whitman, the tech billionaire and now CEO of Quibi.
Brent Harris, director of governance and strategic initiatives
Facebook has since 2018 teased the launch of its Oversight Board, designed to help the company step up its content-moderation policies in the face of criticism over its handling of viral misinformation. Harris took charge of the board for Facebook, with the responsibility of developing a new format for social media's transparency and accountability ahead of the 2020 election.
The board, which has been two years in the making, has been advertised as a reprieve to Facebook's most high-profile handling of political misinformation ahead of the election. However, the Oversight Board finally launched just two weeks before Election Day, and revealed it wouldn't be reviewing any election-related content.
Still, the Oversight Board is likely to play a crucial role in Facebook's handling of political content in the weeks after November 3 and well into the new presidential term.
Harris isn't new to dealing with politicians. He served as an advisor to various federal agencies under the Obama administration. Before joining Facebook in 2018, he was a director at Redstone Strategy.
Andy Stone, policy communications director
Any journalist who has covered Facebook in recent years has likely received a phone call from Andy Stone. The powerhouse communications specialist works to manage the company's image — no easy job, considering the amount of negative press the company has received since the 2016 election.
Like many employees in Facebook's Washington office, Stone came from the political world before joining the company in 2014.
He worked on former State Secretary Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. He later handled communications for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and for then-Sen. Barbara Boxer of California. Stone was also the communications director for the House Majority PAC, which aims to elect more Democrats to the House.
Andrew Pusateri, policy communications manager
Pusateri is one of many Capitol Hill alumni that Facebook has snatched up.
Before joining the company's communications shop, he worked for Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, former Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley, and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri who lost her reelection bid in 2018.
Pusateri also served as Hillary Clinton's Missouri communications director during her unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign.
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