Facebook used a front group to secretly plant op-eds in local newspapers nationwide in order to lobby Washington to back down from antitrust legislation aimed at improving competition in tech, according to a bombshell report.
American Edge, a political advocacy group that was founded by Facebook, launched a public relations campaign in March around the same time that the US Senate unveiled a bipartisan piece of legislation seeking to rein in powerful Big Tech firms, the Washington Post reported.
Even though the ads and op-eds claimed to be from groups representing small businesses, they were in fact paid for by Facebook, one of the wealthiest corporations in the world, according to the report.
The ads and sponsored writings warn of a “misguided agenda” to “take away the technology we use every day,” the Washington Post reported.
Last month, the New York Post was first to report that a slew of local business owners ran scores of op-eds and letters to the editor in several small publications nationwide.
The op-eds were eerily similar in wording as they came to the defense of large tech firms like Facebook and Alphabet-owned Google.
Shares of Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms Inc., rose by 0.6% on Wall Street as of 10:36 a.m. Eastern time.
The Post has reached out to Facebook seeking comment on the report.
The Senate bill would target the largest tech firms based on market valuation and user base — likely impacting the likes of Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
The companies would be blocked from boosting their own products and services in search results, among other protective measures meant to promote competition.
American Edge, whose only funder is Facebook, placed op-eds in dozens of local newspapers to make it appear as if there was a grassroots effort to fight the antitrust legislation, according to the Washington Post.
It also commissioned studies that purported to show the harm the bill would do to the American tech sector.
The group also ran ads that warned that the US would lose its tech superiority to China if it placed antitrust restrictions on its largest companies.
American Edge even enlisted former national security officials to issue dire predictions of Russian cyber-hacking if Congress went ahead with its planned antitrust reforms.
The ads included pitches from small business groups, including The Alliance, a Mississippi-based economic development organization, which argued against the proposed legislation.
“Instead of attacking these digital platforms, we need to work with these companies toward innovation and access for our businesses to survive,” Clayton Stanley, the president and CEO of The Alliance, wrote in the Mississippi Business Journal.
Mississippi is 2,000 miles from Silicon Valley, where most of the tech giants are based.
Critics charge that Facebook is hiding behind the front group in order to get its message out to an unsuspecting public, which would likely not have received it as well if the company were more transparent.
Publicly, Meta Platforms has claimed to be willing to work with lawmakers to revamp internet regulations.
A spokesperson for the company told the Washington Post that “we’ve been clear about our support for the American Edge Project’s effort to educate the public about the benefits of American technology.”
“But the proposed antitrust reforms would do nothing to address the areas of greatest concern to people and could weaken America’s competitiveness.”
Doug Kelly, the CEO of American Edge, told the Washington Post that the group received a “seed grant” from Meta, though since then it has added more funders.
“This growth is the result of a keen awareness that protecting America’s technological edge is a worthy and meaningful endeavor,” he said.
Kelly denied that Stanley was paid to appear in its ads. He also defended the PAC’s decision not to disclose its relationship with Meta in its ads and op-eds.
“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,” he wrote.